Four Total Body Workouts When You’re Short on Time

Disclaimer: I’m not a doctor and this is not a substitute for professional medical advice. You know the drill: attempt these workouts at your own risk.

Finding time to work out when you’re working a demanding job is tough. Add a big commute, errands, family responsibilities, and exercise time gets lost to the ether. And yet we know that physical activity is so critical to our physical, mental, emotional, and social performance and quality of life.

No matter how busy you are, skipping exercise is almost always a big mistake. Yes, being active takes time, but you can get a solid workout in a short amount of time if you’re willing to haul ass. Here are four workouts that will give you a great full-body workout in less than 15 minutes, and three of them don’t require any special equipment.

Are you ready to give up your best excuse for not exercising?

On High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

The idea behind all of these workouts is that they have periods of intense work, and periods of rest. The rest periods are short by design. This type of training has been shown to burn fat efficient, develop aerobic and strength benefits and boost your metabolism for 48-72 hours after the workout. Continue reading…

Are These The Hardest Pushups Ever?

(Can’t see the video? Click through)

After finishing up my max squat jump challenge, I wanted to bring it back to something that worked arms, shoulders, chest. Something that was hard, and wouldn’t have a rate limit.

Pushups are always a good candidate for an upper body workout, but I didn’t want to plain vanilla pushups. I started Googling around and found these so-called “Azetc” pushups. They kind of remind of me jackknife dives so I’m adding that to the name.

They are freaking hard! It requires explosiveness, like a really aggressive clapping pushup. But it also requires quads, hip flexors and abs to pull your legs in to touch your toes. In the video, you can see how after a while, I need to take a breather even in a one minute scenario.

They’re also pretty fun. I’m looking forward to seeing how many I can do at the end of the month. I personally feel that finger pushups are also high up on the list, but I’m willing to call these Aztec Pushups at least ONE OF the hardest pushups out there.

It turns out the Guinness Book of World Records for Aztec pushups was recently broken by a University of St Francis student, from 20 to 31. I feel like I could get pretty close to that if I’m diligent with my training. Let’s see…

FitChal #5: Max Pull-Ups + What Happened in April

It’s been a while since you’ve heard from me on the Monthly Fitness Challenges. As you might remember, I’ve been setting these personal challenges for myself where I test myself on a particular activity, train for about month and then re-test myself. It’s a fun way to stay fit.

Here’s what I’ve done so far:

So what happened in April?

Well, my goal was to train for the flagpole. If you don’t know what a flagpole is, it’s where you grip an upright pole and pull yourself horizontal. It requires a lot of core strength + alternate bicep/tricep strength (depending on what side you push/pull on).

Here’s a picture of me doing one in a photoshoot for Outside Magazine:

photo (4) Continue reading…

FitChal #1 Finale: Max Sit-Ups in 1 Minute

So, it’s February 1st – which means I need to see how I’ve done with my monthly fitness challenge. The focus on January was as many sit-ups as possible in one minute.


As I mentioned before, sit-ups aren’t actually a great ab workout in themselves. They use the hip flexors and only work the top part of your abs, not the bottom. So when I was training, I started out by focusing on planks and slow butterfly sit-ups. On somedays I would do my old gymnastics routine of 35 V-ups, 50 tuck-ups and 100 hollow back kicks.

Then someone emailed me who had been in the army and gave me some advice:
Continue reading…

My Current Workout Routine

jason shen workout routine early 2012

(click to enlarge)

Over the past 6 months or so, I’ve gotten into a pretty great rhythm when it comes to working out. With no races coming up, I thought I’d drop a line on how I’m working and what I think it’s doing for me. Hoping to follow up on this post with an update on my 900 minutes of meditation which I started in April and perhaps another post in general on morning routines.

Disclaimer – I’m not a fitness, nutrition or medical expert. No certifications or anything. I’m coming at this as a former competitive athlete, biology BS/MS and an experimenter with N=1. I am still figuring things out and sharing what I’m learning.

My workout goals

Everyone works out for different reasons – they might overlap but hold different priorities. Here are mine (in order of importance)

  • To keep my body healthy and functioning well
  • To maintain a high level of energy
  • To train for a marathon
  • To stay in shape and look trim/fit

My Constraints/Requirements

I think there are a bazillion number of ways to work out and stay fit. What matters is finding one that fits the constraints of your life. Getting into a routine of working out every morning is awesome, but it means having a few constraints including:

  • Easy on my knee – I don’t do plyometrics or any activities that involve a lot of pounding, side-to-side cutting, etc.
  • Morning availability – I like to workout in the morning, at my own pace, so that means most classes are a no go at the moment.
  • Affordable - Right now I am not willing to budget for classes, bootcamps, trainers, expensive equipment, etc. I work out at a nearby cheapo gym and my biggest expense are race entrance fees.
  • Sub-hour workouts – Since I am working out in the morning, shorter is better for me. My gym is 2 blocks from my apt and only one of my workouts lasts more than an hour door-to-door (the long run).

Workout 1: Heavy Weights

When I was a gymnast, we only did a tiny bit of lifting in the beginning of the pre-season. Otherwise, I generally stayed away. After reading about the work of Pavel Tastasouline (kettlebells) and Brian MacKenzie (CrossFit Endurance), both featured in Four Hour Body, plus reading about Jason Fitzgerald of Strength Running and his gym workouts, I decided to make heavy lifts a cornerstone of my workouts.

Typical workout:

  • Deadlift – 3 sets (6x 225lbs, 6x 245lbs, 4x 265lbs)
  • Benchpress - 3 sets (6x 185lbs, 6x 205lbs, 4x 265lbs)
  • Squat – 3 sets (8x front squat 135lbs, 8x back squat 135lbs, 8x front squat 135lbs)

Why I do it

What I’m learning is that heavier lift but lower reps is a really efficient way of building and maintaining strength without building mass. I want to short circuit the heavy mileage running programs that most marathon training guides advocate and I can only do that with a strong frame achieved through heavy, compound lifts.

In re-reading some of the literature like the “rule of 10″, I am considering raising the amount of weight lifted, reducing reps to 2-3 and increasing my rest time from ~2mins to ~5mins.

Workout 2: Tempo Run

This is the shorter run I do during the week, which should push me a bit aerobically and leave me breathing pretty hard at the end.

Typical workout:

Why I do it

You can’t train for a marathon without doing some running. Long runs obviously help build tolerance for distance, but my tempo runs are for going a bit faster and keeping me from turning into a plodding, slow jogger.

Workout 3: Bodyweight

As a gymnast, I used to warmup and end my workouts with a ton of body weight exercises. At one point, I realized the 45 min routine we would do to warm up for gym practice was hard enough to be an entire workout for me now as a non-athlete. Kind of a sad feeling, but just the nature of my current lifestyle.

Typical workout:

  • 10 mins on bike machine
  • 2x 50 pushups
  • 2x 15 pullups
  • 50 hollow rocks + 50 arch rocks
  • 1 min handstand hold + 5 handstand pushups
  • 1 min plank hold + 1 min side plank hold (each side)

Why I do it

Bodyweight exercises is like a medium-light workout that doesn’t tax my legs too much, works my core and upper body, keeps me active and my blood moving during the week.

Workout 4: Interval Training

High intensity interval training is where you switch between doing really hard activity followed by really easy activity on repeat for some number of cycles. Studies have shown that vigorous exercise burns more calories than “steady state exercise”, increases your post workout metabolism for longer and can even increase your endurance/aerobic capacity in less time than longer, easier workout. Check out more on intervals via this infographic by Greatist.

Typical workout

  • Elliptical: 6x 1 min easy on Level 10, 1 min really hard on Level 14

Why I do it

I do intervals partly as a way to build speed without doing track work or hill sprints. It’s a lot more convenient and it’s nice that it only takes 12 minutes to do the whole workout. I do wondering if I’m getting the same benefits because I am worried about running being too different from “elliptical-ing” and thus not getting that speed boost. But my aerobic capacity should be benefitting. I think I’m going to start doing more cycles (maybe 8?) while taking the easy portion even easier and seeing what happens.

Workout 5: Light/Rehab

This is a mixed bag. I want to be in the gym but not kill myself before a long run.

Typical workout:

  • 20 mins on bike machine easy
  • Rotator cuff exercises with 5lbs dumbells
  • Single-leg balance Romanian Dead Lifts (no weight)
  • 100 ups (which after watching the video, I realize I’ve been doing wrong)

Why I do it

Most people don’t do enough preventative rehab. I don’t use my upper body as much as I used to but it’s really good to work out some of those smaller muscles in your shoulder and back. Same for the lower body – just doing some drills, some stretch and staying loose.

Workout 6: Long Run

I love this workout. It’s my big test every week – my test of progress. I am constantly trying to extend my long run until I’m easily running some faster paced half marathons and can handle a 15 or 18 miler without issue.

Typical long run

Why I do it

I’m training for a marathon in late July and this is the best way I know how to track my progress. I want to be comfortably running longer distances without blisters or major soreness before I go all out on that 26.2 miler.

I really enjoy my long runs because – 1) I’m usually extra well rested from the day before 2) I blast electronic dance music and get my jam on 3) my runs are along the waterfront of San Francisco and 4) my long runs are usually are also on my cheat day (more on that in another post) so I eat very well afterward

I may write an entire post devoted to the long run later on, but we’ll stop here for now =)

Final Thoughts

When reviewing my workout program, it’s like someone made a smoothie out of running, powerlifting and gymnastics. I realize I may not be realizing the full gains of doing heavy lifting or interval training by only doing it once a week. Perhaps my need for variety is preventing me from getting stronger/faster as efficiently as possible. Writing this blog post has been great because I already have some ideas for changing up my routine.

I will say though that I’ve been doing this routine for a few months and it’s been great. I feel good everyday, never too exhausted during the weekdays and full of energy – and I haven’t suffered any major injuries or illnesses (minus the foot issues and cold symptoms before the half marathon) so it’s achieving my goals.

What’s your workout routine like? How do you structure your exercise? Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments!