60-Seconds Every Hour: Get Fit, Lose Weight

Devote 60 seconds out of every hour to your fitness goals. Your mind will be sharper, your body leaner, and your metabolism higher. You’ll feel great, and it won’t even feel like you’re working out.

Originally published 2006

Influences

I design new exercise programs all the time. It’s a way to keep things fresh. I haven’t done that in a while, though, so the weight has crept upwards. It was time to do something.

I needed something to lose the weight I had gained. The solution turned out to be light weight, high repetition resistance training spread throughout the day. In the process, I was inspired by a variety of influences. The program you see here was a result of integrating them:

  • Book: Flip the Switch
    The author claims that a small amount of exercise every 30 to 60 minutes gives the metabolism a boost. If you don’t get up an move around, your metabolism slows down. Essentially, you go into hibernation mode. You get sluggish, and your body stores fat. (Funny thing. My martial arts grandmaster always said the same thing. Only she didn’t need the scientific studies to convince herself of it.)There’s something to it. I definitely feel more alert on the days when I do that, and I have more energy for evening activities. If nothing else, it’s a good way to sneak in a 10 minutes of quality exercise into the day — painlessly, so you’re hardly even aware that you’re doing it. That makes it a very time-efficient way to pursue your fitness goals.The book also made me think back to my college days. Classes were 50 minutes long, followed by a walk to the next class. That small burst of hourly exercise was undoubtedly instrumental in keeping the mind sharp enough to pay attention — something that colleges no doubt discovered by trial and error since the first schools were founded. So I was convinced the book was on to something. But it left me a little short of knowing exactly what to do, or for how long — which led to the program described in these pages.
  • Dan Browne, author of The Da Vinci Code
    In a magazine interview, he said that he keeps an old-fashioned hourglass on the computer. When the sand runs out, he gets up from his desk and does some pushups or situps. What a great way to combat the fat ass you get from sitting in a chair all day! In his photo, he looked good and fit, so it provided additional evidence that the program works.
  • David Blaine special
    In a TV special, David Blaine documented his prepration for one of his endurance feats. (In this case, it was living in a bowl of water for a week.) When he started out, he was positively pudgy! He visited a doctor, stripped to the waist, and had love handles the size of cantelopes.They then showed him training, doing lots of low-weight, high-repetition exercises. For example, he was doing bench presses by the dozen with a 45-lb bar. He got really ripped with that program, and built muscular size as well. So the next thing you know, he’s got his shirt off and he’s looking fine.That visual evidence made it very clear to me that low-weight, high reps are good for losing weight. For building muscle mass, the reverse is true: low reps and very high weights are best. (see Power Training ) But for getting trim and fat, low-weight, high-reps is the way to go. (Once I tried it, I discovered what may well be the major benefit: light weights minimize recovery time. That makes it possible to do the exercises every day, which is terrific for burning fat.)
  • Alex Tsirfa’s Partial Reps
    A volleyball-playing roommate of mine used to drive me nuts. Two or three times a day, he would do pullups and dips, but he would always do them part way, instead of all the way. It used to drive me nuts, because it’s a lot more work to go all the way down and up. But once I understood the potential of low-resistance exercise for losing weight, it made sense. Doing partial reps made it easier, so he could do the exercises every day — multiple times a day — to burn fat and maintain muscle tone. (Personally, I have a low tolerance for that much repetition. So the program described here has a lot more variety. But it’s significant that you don’t really need much variety to achieve your weight-loss goals.)
  • Brian Padilla’s Sports Conditioning class
    Brian’s class used to kick my butt. He would do a series of 2 or 3 exercises for 30 seconds each, repeating the series 3 times, for a total of 4 to 4-1/2 minutes. By the second set of the exercises, I was typically out of breath. By the third, I was exhausted.I found that particular format to be massive overkill for me. He has some easier formats, fortunately, but with that program I found that soreness that lasted for most of the week. But the takeaway for me was that the first couple of 30-second exercises were enough to give me a significant workout for that particular muscle.
  • Michael Colgan’s Power Program
    Michael Colgan’s New Power Program is a terrific resource for anyone interested in resistance training. In it, he mentions that when one muscle is exhausted from a workout, the opposing muscle is capable of even greater for a short period of time, because it gets no resistance from the muscle that usually works against it. So right after doing bicep curls, for example, your triceps are a little stronger, and you can work them a little harder than you ordinarily would. So it was clear that if I was going to do two exercises for 30 seconds each, they should be organized around pairs of opposing muscles as much as possible.

Taken together, it was clear that there were three principles I could use to build a powerful program to get fit and lose weight:

  • Exercise every hour
  • Exercise in two 30-second bursts
  • Work opposing muscle groups whenever possible

That program is described in these pages.

What, When, and Where

This section outlines the 60-Second Workout program.

What you’ll be doing:

  • A series of 30-second exercises, scattered throughout the day.
  • Not quite enough in one session to break a sweat (but close) so you can dispense with the changing, showering, and traveling associated with a traditional exercise program. (The time you save helps make it possible.)

What you need to do it:

  • Small dumbell (around 5 or 10 lbs for a lady, 15 or 20 lbs for a guy)
  • A flat bench, ideally. (But a chair will work, in a pinch.)
  • Pullup station and/or or piece of multi-exercise equipment
  • An hourglass or computer program set to chime every hour or so
    (for added intensity use one that goes for 50, 45, 40, or 30 minutes. Experiment.)
  • A stopwatch with a countdown timer. (Set it to 30 seconds for your exercise bouts.)

Note: You may need two sets of dumbbells. One for home and one for work.

When you’ll be doing it:

  • For office workers, the program is most easily done at work. (The hard part is being determined not to care if your co-workers think you’re a little weird. It will be a topic of conversation for a day or two. Then they’ll get used to it and forget about it.)
  • If you have a job that keeps you active all day, you may not need this program at all. But if you do, you have a choice: You can either do it on the job or on the weekends.
  • If you skip the program over a weekend when you’re generally active.
  • But if you’re stuck in front of TV, get up every hour and spend a minute exercising!

How often you’ll be doing it:

  • Once a week is a place to start if you’re terribly out of shape. (Mon)
  • Two times a week should be a minimum. (Mon, Thur)
  • Three times a week is about right for most people. (Mon, Wed, Fri)
  • Four times a week gives quicker results, if you recover well. (Mon, Tue, Thu, Fri)
  • Five times a week is for the serious athelete — but be alert for signs of overtraining! (Mon thru Fri)
  • Six or seven times a week is for the young (who recover fast) and the super fit.

What you can expect:

  • From day one you’ll notice:
    • You have terrifc energy all day long.
    • You’re mentally sharp, operating at peak efficiency.
    • The “mid-afternoon slump” disappears.
    • You’re warm, too, and no longer experience an “air conditioning chill”
    • At the end of the day , you’re energetic and ready for evening activities, instead of feeling run down and worn out.
  • For several weeks you’ll notice:
    • A tightened sensation in your muscles, as you grow stronger.
    • A desire to stretch more throughout the day, to loosen tight muscles
      (which helps them recover).
    • Your weight will see little change during this period, as you build strength.
    • Since muscle weighs more than fat, you may even gain a bit.
    • This period lasts three to six weeks, for most people.
  • After that you’ll begin to notice:
    • Fat loss! Your increased metabolism and increased muscle mass will
      begin burning fat like crazy.
    • Steadily and surely, you’ll watch your weight drop.

The Basic Fitness Program

Cycle through the exercise programs: Day One, Day Two, and Day Three. In each 60-second workout, choose one item from column A and one from column B. The next time you do that workout, reverse the sequence, choosing from column B first.

Ideally, finish each series with an additional 30 seconds of stretching for each muscle group you exercised. Stretching increases blood flow, reduces soreness, and helps to get muscle tissues into the elongated position they need to be in to grow. (See Stretching Basics.)

Day One

Deeply Breathe. Cat Stretch. Joint Rotations.
Pull Ups (or partials).
Dips
Off to work
Column A
Column B
Dumbbell Side/Overhead Press
Bent Row
Lateral Raise (arms to side)
Dumbell Flys
Squats
Calf Bounce
Crunch
Reverse situp
Russian Twist
Upright Row
Wrist Hammers (forward/Back)
End of Day

Slow strech and meditate

Day Two

Deeply Breathe. Cat Stretch. Joint Rotations.
Clubbell Exercises
Off to work
Column A
Column B
Punch Pull (left/right)
Punch Press (left/right)
Front Raise
Overhead bench raise
Plyo Jumps
Leg-Over Torso Twist
Side Bends (left/right)
Superman
Wrist Squeeze
End of Day
Slow strech and meditate

Day Three

Deeply Breathe. Cat Stretch. Joint Rotations.
Pushups (max)
Off to work
Column A
Column B
Dumbbell Dead Lift & Shrugs
Transverse Squeeze
Back Lunge
Bent Leg Lifts
Double Horizontal Tricep press
Curls
Squat Drops
Elbow-Palms
Wrist Twists
Wrist Rollers
– open –
– open –
End of Day
Slow strech and meditate

Exercise Notes:

  • General Notes
    • “Press” implies bending and straightening the arms.
    • “Raise” implies that the arms are straight throughout the exercise.
  • Day One
    • Dumbbell Side/Overhead Press: First one side, then the other, then both, in a three-move sequence.
    • Calf Bounce: Any set of stairs will do.
    • Reverse situp: Hand or hands under the small of the back protects the back and increases the range of motion.
  • Day Two
    • Overhead Bench Raise: An office chair that lets you lean back to an almost horizontal position is close enough to a bench for practical (metabolism-increasing) purposes.
    • Plyo Jumps: Like jumping rope, only slightly deeper. Or hop over an obstacle that is no more than knee-high. Or jump on and off a platform at the same height.
    • Leg-Over Torso Twist: Twist only as far as you can while keeping shoulders on the ground.
    • Superman: Hands at sides for minimum effort. Hands behind head for medium effort. Hands straight out in front for maximum effort.
  • Day Three
    • Double Horizontal Tricep Press: Place your forehead against a wall to stabilize torso and prevent “swinging”.
    • Elbow-Palms: Start in pushup position (“plank”). Go down to both elbows, then back up, moving one elbow at a time. Simultaneously works the obliques and abdominal obliques.

Explanations

This is an ideal program. On a given day, I don’t always get everything in. I’m particularly lax at the start and end of the day, when I should be getting in my stretching and meditating. So the program helps to remind me to do what’s good for me.

When you do the program 5 days a week, it takes 6 weeks before you repeat the same exercises, in the same order, on the same day. (If you do the Day One exercises on a Monday, it takes three weeks before Day One falls on a Monday again. But then you do the exercises in reverse order, so it takes another 3 weeks before Day One falls on a Monday with the same ordering of exercises.)

Each day attempts to work as much of the body as possible, targeting each muscle group from a different angle than you did on previous days. That way, the whole body is active in the fat-burning and strength-building process.

Major muscle groups are worked on multiple days. Smaller muscle groups are worked less frequently. In any given day, major muscles groups come first. Minor muscle groups come later. (There is also a general progression from head to toe, on any given day.)

These exercises are ones I like, that I have equipment for. Feel free to modify the sequence and substitute exercises you favor. Find what works for you!

Muscle Groups Exercised

The following table shows which muscle groups are active for each exercise:

muscle groups exercised

Note: Twisting exercises (the “obliques”) involve both the abdominal obliques and lower latisimus muscle of the back.

Make a Skills-Based Program

For even more variety, alternate the basic fitness program with a customized skills-based program.

To do that, fill up the chart with skill-drills that are appropriate for the activities you participate in. A martial artist might do kicks. A dancer could do dance moves. A musician could even do scales. Here are some samples:

Volleyball Program
Martial Arts Program
Spike on Wall
Staff
Off to Work
Off to Work
Set to Self
Front Kick
Pass to Self
Side Kick
Alternating Set/Pass to Self
Crescent Kick (“sweeps”)
Continuous Block Jumps
Jump Front Kick
Set to Wall/Target
Spinnng Roundhouse Kick
Pass to Wall/Target
Back Kick / Jump Crescent Kick
Alternating Set/Pass to Wall
Pushing Side Kick / Jump Back Kick

Here’s one for badminton, with emphasis on footwork for the first four drills, with racquet skills coming after:

Badminton Program

Left Front Lunge

Left Back Sumo Hop
Right Back Cross Behind
Right Front Lunge
Grip Shifts & Stance
Floor pickup

 

A day of skills workouts counts almost as much as a day of rest, because you’re not working individual muscles as hard as when you’re doing one of the basic fitness workouts. So adding skill workouts is a great way to add fat-burning minutes without producing the fatigue that accompanies overworked muscles. (And they’ll help you improve your performance at your favorite activity, too!)

Here is one good scheduling option for skill drills:

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Basic
Fitness
Basic
Fitness
Skill Drills
Basic
Fitness
Basic
Fitness

Here is another:

Mon
Tue
Wed
Thu
Fri
Basic
Fitness
Skill Drills
Basic
Fitness
Skill Drills
Basic
Fitness

Do Activity-Related Resistance Exercises

The 60-second exercise program was tailor-made for an exercise device I’ve designed. (It has yet to move beyond the prototype stage, however.) The device has a variety of attachments that let you simulate a variety of outdoors and sports activities, such as chopping wood, kicking a ball, swinging a golf club or bat, raking leaves, or hoeing a garden.

That kind device would let you do a variety of different exercises in 30-60 second bursts througout the day, all at a single station. So it would be ideal for use at work or at home.

Alternatively, you can engage in the actual activities in short bursts throughout the day, preferably with a small amount of additional resistance. But these days, it’s rare that anyone would have the equipment and environment needed to perform these activities. They were part of everyday life for our ancestors, but all of the machines we use today have taken the exercise out of living:

Outdoor Activity Program
Chop Wood
Scythe a Field
Row a Canoe
Haul a Rope
Plane a Board

The same machine can be used to do a variety of sports-related exercises:

Sports Activity Program
Kick a Ball
Throw a Ball
Swing a Bat or Raquet

Swing a Golf Club

Charge off the Line

Do Stretching Exercises

Spending one day out of every two or three on stretching exercises can reduce soreness, promote muscle growth, and give your body a rest. It also improves blood flow, raising the metabolism in a way that causes virtually no strain.

It only takes 30 seconds for a muscle to stretch out to 80 or 90 percent of its potential — a potential that will conintuually increase if you keep stretching regularly, and do so without straining, which tenses up the muscles and causes tearing, rather than stretching.

In 60 seconds, a muscle will some close to its maximum stretching potential that there isn’t much point in stretching it any longer. So whether you do a 30-second stretch or a 60-stretch, stretching fits naturally into the 60-second workout system.

When you add stretching to your program, you have three options:

  • Do two 30-second stretches in each exercise period.
  • Do one 60-second stretch.
  • Combine a 30-second stretch with some other exercise, such as a skill drill.

You should experiment to see what works for you, but I like the latter program. I do 30-second skill drills on Tuesdays and Thursdays, and follow them with a 30-second stretch. That gives me two days a week where I focus on fun activities, and also get in a good recovery-enhancing stretch.

Combining those stretches with skills exercises produces a program that looks like the one below. (This volleyball-skills program assumes that you have to travel somewhere to find a wall you can practice spiking on.):

Volleyball Skills & Stretching
Whole Body Pose (home)
Spike on Wall (away)
Off to Work
Set to Self
Standing Hang
Pass to Self
Standing Back Bend
Alternating Set/Pass to Self
Calf Stretch
Continuous Block Jumps
Quad Stretch
Set to Wall/Target
Cobra
Pass to Wall/Target
Plow
Alternating Set/Pass to Wall
Headstand

A program built around martial arts skills might look like this:

Martial Arts Skills & Stretching
Staff
Whole Body Pose
Off to Work
Front Kick
Standing Hang
Side Kick
Standing Back Bend
Crescent Kick (“sweeps”)
Calf Stretch
Jump Front Kick
Quad/Shin Stretch
Spinnng Roundhouse Kick
Cobra
Back Kick / Jump Crescent Kick
Plow
Pushing Side Kick / Jump Back Kick
Headstand

And one for badminton:

Badminton & Stretching

Left Front Lunge

Standing Hang
Left Back Sumo Hop
Standing Back Bend
Right Back Cross Behind
Calf Stretch
Right Front Lunge
Quad/Shin Stretch
Grip Shifts & Stance
Plow
Floor Pickup
Headstand

On the other hand, if you do the stretches by themselves, the sample program looks like this:

Stretching Program
Standing Hang
Standing Back Bend
Calf Stretch
Quad/Shin Stretch
Cobra
Plow
Headstand

Stretching Notes:

  • Quad/Shin Stretch Progression:
    • Chair and wall, until comfortable
    • Floor and wall, until comfortable
    • Floor

Results Journal (partial)

  • Started the program on a Friday (21 July 06)
    • After a couple of decades of slow weight growth.
    • Weight had reached an embarassing 243 lbs.
    • That made it hard to jump, considering that I used to weight 190 in my prime.
  • Fri: 4 Aug (two weeks): 243
    • No real weight change yet, but lots more energy.
    • Very productive at work, with energy left over for evening activities, too.
      (Had an exercise class one evening, played volleyball another.)
    • Feel like a kid again. Haven’t had that much energy in ages.
  • Mon, 7 Aug (three weeks): wgt 242, waist 45
    • The weight loss is insignificant so far, but the energy gain is superb.
    • Muscles feel just slightly sore, which is a good thing. It’s not enough to be uncomfortable, but rather just enough to be aware of the sensation.
    • Energy is very high, as well. Just worked 4 days over the weekend. It’s been a long time since I had the energy to do that.
    • Something about my looks is improving, too. Or maybe it’s a greater sense of confidence I’m carrying myself with. I notice more women looking at me, these days. (I noticed that when I was doing weight training in college, too. Women started going out of their way to have conversations. I’m not in that kind of shape — yet. But I like the trend.)
    • I would swear my waist is getting a little smaller, too. Started taking waist measurements, to be sure. Measuring with the abdominal muscles fully relaxed, so I get the real picture.

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