Planking engages a number of muscles in the shoulders, back and stomach. Achieving a non-stop 30-second plank is harder than it looks, but planking helps to build a stronger core and improve posture and even flexibility. Muscle burns more calories than fat, so planking can help you to burn more calories even when you are not working out.
Planking will help you build a stronger core. Photograph: Undrey/Getty Images/iStockphoto
Sprinting for as little as a minute each day can reduce body fat, build muscle and increase the rate at which your body burns calories while resting. Marathon runners regularly incorporate short bursts of sprinting into training, as in the Swedish technique fartlek, because it drastically improves speed and cardiovascular fitness so that people can exercise longer. Sprints should be broken into 20-second bursts, so that you are working flat out. One study of obese men showed that they improved leg power and oxygen uptake in only two weeks.
If your goal is to one day do a pull up, starting with your grip strength could be an idea, because it is what determines whether you fall off the bar. “There’s nothing to stop you from picking up dumbells and going for a walk,” says Kamb. He suggests carrying them like suitcases at your side, an exercise known as “the farmer carry”.
A four-minute workout could help you to silence the voice in your head that says: “I don’t want to work out.” Tabata workouts are made up of 20-second intervals of intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times, totalling four minutes. “Often when people miss one workout, they feel they’ve lost all their gains. Tabata keeps up momentum and will sustain your muscle growth even when you can’t make it to the gym,” says Kamb.
Raising your leg at the 45-degree angle required for a proper sprint is equivalent to doing a crunch
Get ready for tomorrow’s workout tonight. “Put your alarm clock against the other side of the room, a glass of water by your bed, sleep in your gym kit and put your shoes by your bed,” says Kamb. His reasoning? Everyone wants to be as lazy as possible when it comes to exercising – if you are already in your workout clothes when you wake up, you have eliminated a major hurdle.
Take the stairs – it is great for you. Research shows that stair-climbing improves cardiovascular health and fitness, reduces “bad” cholesterol and can result in moderate weight loss. “You are raising your weight against gravity. Even going slowly, it’s as intense as jogging,” says Dr Frank Eves, a senior research fellow in sport, exercise and rehabilitation sciences at the University of Birmingham. “Climbing four flights of stairs will get your heart rate working at up to 80% of its maximum capacity. When you’re feeling breathless, surprisingly, it’s because your muscles just got a little bit fitter. Do that regularly and you’ll start to see bigger increases.”
But make sure you walk up – not down, he says: “We did a study where we put signs up saying ‘Take the stairs’ – but people just walked down. That defeats the point – climbing stairs is two to three times more strenuous.” Research has shown the health benefits for sedentary people of climbing 13 floors a day. Eves suggests spreading them throughout the day, at home or in coffee breaks at work.
Get off the bus or train a stop early and walk home. Researchers from Sheffield Hallam university looked into the benefits of walking for 30 minutes a day in three 10-minute bursts, compared with people fitting in the often recommended 10,000 steps a day. The 3,000-step walkers fared better. The researchers put this down to the intensity of the walks – so make sure your walk home is a brisk one.
“Low-intensity steady state” cardio exercise (Liss) is essentially the opposite of high-intensity interval training (Hiit). It has cardiovascular benefits, as well as increasing and strengthening the legs. The advantange over Hiit is that you can do it for longer.
Health is as much about what you put in your mouth as it is how you move. Batch-cook your lunches for the coming week if you want to get ahead – when you are not hungry or rushed you will make healthier choices.
This is enough time to complete the NHS’s Couch to 5K programme for absolute beginner runners. The programme builds up from walking to running 3.1 miles through three structured commitments a week and comes with a great podcast to keep you going.
It is often said it takes 21 days to form a habit. In fact, researchers at University College London who studied habit formation found that the average time for behaviour to become automatic was 66 days.
If you can run 5km fairly easily, that is a good base to start training for a half-marathon. Training programmes tend to focus on building up to 13 miles over 12 to 16 weeks. Cancer Research UK has published various training timetables, starting with 20-minute runs. The developers of the Couch to 5K app have also created an app for first-time marathon runners called 26.2 Marathon Trainer.
Six months to one year