Short Effective Workouts in Medical School
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Short Effective Workouts in Medical School

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Do you tell yourself that you don’t enough time to workout? You’re sure that of the 24 hours you every second is taken up in your day. So while you may not love your love handles, they’ll just have to do for now right?

Wrong!

In this post, I’ll share four ways you can increase your activity and personal health with minimal time or effort.  Most won’t take more than 20 minutes.

But first a story. For the last few months, I’ve been battling a nasty back injury. Long periods of step studying and multiple road trips home have caused some lower back pain. I ignored the discomfort and continued to workout, ultimately leading to an injury.

I had to find shorter and more efficient ways to get in a workout while battling an injury.

Here are methods and tips I’ve used to maintain (and improve) my fitness level while being limited on time and physical capabilities.

Nike Trainer:

Most workout apps are garbage. They often aren’t motivating enough to stick with after the first time you use it.

Nike is different. The app had a variety of workout routines – each with a different duration, intensity, and focus (mobility, strength, endurance). Check out the app here for Android and IOS.

To work on my back I spent a few weeks doing 20-minute mobility workouts at home.

While all the exercises only used my body weight, I was sweating and out of breath. It’s been awhile since I’ve had a workout that difficult.

The feeling was exhilarating. Each day I’d look forward to a new set of exercises that would challenge me. I enjoyed finding movements which I struggled with. It highlighted areas I need to work on whenever I was fully recovered.

If you walk into a gym without any idea or what to do, download this app. You can even create a workout plan based on your goals, time commitment, and available equipment.

If you can manage to find some time in the morning or between studying, doing a 15-minute mobility workout can enough to keep your juices flowing. If you have more time, then attempt the 30-45 minute routines. You’ll be challenged in a short but effective way.

It’s been several weeks since I began to use the Nike app. My back is not at a 100% but it’s getting close. I attest a significant amount of the recovery to be due to the app. Again you can find the app here for Android and IOS.

Tabata Workouts:

I’m sure you’ve heard of high-intensity workouts. But what if you hate to do sprints or run really fast on the treadmill like myself? Also what if you can last longer than 5 minutes?

This is where Tabata comes to the rescue.

Made famous in Japan, Tabata workouts require only 4 minutes of your time! I’m sure you can sacrifice the equivalent of one social media browse session.

What’s even better is you pick the exercises you want to do. It can be one exercise or it can be up to eight. The only caveat is you need to perform them at 100% intensity.

This is how Tabata is set up. 20 seconds of 100% effort followed by 10 seconds of a break. Then repeat for 4 minutes

You can do jumping jacks as your solo movement for the whole 4 minute. You can also do a circuit where you jump between 2-4 exercises and repeat until the 4 min mark.

Research done on the Tabata technique has shown it to improve both aerobic and anaerobic endurance while moderate-intensity workouts (25 minutes on a treadmill) only improve your aerobic capacity.

Here’s a link to the research article for anyone interested.

I enjoy ending my main workouts with one or two circuits of Tabata. They’re a great way to improve your cardiovascular health without being tied down to long sessions on the treadmill or elliptical.

Earn Your Steps:

As med students, we’re often confined to a chair. We sit during lectures, studying, eating, reading, etc.

The only time we tend to move around is when we walk from obligation to obligation.

I’m a fan of using my Fitbit to track my activity levels. I not a fan, however, of seeing multiple days of less than 5000 steps. This means my butt was glued to a seat for too long.

To overcome this I take walks at random times while studying.

I’ve talked previously how to use the Pomodoro technique to space out your studying. The concept involves working in 25-50 minute chunks and taking 10-minute breaks in between.

During these 10 minute breaks, I’ll go for a 5-minute walk. Regardless of where I am in my studying, I’ll go outside to get some fresh air.

In addition, I switch up my study environment. I’ll study for 2 hours at the library and then walk across campus to finish the rest. The extra walk helps prevent the sluggish feeling we all get towards the end (or beginning) of studying.

Most of us study for more than 3-4 hours a day. Thus a walk 1-2 times an hour can provide us with the recommended 20-30 minutes of activity in our day.

If you’re on your clinical rotations, it’s more difficult to get up and go for a walk. You’ll get some weird stares for leaving at random times of the day.

Still, you can find functional excuses to get some steps such as taking the stairs, using a distant bathroom, and/or parking your car further away.

The 7-Minute Workout:

Made famous several years ago, the 7-minute workout is a full body routine for those short on time.

You can read about the benefits of the workout in this New York Times article

At the core, it’s a form of high-intensity circuit training. Using simple functional exercises the apps is great for anyone just wanting to break a sweat on a daily basis without the gym memberships or loud obnoxious lifters (you who you are).

Here’s the routine.

7-Minute Workout

There is also an app for both Android and IOS.

For many of you, this 7-minute routine is all you need. If you don’t get much activity then this is a great start.

For others, this may be too minimal. You surely won’t be shedding weight by doing only one round of this. But you can do 2-3 rounds of it. That’s still only 14-21 minutes which you can split up if needed.

Read about the experience of the Minimal Student who tried this workout for a whole year here Check out the rest of her site here. 

Stand at Your Desk:

This tip is not focused on your activity level but still focuses on your personal health.

As I mentioned above, we sit all the time. Various studies have found that we sit anywhere between 7-15 hours a day. Most med students don’t get more than 7 hours of sleep. Thus many of us are stationary anywhere from 60-90% of our day. That’s ridiculous.

No wonder I had back pain. Even working out for an hour a day wasn’t enough to overcome all the sitting that I do.

As of this writing, I’m currently on my surgery rotation. Many of my classmates have found it difficult to stand for the longer operations. We notice how weak our postural muscles are. We rarely use them so it’s not that surprising.

Thus it’s important to train ourselves when we can. We can stand at our desk while we study. Even alternating every 10 minutes between standing and sitting is better than nothing.

If you prefer not to transition to standing, replace your chair with a stability ball. My fiance gifted one to me a little under a year ago and I use it all the time! Since I still have back pain, I clearly need to use it more.


So there you have it. Be mindful that you don’t need an hour workout to improve your overall health. If you care for an hour workout then check out my post on how to structure such a workout.

If you’re perfectly fine with 20 minutes a day, then use the tips from this post. You’ll find yourself to have more energy and stability. In my last post on 7 Reasons You’re Stressed In Medical School, one of those reasons is not taking care of yourself. Now you have new tools to tackle that component of medical school stress.

Hope you enjoyed the post! If so make sure to hit the like button below and comment/message any tips you have to get an effective workout in medical school.

If you enjoyed this post you may also enjoy the following.

How to Workout in Less than 45 Minutes in Medical School
Staying Fit in Medical School
Keys to Being Productive in Medical School- Part
Productivity in Medical School – Part 2

Until next time…

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