Meet the Micro-fitness Routine

By Radha Marcum

Like many of you, I count myself lucky. I suffer less from measurable health problems than from chronic, relentless busyness. Like millions, I put in long hours at a desk, tend to dehydrate my body with caffeinated beverages, and sometimes forget to breathe. Let’s just say that the toll stress takes on my well-being has become less subtle lately.

Consider Exhibit A: Aching back. After the birth of my second child seven years ago, I developed sacroiliac joint problems that can cause unexpected low-back and hip pain after seemingly insignificant events. (Like picking up a sock. Really. I wish I were kidding.) As a bona fide Coloradan, when I’m not nursing an injury I would love to hit the yoga studio two to three times a week, as well as trail-run, mountain-bike or ski. But with two kids and a full workload, most weeks it’s difficult to find even two or three unscheduled hours in which to accomplish this.

I could suddenly see how easy it would be to simply give up on fitness altogether.

Recently, after a challenging day on the ski slopes during which we braced against gusts of below-zero winds, my back wasn’t exactly happy. In fact, it was furious with me: it tightened up and refused to release, no matter how many sun salutations I coaxed it through. What was worse, I couldn’t even enjoy yoga class—which is designed to relieve muscle tightness.

As I berated myself for inviting another long, lingering episode of low-grade back pain, I could suddenly see how easy it would be to simply give up on fitness altogether. Day after day, I could feel the lethargy creeping into every fiber of my body.

Untangling the brain to ease the body

I know now that I didn’t need to stretch muscles so much as to loosen tight thinking about how I stay fit. Stale routines were the root problem, not my body. After reading Christine Carter’s excellent book The Sweet Spot (Ballantine, 2015)—in which she describes having a super simple at-home, no-excuse fitness routine—I reached out to Sperry Goode, a personal trainer and founder of Infinite Potential Fitness in Boulder, Colorado.

“Working out and being healthy is important, but it doesn’t have to be an obsession,” she tells me. “Even 15 minutes of targeted strength training, three times per week, can make your body stronger and more efficient.” So many people get stuck thinking that they have to hit the gym for one hour or more to make a significant impact on their strength, energy—and, yes, dress size—Goode says.

In fact, that mindset often backfires, explains Goode. It leads to a guilt complex when one-hour gym stints become impossible—or just plain unenjoyable. Even if you get to the gym two to three times per week, she says, you’ll miss out on the daily benefits—which add up quickly over time. “In 15 minutes, you can work every major muscle group in your body, elevate your heart rate, and sweat a little, revving your metabolism,” Goode states.

Small routine, big benefits

Wishful thinking? Nope. Scores of studies support the metabolic, cardiovascular and muscular benefits of Goode’s approach: short periods of high-intensity training, coupled with 15 to 30 minutes of jogging, hiking, swimming or biking. For example, studies show that high-intensity interval training (HIIT) typically results in higher fat burning than long, slow exercise routines.

Goode assessed my strength and flexibility and put together a short, personalized routine of high-intensity exercises that target weak spots—muscle groups affected by decades of long hours at desks, including my outer glutes and upper back. To warm up, I jog 10 to 15 minutes with my dog. Next, I jump into Goode’s exercises—squats, lunges, planks, pushups and dips—which require nothing more than stretchy clothes. (Bye-bye undue stress over expensive, stylish yoga clothes!)

The strength/cardio routine takes about 12 minutes, with three rounds of 30-second intervals (with 10 seconds of rest in between). Because imbalances are caused by both weakness and tightness, Goode also prescribed stretches using a strap and foam roller to target muscle groups that tend to seize. This takes only 6 to 10 minutes.

In sum: Without leaving my neighborhood, in about 30 minutes I’ve worked and stretched my whole body, bolstered my back muscles, elevated heart rate, improved bone strength—and burned off the buttered toast. What’s more, I’ve gotten a hit of vitamin D from sunshine and cleared the stale air out of my lungs. Result? I feel fabulous.

To learn more about short, effective personal fitness routines, visit