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Health and wellness

Ten-minute workouts for busy Hongkongers that can be done anywhere, no equipment needed

Fewer than half of Hongkongers get enough exercise. Many blame this on their hectic lives and not being able to visit the gym, but as these mini workouts show, a few minutes a day can make all the difference

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 8:00pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 18 October, 2017, 8:00pm

We often get derailed in our exercise routines because we can’t fit the perfect workout into our day. We think we must go to a gym, or a certain class, or use a particular technique. And we end up doing nothing at all – but all that’s about to change.

According to the annual State of Obesity report, “Eighty per cent of American adults do not meet the government’s national physical activity recommendations for aerobic activity and muscle strengthening.” It’s not just Americans: most Hong Kong adults aged 18 to 64 fail to meet World Health Organisation recommendations of at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity, or 75 minutes a week of vigorous-intensity physical activity, or an equivalent combination of both. According to the Department of Health’s 2016 Behavioural Risk Factor Survey, only 43.6 per cent of Hongkongers do so.

It’s time to move – no matter how little. Slowly build a workout routine that fits in with your lifestyle.

Here are some building blocks. If you do one exercise from each of the five categories below, and three sets of 10 reps, it should take about seven to 10 minutes. Believe me: you can fit it in.

1. Mobility and breathing

Standing straight and breathing

Take a moment and stand tall: ears over shoulders, shoulders over hips, hips over knees, knees over heels. Reach the top of your head toward the ceiling as if being pulled up by a string. Inhale; feel it in your lungs, belly, sides and back; and exhale, engaging your abdominals while continuing to keep your posture. Take a handful of deep breaths. If you can’t stand, then do it while sitting, but keep a good posture.

Round and arch

Start on all fours with your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. On an exhale, bend forwards, chin to chest, tucking your tail bone under as if you’re trying to reach your nose. On an inhale, arch your spine, look up and move your tail bone as if you’re reaching toward the ceiling.

Opposing reach

Start on all fours with shoulders over wrists and hips over knees. Exhale and tighten your abswithout moving your spine. Then reach one hand forward with the opposite leg reaching back. So, while the right hand is reaching to the wall in front of you, the left leg is stretching to the wall behind. Keep the hips level and the abdominals engaged, and stretch your fingers and toes as far away from each other as possible.

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Reach for the sky and down to the floor

Standing tall with good posture, inhale and reach your fingers up toward the ceiling. Then, on exhale, move your hands apart and stretch toward the floor. Slowly round the spine, reaching your hands to touch the floor. Keep a slight bend in the knees, a deeper bend if needed. Inhale while your hands are pointed to the floor and, on an exhale, engage the abdominals and slowly unwind as you stand up tall and reach your hands to the ceiling.

Reach over

Stand straight, reach one arm toward the ceiling and then toward the opposite wall. In a standing position, if you lift your right arm up and over, you can feel the stretch along the arm and all the way on the right side of your torso. To advance the stretch, reach your right leg back either by slightly stepping back or lunging back. This should take the stretch along the front of the right thigh and hip flexors.

2. Upper body

Push-up

This is an all-around excellent exercise and can be done in various ways. You can stand up with your hands against the wall, or start on all fours and focus only on bending the arms with a long spine, keeping your knees on the floor and creating a straight line from your knees to the crown of your head. Or try the full exercise with a straight line from the top of your head to your heels. It is essential to stay tight in your core to do a push-up correctly. With abdominals tight and spine in a solid neutral position, squeeze your glutes and keep your shoulders over your wrists. Ideally, you’d start at a level where you can get your arms to a deep bend, close to 90 degrees.

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Triceps dip

Very similar to the push-up, but flipped over. You can keep your bottom on the floor and bend your elbows, or you can be on a table with your hips toward the ceiling while bending the arms. Fingers should point to the toes, and elbows should point straight back. Keep your shoulders relaxed and feel the triceps working.

Back extension

We spend so much time bending forward while sitting, but we forget to bend our spine in the opposite direction. Lie face down on the floor, with your hands just under your shoulders and your elbows facing back. Feel your elbows pulling back toward the wall behind you. Exhale and engage your stomach while slowly lifting your chest. Most people push their hands onto the ground and bend their head back. Instead, imagine the spine bending. Keep the stomach engaged and feel your back muscles as you arch your spine.

3. Lower body

Squat

Start with a tall posture, put your feet apart and shift the weight to your heels. Imagine there is a small stool a little too far behind you and you’re sitting back into it. With the chest lifted and abdominals engaged, sit back. If you’re new to squats, put a chair or stool behind you. Otherwise, sit until your thighs are parallel to the floor. When standing up, have the weight on your heels, squeeze the abdominals and use your glutes to stand up. Stances such as narrow or wide, feet turned out or in allow you to use different muscles. Always be sure that your hips, knees and toes are facing the same direction.

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Lunge

I call the lunge the complicated sibling of the squat. A lunge incorporates more balance and stability. When you lunge back, be mindful of your feet, knees, hips, torso and shoulders. Weight is on the front heel; notice how that activates the forward glute. Have the knee just over the ankle, and lunge so the front thigh is parallel to the floor. Stay strong in the posture. Feel your abdominals engage and keep your spine straight. Every time you rise, feel your glutes engage and lift you. Lateral, curtsey, walking and reverse positions add complexity and work different muscles.

Bridge

Lie on your back with a relaxed neck and upper body. Bend your legs and keep your feet planted on the floor, with your feet and knees hips’ width apart. With straight arms, keep your hands pushing onto the floor to assist with engaging the triceps and upper back. As you lift your hips, keep the heels planted and feel the engagement of the glutes and back of the legs. The goal is to lift the hips so there is a straight line from the knees to shoulders. It is common for people to arch their back and for knees to roll in or out. Avoid this. Engage the stomach and keep the spine straight. Variations include one-legged bridges and leg lifts.

4. Core and stability

Plank

Create the stance to start a push-up: shoulders directly over wrists, spine long, abdominals engaged, glutes squeezed and legs tight. If needed, drop to your knees with the same posture. Focus on your breath and squeeze your abdominals with each exhalation. Support your lower back, don’t overarch and keep the core tight. To add variation, you can lift one knee toward the elbow. You could also try a side plank. Rotate your entire body so your feet are stacked on top of each other and your hips, belly button and chest are facing the side, then reach the top hand toward the ceiling while the lower shoulder stretches away from the ear.

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Abdominal crunches

There are countless abdominal exercises. The key is to use your core for the work rather than pulling your neck or squeezing your glutes. It is common for the body to avoid using the core muscles. The first step is using the breath to engage. Inhale deeply until you feel it in your abdomen, and exhale while squeezing your belly. Feel as if the exhalation causes a “scooping” sensation in your stomach. Don’t move anything. Use your breath to engage your stomach. When you master that, you can lift your head or legs, and incorporate twists or add variations.

5. Aerobic and anaerobic

Add some cardiovascular work if you’re interested. Anything can work, but here are some ideas. If it’s aerobic work, you’re focusing on slow and steady and can work for two- to five-minute intervals. If you’re focusing on anaerobic work, do high-intensity sprints for 15 to 60 seconds and go for an intensity level that leaves you out of breath.

Burpee

When getting used to this exercise, take it step by step. As you advance, the movement becomes much more of a flow. Start in a standing position, put your hands on the floor and jump your legs back, and lie on the floor as quickly as possible. Then, exhale while pulling your legs in and jump back up to a standing position.

Marching knee-ups

Standing straight with abdominals engaged, march in place, lifting each knee to hip height. If adding intensity, speed up and add jumps.

Squat jumps

Squat down, shift the weight back and jump and reach toward the ceiling. When landing, bend your knees to go back to a squat.

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These are just a handful of exercises that can be done with no equipment. They can be done anywhere, anytime: indoors, outdoors, morning or evening. Make it work for you. Listen to your body and take small steps toward improving your strength and fitness.

Jae Berman is a registered dietitian, a personal trainer and owner of Jae Berman Nutrition.