How to Squeeze a ‘Go-to’ Fitness Workout into a Busy Day

A1C Jayme Ratcliff, 324th Intelligence Squadron fusion analyst, practices yoga on Hickam Beach on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii.
A1C Jayme Ratcliff, 324th Intelligence Squadron fusion analyst, practices yoga on Hickam Beach on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam, Hawaii, Jan. 31, 2020. (Airman 1st Class Erin Baxter/U.S. Air Force photo)

When life gets in the way or an illness or injury prevents you from performing your typical workout, do you have a minimum standard go-to activity?

Over the years, I have seen countless ways people find a little time to get something done or work around injuries. However, looking at these ideas also leads to other thoughts for those needing to start a fitness routine. Check out these ideas as they vary in style, equipment needs, time and fitness levels:

Walking: A classic go-to, this versatile workout option can serve as your activity when life gets busy or as a supplement to your typical workout routine. Walking daily can be your minimum standard, whether your upper body is injured or you lack the equipment for other activities. It's not just a workout but also a stress buster, helping you burn extra calories and unwind at the end of the day. As a supplemental workout, walking is also a great way to burn additional calories.

Upper- or lower-body calisthenics: Nothing is quite as effective as a set or two of push-ups, pull-ups, dips, plank poses, squats and lunges. This form of resistance training requires little equipment, and with some creativity, you can spread a set of 10 of several of these exercises throughout the day and accumulate many repetitions. When you cannot go to the gym, get your resistance training when possible.

Favorite workout video: Many people I asked about their go-to said they like to do at-home videos -- P90X, Bas Rutten, yoga, Peloton, dance fitness -- or other free selections on YouTube. These are all great options to pull out from the archives when you are stuck in the house and want to mix in something for the day.

Mobility Day or system's check workout: An easy workout that makes for a nice placeholder for your scheduled workout is Mobility Day: 3-4 sets of five minutes of cardio and five minutes of stretching. Think of it as though a spin class and yoga class had a baby. These five-minute sets will help you get through a good stretch and mobility session and stay warm with the added cardio and calorie burn. I often use the system check if I am nursing an injury or fighting an illness. These workouts will help you feel like you did something, not lose the habit of exercising, and feel better once completed.

I recently had one of those weeks when I was both busy and fighting an upper-respiratory infection. Any higher intensity (higher heart rate) would trigger coughing. To avoid making myself feel worse, I dropped the intensity to a lower heart rate with a mix of walking, biking, stretching and a few weightlifting machines. Here is what that looked like:

Repeat 2-3 times.

  • Bike or walk five minutes
  • Stretch five minutes
  • Do three machines (push/pull/legs)

This full-body, light-cardio, flexibility workout was perfect for the situation and took 30-45 minutes. Ideas for push exercises include bench presses, military presses, dips and triceps extensions, while pull exercises would be pulldowns, rows and biceps curls. For the legs, do squats, lunges and leg presses.

Look in your workout inventory and see whether you can find a few go-to workouts you can pull out of the archive to add a little activity to your day.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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