Few of us have the time to train like professional athletes, with lengthy daily workout sessions followed by extensive recovery routines. Instead of surrendering to your busy schedule, grant yourself ten minutes to crank through this three-move bodyweight circuit from Rafique “Flex” Cabral, an ex-Marine, certified personal trainer, and co-founder of New York City–based Trooper Fitness. The workout is short, but the functional full-body movements will improve your overall athletic ability, Cabral says. The moves help you maintain tension and balance in a low athletic stance, transfer power between the upper and the lower body, and increase glute activation so you can charge up and down a mountain.
Do these moves two to three times per week whenever you can sneak them into your schedule. After six to eight weeks, consider switching to a new workout. Once your body adapts to a routine, the gains begin to diminish, so mix it up every now and then to make continuous progress. “It’s not something you should be doing forever,” Cabral explains, “but it’s something you can cycle through throughout the year.”
Like with any bodyweight routine, good form is crucial for targeting the right muscles and reaping the full benefits of the exercises. Move slowly and in control, and stop once your form begins to break. Try to up the intensity every week or two, whether that’s by adding reps or sets or increasing the difficulty.
Complete this workout as a circuit, moving from one exercise to the next at a steady pace, with no rest in between each movement. Aim for three to four rounds in total, with a minute or so of rest between each round.
It’s always a good idea to do a quick warmup, especially if you’re coming right out of a desk chair. Begin with a short jog, brisk walk, jump-rope session, or vigorous house chores followed by arm and leg swings to get the blood moving and the muscles loosened. Then do a round or two of air squats and push-ups (eight to 12 reps each).
What it does: Trains balance, challenges the core, and strengthens the major muscle groups of the lower body—glutes, quads, hamstrings, calves, and stabilizers.
How to do it: Stand tall with your feet hip-width apart and toes pointed forward. Engage your core and square your hips. Then take a large step backward so your knee lines up vertically with your ankle on the front leg. (This alignment protects your knees and ensures you hit the target muscles.) Bend your front knee to lower your body until your front thigh is parallel to the floor and your back knee hovers just above the ground but does not touch. Pause for a second, then engage both legs to reverse the movement to the starting position. Repeat, alternating legs each rep. Hold your head and chest high, your pelvis neutral, and your back straight throughout the movement.
As you get stronger, progress the exercise to a single-leg split squat (also called a Bulgarian split squat). Perform the same movement as described above with your back foot elevated on a box or a bench somewhere between mid-shin and knee height. With this variation, complete all reps on one side before switching to the other. Once that becomes too easy, add weight: hold dumbbells, wear a loaded backpack, or use a barbell.
Volume: Aim for ten reps on each leg. Once you can do ten reps with good form, increase the difficulty.
What it does: Strengthens the shoulders, triceps, chest, upper back, and core while improving flexibility along the backside of the body.
How to do it: Start in a downward-facing dog position, with your hands shoulder-width apart or slightly wider and feet together (or no more than 12 inches apart). The closer your feet are to your hands, the harder the exercise. Bend your elbows to slowly lower your head between your hands until it’s just above the floor. Push back up to the starting position. Keep your hips high and your heels low, and engage your core to maintain the inverted-V position throughout the movement.
Gradually decrease the distance between your hands and your feet to progress the exercise, and eventually elevate your feet (the higher, the more difficult). Eventually, you may be able to work up to a handstand push-up from the pike.
Volume: Aim for ten reps. Once you can do ten reps with good form, decrease the distance between your hands and your feet.
Hollow Body Hold
What it does: Primarily targets the abs, deep core, and hip flexors to improve core strength and stability.
How to do it: Lie flat on your back on the floor and hold your legs in the air, knees and hips both bent to 90 degrees. There should be no gap underneath your back throughout the exercise. Hold your head off the floor. Keep your chin tucked, core engaged, and lower back pressed firmly against the floor. Hold your arms straight along your body, just off the floor, with your shoulders relaxed and down. Then straighten your legs and slowly lower them until they’re hovering just above the floor. Now raise your arms up overhead and lower them until they’re just above the floor. Hold this position.
If at any point your lower back arches and comes up off the floor, bring your legs and arms back toward the starting position, decreasing the difficulty to the point where you can maintain good form.
Volume: Aim for a 30-to-45-second hold. Once you can hit 45 seconds with good form, make it more challenging by wearing shoes, boots, or ankle weights, if you have them, and hold weights in your hands (water bottles will work).