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I'm a 40 year old man who manages to maintain a basic level of fitness. Most days I do a couple of sets of press-ups, walk my 10,000 steps and cycle a couple of miles. But I'm not kidding myself that I'm anything other than one step above "totally unfit".

In the years before children, I regularly hiked, scrambled and hillwalked. That's all gone by the wayside now. But I'm hoping that in a few years, when I have more free time, it'll become a possibility again. But I'm worried that if I don't keep up a minimal level of fitness, I won't be able to "re-train" my body when I hit 50.

I'm very busy, and I don't have much time to devote to fitness. Joining a gym is out of the question, as is devoting more than 10-15 minutes more than I already do to fitness.

What I'd like to be able to do is get up earlier and fit in some exercise before everyone else in the house is awake. It seems a good time of day to do it: get the blood flowing, enjoy the benefits of heightened metabolism, get the pain out of the way. But in order to do this, I have to be quiet so as not to disturb sleeping children. So it can't involve any vigorous activity like star jumps, or step-ups.

I also have no specialist equipment - not even free weights - and there's not room in my house to store anything bigger than perhaps a wrist-strap weight. So unless someone's starting making weights out of the hearts of neutron stars, it's body weight only exercises.

So my question is this: if I do 10 minutes of quiet bodyweight-based exercises like press-ups, planks or wall sits in the morning, is it going to be valuable for my strength and fitness? And if so, what quiet exercises should I be trying to fit in to those 10 minutes for a decent round-body workout?

  • It will be easier to give a good answer if you describe in more detail what kind of fitness you want to improve. What problems do you have currently that you want to get rid of? – Mårten Jan 28 '15 at 13:18
  • @user1013159 Thanks for looking. I don't have any particular problems aside from being a little thin in the wrists for a man. I just want to see some minor improvements in my strength (particularly upper body), flexibility and (if possible) my aerobic capacity. – Bob Tway Jan 28 '15 at 14:01
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    You don't have time, space, and don't want to make noise? That's gonna be tough. I don't see how you can really exert yourself without making some noise over time. Planks and push ups will only take you so far. You'll definitely need some pullups too. Pullups bars can be hung on any door. And some squats to condition your legs. – Kneel-Before-ZOD Jan 28 '15 at 16:25
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    Well, you can purchase a pullup bar, attach it to any door and you can use it anytime you walk past the door (a method known as greasing the groove). You can also remove it, and use it for pushups, dips, etc. They're noiseless (except for your grunting :)). You can also go running outside too. Those will help you in keeping fit; burpees, knee jumping, reverse crunches, chin ups, etc will also help as well. You have many choices :0 – Kneel-Before-ZOD Jan 28 '15 at 16:48
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    I highly recommend an old book, by Laurence E. Morehouse, meant for people from "100% out of shape" to "normal shape": Total Fitness In 30 Minutes A Week . It shows what is important, and also what is sufficient, and how to very simply adapt one's workout to one's current shape. The basic workout takes few minutes and involves gentle stretching, little cardio, and a simple "extra effort", and 2h standing + 30min walking during the rest of the day. – Olivier Dulac Jan 28 '15 at 20:01
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I suggest you take a look at the Scientific 7-Minute Workout. It's free (and so is the NY Times app for it), and it's effective (it's the result of research published in ACSM'S Health & Fitness Journal).

It does include chair step ups, high knee running in place, and jumping jacks. I haven't found any of those to be especially loud, but if you're concerned, a mat placed under the chair and under yourself as needed would probably bring the volume down enough to avoid waking your kids.

A couple modifications I've made based on other fitness research:

  1. I swap squats and wall sit in the order because squats are supposed to be good for starting up testosterone production, so it's good to do them early in the workout.
  2. I replace crunches with bridges so that my lower back gets exercised and because crunches are tough on the back.
  3. I use two chairs for the triceps dip and lower myself between them so I don't place too much backward strain on my shoulder joints.
  4. I add a set of body weight rows to exercise the upper back and biceps. My approach is to lie under the dining room table, reach up and hold the top surface, and pull my chest up to it. ProTip: be sure the table can support your weight, and probably don't try this on a table that has a single central pedestal. ;)
  • great link! You can also upgrade squats to pistol-squats (one-legged), they will give some real challenges :D – Thorst Jan 29 '15 at 6:45
  • Thanks for this suggestion. I had looked at this, but discarded it because I don't think I could do some of those quietly. There's also a lot of fitness people online saying it's a sham, and not worthwhile. And since it's "scientific", I thought swapping out those cardio exercises for more muscle-based ones might lessen the impact. Do you think it's worth doing it, but perhaps adding some of your suggestions to replace the noisier exercises? – Bob Tway Jan 29 '15 at 10:09
  • I've found this routine worthwhile, in that I can tell my strength is increasing and my muscles are slightly more toned (this is after about a month and a half). I'm not going to "get huge" with this workout, and that's fine with me. Given your constraints and wanting to maintain your fitness, it might be a good fit for you, too.As for it being a sham, – Greg Jan 30 '15 at 2:14
  • (argh, ran out of time to edit) it's important to know that it's intended for overall fitness rather than specific sport performance, massive strength, or significant weight loss. I think it can help maintain fitness or (as in my case) help build a base from which to do other training. – Greg Jan 30 '15 at 2:24
  • @Soccerman, yes, pistol squats are great for increasing the difficulty. In fact, several of the exercises can be "upgraded" over time - diamond push-ups, box jumps instead of step-ups, dips with feet raised, plank with a foot or hand (or both) raised, walking or reverse lunges, etc. In fact, there seem to be a number of progressions of related exercises in Convict Conditioning (referenced in another response), so I'm considering "upgrading" as I continue to improve. – Greg Jan 30 '15 at 2:38
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Yes, it is going to be useful. Especially if you slow down your cadence (speed of repetition), you will get a good pump and you will see greater increase in your physical strength, which is something good and positive.

Simple bodyweight exercises done in a circuit fashion would be great, such as:

  • Squats
  • Push-Ups
  • Chin-ups if possible
  • Planks
  • The list can go on, you can do them for rounds, for time. It is your call. Rep range can change again, my personal recommendation is 10, with a slow cadence.

    Also, if you are interested, Drew Baye is a high intensity training coach who has a book called Kratos, which is about bodyweight training. You can find more detailed information at his website(baye.com); and there are really very useful information in there too.

    Good luck. Stay strong.

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      Any information on circuits/rounds vs sets for body weight exercises? Just curious. – myol Jan 28 '15 at 16:40
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      There are bodyweight wods that crossfitters do when weights are not available for them. I did not specify any circuit on purpose, because I believe there are countless possibilities. Freeletics is a bodyweight fitness program, although I do not recommend it personally, it is an example. – Michael C. Jan 29 '15 at 8:48
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    Ten minutes of daily slow quiet bodyweight exercises will make you stronger. To get stronger you'll need to progress to steadily more difficult versions of an exercise. Convict Conditioning has a great set of routines using bodyweight progressions going from super easy variants (i.e. doing push-ups standing up against a wall) to eventually targeting much harder variants (i.e. one arm push-up) for six major families of bodyweight exercises (Pull-ups, Bridges, (Wall) Handstand Push-ups, Leg Raise, Squat, Push-up) all of which require minimal equipment (i.e. a pull-up bar). Everyday I do the the relevant routines for one of the exercise families (i.e. on Monday I work on my pull-ups, Tuesdays I work on bridges, etc.) and usually takes me between 5-15 minutes to do a few sets. I use a metronome to force each rep to last 5 seconds and you'll want to start out doing lots of reps of the easier variations to strengthen your joints before moving onto any harder variations.

    3

    I really think Morning Yoga would be great for that time slot and it's obviously quite quiet. It doesn't have to last long to be beneficial (if you type whatever time frame you'd like to work with in youtube, like "3 minute yoga"- "1 hour yoga" there are videos there that would fit your time frame if you want to use a video) and it will help to not only get the blood flowing, but encourage a mindful and calm view for your day. Yoga helps with strength, posture, flexibility and overall mental and physical health. You might want to check out some basic yoga poses or look up some videos online and find one you like. (The biggest challenge that route is sifting through alot of grating voices.)

    2

    Pull-ups are great for the upper body. You can buy a Pull-up bar for your doorframe or use a nearby tree or playground on your way to work. If you don't have the strength for full pull-ups, begin by doing inverse ones (jump up and slide down as slowly as possible).

    Also short and long sprints (e.g. 100 m and 800 m) don't take long and build a bit of strength to complement your mostly endurance-based workout. You don't even have to include this in your workout, just run after the tram or whereever you have to go anyways.

    2

    Bodyweight exercises are great for doing at home, on the go, on a budget, during breaks, so they are a great choice. However, to keep your whole body fit you will need a variety of movement types. An example of this is this great infographic showing the basic 6 movements involving nearly all muscles from your body.

    The infographic is taken from the popular Convict Conditioning Book, which also contains a lot of useful information describing proper form of the exercises, variations, weekly routines, proper progressions and in general all the stuff needed to get fit via calisthenics.

    Oh and all of the exercises there are absolutely silent - maybe besides pull-up bar creaking or your own grunting. :-)

    2

    Resistance bands are a great alternative to free weights if you're short on space. And unlike weights, which are much more expensive and can clink, resistance bands come in several varieties (plain flat elastic bands are commonly in physical therapy, and elastic-core cords are commonly included with at-home workout kits). You can change the resistance by either doubling-up bands, or purchasing multiple resistances.

    For bodyweight warm-ups, slow deep-squats are great because they activate large muscle groups (thus they're pretty efficient for getting warmed up quickly) and you already have most of your body weight to work with. If you do it slowly and don't clink weights, they can be almost silent. Core exercises are good for the same reasons; sit-ups / crunches can be done with no weights. If you keep doing this for several minutes, you can actually get some decent cardio going too.

    People often focus on just the abs, but you've got core muscles that wrap all the way around you (think crunches but turned 90 or 180 degrees), tho to do these effectively without weights you would either need some way of supporting yourself from your legs so that your torso is free, or to use resistance bands (one end under your foot, the other in your hand or hands).

    For upper body, if you can get 6-12" (or more is even better) of anything solid and supportive under your hands, you can sit on the floor with your legs extended and use your arms to raise your body up and down. Push-ups are an obvious one too, but I'll add them in just for redundancy.

    There's a lot more you can do too, those are just a few that, through experience, I've found very useful for warm-up type workouts where you don't want to make a lot of noise and/or don't have free weights available.

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