Workouts you do have time for

Five fast home workouts that will get you swimsuit-ready by summer

Spring has sprung – but you still haven’t started that fitness routine, your dumbbells are gathering dust and your stationary bike is getting more action as a clothes rack than as an exercise machine. Well, we have two words for you: shorts season. To help you look and feel great this week – and this summer – we asked certified fitness trainer Gerard Recio of Twist Conditioning in Vancouver to devise five beginner routines for people with common home-gym equipment. At just 20 minutes each, they couldn’t be easier. So dust off your treadmill, pick up a skipping rope and rediscover the energy-boosting muscle-firming workout buried in your closet or basement.Um, you don’t seem to be moving off the couch. So here’s some additional motivation: a recent study found that being fit significantly improved heart health regardless of body weight, and Harvard University research concluded that people who burned more than 500 calories a week through exercise lived longer than their couch potato counterparts. But that’s not all. As the inspirational women on these pages can attest, the more calories you zap, the more excess weight you can lose. Let’s get moving!

Does your equipment need a tune-up?
Neglecting maintenance could hinder your workouts or become a safety concern, says Ben McGinn, a service technician in Calgary who specializes in fitness equipment. Some treadmills need periodic lubrication, for instance, and resistance belts on stationary bikes may require eventual readjustment or replacement. Check your owner’s manual for details and how-to instructions, or hire a technician by looking in the Yellow Pages or asking an equipment dealer.

Skipping rope
Your 20-minute workout
Warm-up: Skip slowly for five minutes, then lay the rope in a straight line on the floor.

Run and hop Stand on your left foot on the left side of the rope. Run on the spot for four steps (or count to four as you run on the spot, assigning each step a number). Step quickly over the rope onto your right foot, run in place for four, then step over it again onto your left foot. Repeat 10 times.

Slow squats Slow down with a two-minute session of slow squats or marching in place. Side hop Stand on the left side of the rope. Hop over it from right to left using both feet. Repeat 10 times, then slow down with squats as above.

Quick steps Stand facing the rope. Quickly step forward and back over it, leading with your right foot five times, then with your left foot five times. Slow down as above.

Double hop Stand facing the rope. Now hop forward and back with both feet. Repeat 10 times. Cool-down March on the spot.

Your stick-to-it strategy
Be patient: kids make skipping look easier than it is. “When I first tried skipping, I struggled to keep a steady pace without stopping or tripping,” says Christine Popo, a Richmond, B.C., resident. “But after a few sessions, it’s a piece of cake.”

Your burn-more-calories secrets
1. Skip often. In a recent study published in Obesity Research, 33 percent of participants who consistently exercised and ate healthier (such as decreasing food portions and eating more fruit and vegetables) lost five per cent or more of their body weight.

2. Press play on Kathy Smith’s The Rules of Fatburning dvd (Sony Music Entertainment, $20), which includes a 15- to 20-minute jump-rope workout.

Your inspiration
Skipping makes Popo smile. “It reminds me of being a kid,” she says. Popo credits skipping with helping her maintain a healthy body weight and for the increased strength and stamina that make sprinting for the bus or toting groceries five blocks to her home less of an effort. Popo skips 30 to 40 minutes three times a week, part of a routine that includes gym classes and running.

Stability ball
Your 20-minute workout
Warm-up While standing, squeeze the ball between both hands, holding shoulders slightly back and down to discourage tense shoulders or a rounded upper back. Maintain this position as you balance on your right foot and slowly squat one or two inches. Then return to starting position. Squat on both feet. Then balance on your left foot and squat one or two inches. Do the following moves three times for 30 seconds each, resting for 15 to 30 seconds between exercises.

Pushups Kneel on the floor. Place the ball against the wall and push up on the ball with your hands. (Your body should be in a diagonal line from the floor.)

Modified abdominal planks Kneel on the floor. Place the ball against the wall and rest your forearms on it with arms bent. Hold your body in a diagonal line for 20 to 30 seconds without letting your back sag.

Back extensions With your knees on the floor, press the ball against your thighs and lean over so that your chest is touching the ball, with your back straight. Slowly raise your chest off the ball to strengthen your lower back, keeping your neck and head straight and aligned with your back as you lift.

Your stick-to-it strategy
Keep your ab workout fresh with moves from the QuickFix Stability Ball Workout dvd (Inspired, $15), featuring award-winning instructor Keli Roberts.

Your burn-more-calories secrets
1. Stay on the ball (even if the floor looks tempting). Exercisers who perform abdominal and back exercises on a ball show more muscle activity in those areas than those who do the same moves on the floor, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

2. Remember, size matters. For better results, opt for a 55-centimetre ball if you’re five foot to five foot seven and a 65-centimetre ball if you’re between five foot eight and six foot two.

Your inspiration
Regular ball workouts (combined with cardio) netted Kate Merlin of Riverview, N.B., taut abs. “It has trimmed up my waist and abdomen,” she says. Her golf swing improved, too. Now her muscles don’t feel fatigued like they used to by the 18th hole.

Your 20-minute workout
Warm-up Walk briskly or march in place for five minutes. Then do two or three sets of 10 to 15 repetitions for each exercise below, using three- to eight-pound dumbbells, depending on your strength. Keep movements controlled using a three-down, two-up tempo – jerking the weights increases your risk of injury and diminishes your results.

Lunges Move your right leg forward with front raises (dumbbells to shoulder height, chest-width apart, in front of you). Then move your left leg forward with hammer curls for biceps (dumbbells to shoulders, palms facing each other). Perform raises and curls while elevating out of the lunge. As you rise from the lunge, raise the dumbbells to your shoulders. Perform one set of each. For demonstrations of these exercises, read Work in a workout.

Squat to calf raises Stand with feet hip-width apart and toes facing forward. Keep your arms out in front of you at shoulder height throughout. Lower into a squat, aligning your knees over your ankles. Stick your butt out behind you as if sitting in a chair. Return to standing, raising heels off the floor and balancing on the balls of your feet, then release.

Seated back fly Sit on a chair with dumbbells at your sides and palms in. Bend forward from your waist without rounding your back until your chest faces your thighs. Raise your arms to your sides, elbows slightly bent, bringing elbows in alignment with your shoulders.

Chest fly with bridge Lie on your back with legs bent, hips lifted, head and shoulders on the floor, and arms extended toward the ceiling. Align your hands over your shoulders, palms facing each other. Keeping elbows slightly bent, lower dumbbells toward the ground in a wide arc, as if opening a newspaper. Bend your elbows to 90 degrees, spreading arms to sides and lowering upper arms to the floor.

Overhead tricep press Lie on your back with your legs bent, head and shoulders on the floor. Straighten arms toward ceiling, aligning dumbbells over shoulders, palms facing in. With shoulders stationary, bend your elbows and lower the dumbbells toward your ears, elbows pointing up. Return to starting position.

Your stick-to-it strategy
For more exercises and tips on form, pick up The Everything Weight Training Book (Adams Media, $20) by Shirley Archer or a dvd such as 15-Minute Workouts for Dummies (Anchor Bay Entertainment, $15).

Your burn-more-calories secrets
1. Do arm and leg exercises at the same time. Called multi-joint movement, this technique boosts intensity and targets more muscles in less time.

2. Consider a slightly heavier weight. People often select weights that are too light for substantial strength gains, according to a study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. That means you won’t be building as much muscle or burning as many calories. If doing 12 reps feels easy, increase the weight by five per cent.

Your inspiration
Heather Reid Clark never hesitates to wear a sleeveless shirt or strappy dress thanks to her well-defined shoulders and arms. Her lower body benefits, too. “I dropped a pant size, and my hips and waist look trim,” says the strength-training fan and mother of three in London, Ont. Clark uses dumbbells for 20 to 40 minutes two to three times a week, in addition to boxing and spinning classes. Plus, past knee trouble is no longer a worry because her legs are so much stronger.

Stationary bike<
Your 20-minute workout
Warm-up Pedal for five minutes on low tension. Sit with good posture: avoid leaning on the handlebars.

Cycle Pedal for 10 minutes, alternating sessions at medium tension with 30- to 60-second sessions at high tension, as if climbing and descending a series of rolling hills; allow two to four minutes of medium-tension pedalling between each high-tension interval.

Cool-down Pedal for five minutes on low tension.

Your stick-to-it strategy
1. For more biking routines, pick up Fitness Cycling (Human Kinetics, $27) by Chris Carmichael.

Your burn-more-calories secrets
1. Adjust the handlebars and seat height. For the correct height, your foot at the bottom of the downstroke knee should be slightly bent directly above the toe. Your handlebar height should be about the same as the seat (or slightly higher, if you have back problems). This will help you work harder and ride more comfortably, says Recio.

2. Faster isn’t better when it comes to stationary biking, according to research from San Diego State University in California. Your best bet? Crank up the tension to boost intensity.

3. Aim for more than 200 minutes a week.

A study in the Journal of the American Medical Association showed that people who exercised 30 minutes a day lost more weight than those who sweated for less time.

Your inspiration
Holly Fraser’s stationary bike sat in her garage for three years before she finally used it to pedal away 45 unwanted pounds. At first, three minutes of cycling was enough to make the Maple Ridge, B.C., resident feel winded. “But by doing it every day, I increased my workouts to 30 minutes and lost the weight in six months,” she says.

Your 20-minute workout
Warm-up Walk briskly for four minutes at three miles per hour (mph) – most treadmills use this measure rather than kilometres – on flat terrain.

Challenge Elevate the incline two to four levels, or speed up to 4.5 mph, for a 60-second challenge session. (Beginners can avoid shin splints by using the incline rather than speed.)

Walk Reduce intensity by switching to flat terrain or slowing down to three mph for four minutes – this is your regular-pace session.

Challenge Repeat the 60-second challenge session at nine minutes and 14 minutes.

Walk Complete the final four-minute regular-pace session and slow down before stepping off the machine.

Your stick-to-it strategy

Pop in a trekking dvd such as the Video Stride (, $20) series. These workouts allow you to virtually walk through the Rockies or other stunning vistas.

Your burn-more-calories secrets
1. Measure time and effort, not your treadmill’s calorie counter. The calories you burn may be very different from what’s displayed on the screen, says Recio. To calculate what you’ve burned, use our workout calculator at Burn, baby burn.

2. For Jean Mills of Guelph, Ont., successful workouts vary between a 25-minute brisk walk, a 60-minute slower session on an incline and a 40-minute mixed-pace session.

Your inspiration
Mills credits treadmill workouts for helping her go from a post-pregnancy size 14 to a size 8. Her treadmill also helps her meet the demands of daily life. “I can hike comfortably and carry a load of laundry upstairs without thinking about it,” she says.