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[Lifestyle} The five-minute fix: how to improve your fitness, strength and posture at super-quick speed


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Side planks can easily be slotted into your daily routine at home.

One of the toughest aspects of building a new year fitness habit is finding the time. Even in our hybrid-working world, it can feel like carving out just 30 minutes a couple of times a week is an impossible ask. But everyone has five minutes: it’s about a third as long as people spend looking for something to watch on Netflix. And although five minutes might not seem like much, if you keep your efforts focused, you will start to see results – as well as building the foundations of a longer-term habit. So pick an area to work on and get the egg timer going.

Desk jobs tend to build bad posture, and not everything you do in the gym will help – the typical “bench bro” routine can lead to a forward hunch that will set you up for problems down the line. “Posture is really about back strength,” says Helen O’Leary, a physiotherapist and clinical pilates instructor. “The more the muscles in the back of your body work, the more they will hold you up against gravity.” Use these three movements in a circuit, doing each once.

Prone press
“A great mobility and prep exercise to start with at the end of your day,” says O’Leary. “Lie on your stomach with your hands by your chest and your nose hovering above the floor. “Press your pubic bone into the floor to create a stable base. Press down into your hands and imagine you are pressing the floor away – this will start to send your upper back off the floor. Pause with your lowest ribs on the floor, take a breath and then lower back down. As you improve, try lifting your hands at the top of the movement to see if you can hold yourself up.”

Pilates swimming.

Pilates swimming
“Very much a progression of the prone press – this will test your endurance as well as your core control,” says O’Leary. “Start as before, this time reaching your arms and legs away from each other as if you’re being pulled apart in a tug of war. You should end up with both feet and hands off the floor. Pause when you are here, and make sure you are breathing – then start to ‘paddle’ the arms and legs from the shoulder and hip socket. Your body will rotate a little and this is totally fine. Ideally, build the length of time you are up towards 60 seconds.”

Single leg kick
“It’s great for posture, but this movement also includes strength work around your shoulders, and will mobilise your spine,” says O’Leary. “Plus, your legs get involved, making it an all-in exercise. Lie on your front and press yourself up on to your elbows to make a triangle shape with your forearms, with your hands still slightly apart. Press down into your pubic bone and extend and raise one leg away from you so that it starts to hover off the floor from your lower thigh onwards. Now try to keep that leg off the floor as you start to draw a long arc upwards and outwards with your toes, bending the knee as you do. Again, keep the thigh off the floor and extend the leg out behind you before lowering it to the floor. Repeat five times on each leg, if you can.”


This is important for everyday life, but tackling it the old-school way – with hundreds of momentum-heavy sit-ups – isn’t efficient. Instead, remember that the real purpose of your core muscles is to keep you braced, whether you are carrying the shopping or doing a parallel turn on the ski slopes – so you need to focus on slow, controlled movements that will help them do their job. Do each of the three exercises below for 40 seconds, rest for 10-20 seconds, and repeat.Crunch
“Although it’s an old exercise, when performed with correct form, the standard crunch is great, as it activates nearly all the muscles of the core,” says the personal trainer Jacqui Ward. “Lie on your back, keeping your knees bent and feet flat on the floor, making sure your lower back is also pressed into the floor. Engage your abdominal muscles to lift your head and shoulders off the floor. I like to increase the time under tension, while at the top part of the crunch, by pausing for a second, and then slowly lowering back to the floor with control, keeping those abs contracted. If you really must put your hands behind your head, don’t pull on your head or neck.”

Bicycle crunches.

Bicycle crunch
“Again, technique is everything on this movement,” says Ward. “Get into a regular crunch position, then lift both legs off the ground. Lift your right shoulder toward your left knee and simultaneously extend your right leg, then repeat on the opposite side without pausing. Make sure to move slowly and emphasise muscle contraction to get the most out of the exercise.” This emphasises your obliques more than the standard crunch, so it’s worth doing both.

Side plank.

Side plank raise
“A side plank is a great movement, as it will show up any imbalances between your two sides,” says Ward. “To start, lie on your side with one forearm on the ground, your hand slightly in front of your shoulder. Put your top leg either in front or on top of the ‘grounded’ leg. As you exhale, push into your hand and feet, and lift your hips up until you are in a diagonal line. Drop your hips down, then press into your hand and feet and lift your hips back up so that they are almost in line with your shoulder. Repeat this movement, slow and controlled rather than bouncing, for 20 seconds on each side – if it’s tough on your wrist, press your fingers into the floor and create a little dome in your palm.”



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