Summer is knocking at the door, boys and girls. (Allegedly.) Everyone is outside, hanging out in the golden rays, whiling their hours away in sun-soaked fun and romantic adventure. (Allegedly.) Summer lovin’. It’s like a scene from Grease, I tells ya. And why the hell not? A spell in the sunshine promotes Vitamin D synthesis, improves mood, and boosts immunity. It may even increase lean tissue-building testosterone levels. (Allegedly.)
Seriously, there are some times you want to lock yourself away in your cell and perform hours and hours of calisthenics—and there are times you definitely don’t. There are times you want to get a quick, productive workout under your belt, so you can go out and enjoy life instead. For a lotta folks, summer is one of those times.
My hands are up, officer; I’ve been guilty of long, draining, excessive workouts throughout my career. But I have also experimented with very brief, efficient, training sessions—and I want to share a few of the tactics I’ve personally used for super-short workouts. Specifically, I’m gonna give you five types of session that will keep your motivation high, keep you strong, flexible and tough—and all for the temporal investment of a mere five minutes. (Yeah, you read that right. Five minutes.)
I want you crazy kids to enjoy summer. Think you can’t get a viable training session done in five minutes? Read on, Macduff.
The S4 Method
This right here is my personal favorite strategy for a quick, effective workout. It’s simple, too—provided you can view a clock or wristwatch. For any movement or body-part, you warm up, then perform: a minute of a strict bodyweight strength exercise; a 60 second muscular hold for stamina and control; a minute of a fast calisthenics exercise; and a final stretch. (Strength, Stamina, Speed and Stretch—four “S” qualities. S4, get it?)
So the method looks like this:
How quick and simple is that? You just knock out each of these for one full minute. Non-stop activity, with no rest in-between exercises. That’s it!
If you think this is not effective, I challenge you to try it. Here’s how it might work for midsection. You warm up for a minute with some abdominal tension, leg swings and hip rolling; then—eye on the clock—jump up and grab the overhead bar. For sixty seconds you grind out slow, smooth, perfect leg raises. (Ten reps is about right, champ.)
By now, you are grimacing—but you still got some life in ya, right? So drop to the floor and press out into an L-hold—now stay there for sixty seconds.
By the end of this (if you manage it) your legs will be trembling, and your gut will be in agony. But the show ain’t over, bud. Hook your feet under something; you have one minute to pump out as many bent-leg sit-ups as you can stomach. (Pun intended.) You are going for speed—military style.
USCMC image (LCpl Esteban Gallegos)
By now your midsection is spent, and you will be pretty much snapping up using everything you have. The minute—which will seem endless—finishes, somehow. Your body just wants to curl up in pain right now, but I want you to do the opposite—roll onto your stomach and straighten your arms, pushing up into a cobra stretch.
This hold is a strange mix of relaxing—as it decompresses your confused and tangled, deep-fried muscles—and painful, as the time mounts up. One minute of this, and you walk out a free citizen—if you can walk at all!
Sure, this workout is too tough for most athletes. But as with all progressive calisthenics, you can tailor it to your own level. Can’t do leg raises? Knee raises or lying leg raises. Not loved by the L-hold yet? Bent-leg holds or jackknife holds work the same. Too shot to do the sit-ups? Throw a b-ball at the wall and catch it on the rebound for a minute (an underrated gut exercise).
Even the time aspect is variable. A minute is unthinkable for these exercises? Start with 30 seconds for each and build up a few seconds each session.
The S4 method works with pretty much anything. Want some upper-body push action?
Again, with the PCC “toolbox” you can vary the difficulty in dozens of ways. For example, beginners might sub dips for kneeling push-ups. The elbow lever could be swapped for easier prone statics like planks, wall planks or raised elbow levers (see the PCC Instructor’s Manual for even more options). Fast push-ups could be subbed for incline push-ups, focusing on pumping out rapid-fire reps in the top range. Stretch out on a doorway for an easier pec stretch.
S4 works for legs, too:
If you are working on unilateral or asymmetrical exercises, it’s best to alternate sides each rep. Again, you can use different difficulty levels, or different techniques—S4 stands a lot of tweaking.
Strength, control, speed and mobility. That’s three simple, five-minute workouts right there that very few advanced athletes could manage—trust me.
Gear Change Sets
Fancy a change? A workout new and fresh, free from the baggage of your long-term program? It’s a good idea to try novel exercises. It’s another cool idea to change your sets and reps. But how many athletes think about radically changing their speed? Or, how about changing your speed as much as possible…in a single set?
This is the basic idea behind Gear Change sets. You begin with a handful of slow-mo reps, and finish with a bunch of max speed reps. There are many ways you can approach this. A great one is to shoot for 4 slo-mo reps—that’s 30 seconds up, 30 seconds down—immediately followed by a minute’s worth of a very high-speed, explosive exercise for the same body-part. For example, after 4 slo-mo squats, I used to perform tuck jumps for a minute (if you are outside, a maximum speed run for 60 seconds is probably even better).
So here’s a potential Gear Change workout for the legs:
Ever combined slo-mo squats with running? Murder.
Pick the right movements for your ability, and you have an amazing five minute body-part workout right there. But for Christ’s sake, always start each slo-mo rep at the bottom—or you may find yourself doing a 30 second negative squat you cannot push up out of. Slo-mo reps are tough, so don’t try slo-mo with an exercise unless you can do at least twenty strict reps with it at regular speed.
The method works for any body-part. For midsection, you could follow 4 slo-mo leg raises with squat thrusts for 60 seconds. After slo-mo push-ups or pull-ups, you might apply a minute of intense bag work or shadow boxing. You get the idea.
This slow-to-fast method is an amazing way to train. Through the complete elimination of momentum, the slow moves are tougher than you imagine (until you try ‘em). They just seem to hit the muscles in a new way, activating deeper fibers we don’t reach by bouncing mindlessly through reps, like so many folks seem to do. Very slow reps also really teach your brain something about the movements you are using; leverage, joint tracking, movement angles, weight shift. Subtle qualities of bodyweight motion, easy to miss at regular speed, now scream at you. When you are done with them, your muscles feel totally numb—and asking them to switch to their highest gear is a true challenge.
The Gear Change set also replicates real life. There would have been times when our ancient ancestors had to move very slow with high tension—maybe dragging a carcass back to the cave—then they were forced to suddenly fight off a predator trying to steal their prize. Slow to fast. Survival today is no different; imagine a soldier in the desert carrying heavy weapons or equipment, suddenly having to run for cover in a firefight.
Don’t get me wrong. Gear Change sets (like the other ideas here) are not meant to form the basis of your long-term training program. But they sure are fun, effective and instructive once in a while.
The H.P.A.S. Protocol
This is a beaut of a workout. I’m gonna call it HPAS, coz “Half Pyramid Antagonistic Super-sets” is too hard to say (at least for me). The premise—as always—is real straightforward. Pick two exercises for opposing muscle groups. Begin by doing each for 10 reps, then each for 9 reps, then 8 reps and so on, until you get down to one rep per set—and you do all this without stopping.
Here’s one potential workout:
Few exercises go together better than regular push-ups and Aussie pull-ups.
Back to back antagonistic superset madness! On sale NOW!!
Can all this be done in five minutes?—if you use brisk reps with no pauses, yeah. But it’s not easy, and most folks will have to seriously build up to this. (There’s a good goal, huh? I’m looking at you, Jack.)
The HPAS Protocol is a perfect example of how short sessions can be both powerful and productive. Very popular in jails. If you can follow the above workout, you will have scorched every muscle in your upper bod, knocked out 20 sets, and got a helluva cardio workout, too.
This workout is proof that you don’t need to be in the gym for hours to make progress. In calisthenics—as in life—it’s quality that counts, not quantity. A hundred thousand rhinestones won’t make you rich, son; but a handful of diamonds sure will.
The Century is the rapidly-becoming-classic PCC certification test. It is designed to display technical ability in combination with an advanced level of conditioning, but it can also be a damn fine workout in its own right. In case you haven’t heard of The Century (where you been, dude? Under a rock?!), it’s so-called coz it features one-hundred nonstop reps in a single set:
PCC-certified super-achievers will probably be sick of training for The Century, but it’s still a good staple to return to from time-to-time. Not only is it great to get back to the basics, but a hundred reps of the good stuff will leave your circulation and energetic system supercharged.
Beware though—if you want to crack this sucker in five minutes, you better have taken some Super Soldier Serum this week, kid. It can be done, though.
Al Kavadlo owns The Century in under 2 minutes 39 seconds.
Can you come close to that?
One final suggestion. You want the best five minute bodyweight workout money can buy? Hold a bridge for five minutes.
I’m not kidding. The bridge has so many benefits, it’s crazy. It is the best bodyweight exercise in the world. A long hold will increase total-body strength and endurance—not just in the showy muscles, but in the vital deep tissues and tendons. It will increase flexibility, mobilize the ribcage, hip flexors and stomach wall, and disperse adhesions and calcifications in the shoulders. It bulletproofs the spine and lower back and drastically reduces knee pain. The inverse head position increases circulation to the noggin, releasing endorphins, inducing calm, and improving brain health. The bridge rocks.
I know what you’re thinking. Just one exercise? That’s an imbalanced workout, for sure! No way, José. In the real world, most eager athletes do so much for the front of their bodies—the showy pecs, biceps, abs and quads—that throwing a little extra meat to the under-loved posterior chain cannot hurt one bit.
Besides, the bridge is one of the all-time bodyweight classics, no different from pushups, squats or pull-ups. If you can’t hold a bridge for five minutes, there’s no way you can call yourself in great shape, no matter what else you can do.
There you go—a killer series of five-minute summer training tactics, just for you.
So, what are your plans tonight, buttercup? What’s that? In a little while, you’re gonna eat, grab a shower, then head out for the evening?
…before that, you’ve got five minutes to spare for old Coach, right?
My thanks go out to Al Kavadlo (PCC Lead Instructor) for generously contributing such cool pics to illustrate this article. This is not the first time Al has donated pics (and advice) for free to promote the bodyweight cause—thanks Al!
About Paul “Coach” Wade: Paul Wade is the author of five Convict Conditioning DVD/manual programs. Click here for more information about Paul Wade, and here for more information on Convict Conditioning DVD’s and books available for purchase from the publisher.