Learn three simple exercises to complete this scientific workout that can fit into anyone’s holiday schedule

(Video: Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

What most of us need from exercise during the holidays is ease and brevity. Which makes this new, scientific workout a timely gift.

It’s a simple, 11-minute, three-exercise routine designed to be low-impact but aerobically challenging enough to maintain or bolster fitness, no matter how hectic your holidays become. The workout, recently developed by exercise scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, involves common calisthenic exercises that should be doable by many of us, whatever our age, experience, coordination or fitness.

All you need to get started is an open space, comfortable clothes and shoes, and a one-minute timer. Warm up with a minute of jumping jacks and then start the sequence. Complete as many repetitions of each exercise as you can manage in a minute.

(Video: Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

From standing, lower to the floor, legs beneath your chest, hands on the ground. Extend and straighten your legs. Draw them back. Stand. Repeat for 60 seconds. When you finish, recover for 60 seconds by walking in place, so your breathing, heart rate and muscles relax momentarily.

(Video: Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

While standing, grasp your hands in front of you. Lift your left knee until it touches your hands. Return your foot to the ground. Repeat. After 30 seconds, switch legs. When you’re finished, recover with 60 seconds of walking in place.

(Video: Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

From all fours, kick back one leg, then the other, as if climbing a horizontal slope. Repeat for 60 seconds. When you’re done, walk in place for 60 seconds of recovery.

(Video: Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

Repeat 60 seconds of knee tucks, followed by 60 seconds of walking in place.

(Video: Alexa Juliana Ard/The Washington Post)

Repeat 60 seconds of squat thrusts. You’re finished!

Why body-weight workouts are good for you

The exercises in this workout were specifically chosen by the researchers to “engage muscles in both the upper and lower body without being too impactful” on joints, said Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, who helped develop and study the new workout.

The routine, as a whole, is quite “knee-friendly,” he said, because it involves minimal jumping or pounding, although there is some bending.

The goal is to push yourself out of your physical comfort zone for those 60 seconds, Gibala said, reaching about a 7 or 8 on a 10-point scale of effort. This exertion qualifies as “vigorous” in exercise-science terms, meaning it’s more strenuous than, for instance, a brisk walk, which is considered moderate effort.

This workout grew out of past research by Gibala and other scientists into what makes a body-weight routine effective.

“Ideally, these kinds of workouts should raise your heart rate into or near the vigorous range for at least 10 minutes,” Gibala said. They also should engage muscles throughout the body, he said, in the legs, the core and the upper body.

In this way, the exercise can challenge your cardiovascular system and muscles enough that they adapt and strengthen, he said.

An improvement on other workouts

In 2021, an earlier, somewhat more rigorous 11-minute body-weight workout developed by Gibala and his colleagues significantly improved aerobic fitness among a group of healthy college students, who completed three exercise sessions a week for six weeks.

But that workout, which included burpees, fast running in place, and split squat jumps, could easily overstrain some people’s fitness and mature knee joints, the researchers speculated.

So, the researchers substituted several gentler exercises and retested the new workout for a study published in November in Scientific Reports. This time, 27 healthy young men and women strapped on heart rate and glucose monitors, so researchers could assess their heart rates, 24-hour blood sugar control and other physiological measures during their normal lives.

Then, a few days later, wearing the same monitors, they squatted, tucked and mountain-climbed through the 11-minute workout.

The single workout raised their heart rates into a vigorous zone for most of the 11 minutes. “It can definitely be an effective workout, as long as you keep up the intensity” during each exercise, Gibala says.

The routine had little effect on 24-hour blood sugar control, probably because the young people tested started out with such robustly healthy blood sugar levels, Gibala said.

So, find an empty space in your home or hotel room as the holidays get busy and push yourself for five minutes of exercise and five more of walking. Pick up the pace if the exercises feel too easy. Or switch one or two of them for more-demanding calisthenics such as jumping jacks or high-knee running, assuming your joints and endurance allow.

Above all, let yourself have some fun with the workout, Gibala said. “It’s easy to do with a group,” he pointed out. So, cajole visiting relatives to join in. Get restless kids on board. “See who can do the most repetitions” of each exercise in a minute or encourage one another to finish that last squat thrust. The aim is to keep the holidays healthy, as well as joyful.

Videos by Alexa Juliana Ard. Copy editing by Matt Schnabel. Exercises demonstrated by Allison Tye, a certified personal trainer in Las Vegas.

Do you have a fitness question? Email [email protected] and we may answer your question in a future column.

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