Harley Pasternak: OK, Here’s the Least Amount of Exercise You Can Get Away With …

12/24/2014 at 09:25 AM ET

Working Out
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Harley Pasternak is a celebrity trainer and nutrition expert who has worked with stars from Halle Berry and Lady Gaga to Robert Pattinson and Robert Downey Jr. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author, with titles including The Body Reset Diet and The 5-Factor Diet. His new book 5 Pounds hits shelves in March 2015. Tweet him @harleypasternak.

You know that in principle, to look and feel strong and lean, you need to work out. But in reality, life often gets in the way. Between work, family, your social life and — oh, yeah, sleep — there are only so many hours in the day. How can you get the benefits of exercise without spending precious hours in the gym?

I’ve spent the last few years investigating just how to get the most results from the least amount of exercise.

The first key, as I often write about in this very blog, is what’s called ‘NEAT,’ or non-exercise activity thermogenesis. In other words, exercise that occurs through normal daily activity like walking around or climbing stairs, taking the dog out, horsing around with your kids and doing household chores.

But daily activity won’t meet your daily muscle needs — you need to figure out a way to get some resistance exercises in to boost your metabolism, sculpt your body and improve your posture.

So how many minutes a day do you really need to make a difference?

My approach to strength training — a.k.a. resistance training — is to focus on the movements that achieve the greatest results and then to perform the minimum amount necessary to produce those results. After all, if you can look great with 10 minutes of resistance exercise a day, why sweat and strain for 45 minutes? Which is not to say that intensity when exercising isn’t key; I’ve seen my clients achieve great results with short, intense workouts, but don’t just take my word for it. A significant amount of recent research supports this approach.

The 15-Minute Workout
In one study, researchers compared the results of doing either one set of resistance exercises that required 15 minutes to complete or three sets that required 35 minutes. Both groups of subjects raised their resting metabolic rate (number of calories burned at rest) comparably — and continued to do so for 72 hours after completing the exercises, continuing to burn about 100 additional calories a day, per person. That means that following the American College of Sports Medicine guidelines for resistance training is enough to offset increases in body fat, and therefore weight gain, for most people.

The 7-Minute Workout
Last year, the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal published an article that was then picked up by seemingly every publication about a seven-minute full-body workout based on the concept of high-intensity workouts that could work out your whole body using just your body weight.

My own version of the 7-Minute Workout is more balanced and strengthens the posterior muscles of the body (the back, glutes, hamstrings) as much as the front, ensuring proper posture and balance.

The 5-Minute Workout
My new book out in March, 5 Pounds, sheds light on how you can get fit and toned in just five minutes a day. If you stay physically active throughout the day, you can get real results with as little as five minutes a day of resistance training: one move per day every day. If you’re a habit-friendly person like I am, you’ll find great success in the dependability of carving out just five minutes a day.

The first week looks like this (try 4 sets of 20 for each exercise):
Day 1: Single-Leg Tap Squat
Day 2: Hip Thrust
Day 3: Dumbbell Single-Arm Triceps Kickback
Day 4: Ball Hamstring Curl
Day 5: Dumbbell Lateral Raise
Day 6: Reverse Fly
Day 7: Side Plank

So the question is, can you find 30 minutes a week, of which only three minutes need to be intense exercise? Or maybe five minutes a day every day is more suited to you? Surely the answer has to be yes, no matter how busy you are. Another way to put this is that if you’ve been waiting to commit to an exercise program until you have half an hour or so a day, that’s no longer a valid excuse. Ten minutes, three times a week, is doable and will produce results.

Every little bit helps. Something is better than nothing. Time to get going. Do it now!

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Meena on

You don’t have to do a lot. Mainly, gotta eat clean!

deleted on

If you workout for 5 minutes a day and change nothing else, you won’t see much difference. You also won’t reap the benefits as you age of a dedicated exercise program involving cardio and resistance training.

It’s always something. If you can move your body, then you have an obligation to yourself to move.

Laura Gudipalley on

I am flattered that you like my business name so much that you like to use it as your own. I believe you should be creative enough to use your own.
Have a healthy day,
Laura S. Gudipalley
Owner Custom Home Gyms, LLC

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