Strength training. Just the words make me groan with dread. As a longtime runner, I'd happily pick an hour of jogging over a half-hour of gym reps any day. But what if I only needed to do 10 minutes of daily training to improve my overall strength? Surely I could muster up the motivation for that much.
I got this idea from Prevention’s new book Fit in 10: Slim & Strong—for Life!, which provides a variety of 10-minute exercise routines that you do with dumbbells, a resistance band, or body weight alone (phew, no scary bench press). Each routine targets different zones of the body, so you cantone your belly one day, then focus on strengthening your upper body the next. Here's an example of one of the triceps routines.
No gym membership required and I could do this while watching The Great British Baking Show on Netflix? I was in. With my copy of the book and a new set of resistance bands at the ready, I sucked it up and tried to do 10 minutes of strength training every day for a month. Here's how it went:
Did I skip some days? Of course. One weekend I was visiting a friend out of town and didn't bother with strength training, and sometimes I was feeling sick or just plain lazy. But I definitely stuck to it 80 percent of the days.
Before this challenge, I had never tried using resistance bands, but now I believe they're an essential for any home exerciser. Adding the extra tension to your workout moves makes them even more effective, and the bands are a genius swap when you don't have fancy gym equipment around—for example, you can do rows to work your lats or use a band in place of the questionable abductor/adductor machine. I enjoyed incorporating a band into my ab, arm, and leg routines from Fit in 10 and always preferred it over dumbbells. Maybe the novelty was what made a resistance band fun for me.
I started using a workout timer app.
Yes, it was only 10 minutes of training, but each workout consisted of a series of five moves that were broken into either two sets of 40-second reps with 20 seconds rest, or four sets of 20-second reps with 10 seconds rest. So it was tricky to keep track simply with the timer on my iPhone. I downloaded the Seconds interval-timer app, which I could easily program with the number of exercises and rest in between. A voice on the app prompts you at the start of each exercise and does a three-two-one countdown at the end so you know exactly how soon those glorious seconds of rest are. There's also a helpful setting you can swipe on if a move requires you to switch from the right side to left within the allotted time, so you'll be alerted when to shift. The only downside with the free version is that you can't save your timers, so I had to create a new one each time. Had I invested $4.99 in the Pro version, things would have been more streamlined, but I guess I'm a cheapskate.
Variety was key.
With strength training, it's easy to get in a rut. At the gym there are machines that I'm comfortable using, or moves that I feel least ridiculous doing in front of other people, so I tend to stick to what I know. At home it's easier to experiment with new exercises without feeling self-conscious. I appreciated that the Fit in 10 program offers 12 different routines I could choose from, especially when I'd just run miles of hills the day prior and wanted to avoid leg exercises. Targeting different muscle groups was also one of my priorities when starting this month-long challenge because I do work my lower body so much more than my upper.
I felt stronger as a whole.
As someone who already works out at least five days a week, I was skeptical that 10 minutes a day could have any significant results. But when I headed to a barre class toward the end of this experiment and totally crushed it (without feeling much soreness the next day), I knew my efforts were paying off—normally barre class destroys me. In particular, I noticed that my arms were stronger and more sculpted, and my hips didn't feel quite as weak (runner problems). I also swear I can see more abs definition from doing so much regular core work as opposed to none ever.
The Verdict: For someone who isn't looking to achieve CrossFit-level power, I think 10 minutes of strength training per day is plenty to gain strength and even out muscle imbalances. And it's a great jumping-off point if you decide to push yourself further once you have a solid foundation and master proper form. As for me, I'm definitely going to keep up this routine in the hopes that it'll make me a better, less injury-prone athlete—but I'll stick to just 10 minutes, thanks.
This article originally appeared on Prevention.