How to Sneak in a Workout

Bikes at a Divvy station

Divvy bikes make great exercise machines.

I remember when your head caught flame, it kissed your scalp and caressed your brain / Well you laughed, baby it’s okay, it’s buzzcut season anyway…

Classes winding up? Little time to spare? I know the feeling! And sadly, I must admit that the regularity of my workouts have been suffering because of it. After all, when I’m having a busy week with homework to do and Netflix to watch, it’s easy to convince myself to put off a hot and sweaty workout. But with the sun coming back out and good weather days ahead, I want to be healthy when summer comes around! No matter how packed my day is, I want to squeeze out even a little a bit of time to get in some exercise so that I don’t get out of shape!

Need some quick and easy workout ideas to slip into your day? Here are just a few ideas!


Wake Up Workouts

Before your mind can realize how tired you are or how late you were up studying, jump out of bed and do 30 jumping jacks! I have trouble doing this myself since I’m just so groggy in the morning and reluctant to leave the warmth of my blankets (especially if it’s cold) – but it wakes you up quick!

My typical routine consists of (in order):

  • 50 jumping jacks
  • 30 crunches
  • 30 Russian twists
  • 30 squats
  • 30 high knees
  • 30 second plank
  • 20 jumping jacks
  • 30 second side plank
  • 20 jumping jacks
  • 30 second side plank (other side)
  • 20 jumping jacks

Okay, I’ll admit it, it would be ambitious to say I followed this so dutifully. Usually I condense it in some way, but I find that even if I get through half of it, I feel a lot more awake for the rest of the morning. You can easily craft your own short morning workout that you can do right in your room! For ideas, just do a quick online search for morning/circuit workouts.


Tabata Training

What’s great about Tabata is that it can be done at the gym or in your room! You  need some open space to move around and get sweaty. The name comes from Izumi Tabata, the man who came up with this particular regimen of high intensity interval training. The gist of Tabata is that you use anaerobic exercise to your advantage for burning lots of calories in a small amount of time. To do this, you repeat the same exercise format several times: 20 seconds of intense, heart-pounding cardio or strength; then follow it with 10 seconds of complete rest (standing still). You can cycle through this 30-second combination as many times as you want, but even just 8 rounds (only 4 minutes total!) is quite exhausting…you can really feel like you snuck in a decent workout in just a few minutes!

I like to do a couple Tabata cycles right before I shower because that’s when I feel like I can get as sweaty as I like. And there are many simple exercises you can do for the 20 seconds of high intensity workout. Here are just a few ideas:

  • Cardio: Burpees, jumping jacks, squat jumps, high knees, jump ropes, mountain climbers, box jumps
  • Strength: Pushups, plank with knee tucks, bicycle crunches, Russian twists

I usually stick with Burpees and bicycle crunches and alternate between the two sets. Challenge yourself to see how many sets you can do before you tire out!


(Divvy) Biking

At first I was hesitant on how useful having a Divvy membership would be — after all, Chicago seems to spend over a huge fraction of the year in winter weather — but it’s turned out to be such a rewarding and convenient addition to any day with good weather! Living in the city and going to UIC, we would never experience a dearth of Divvy stations to choose from. Off the top of my head, there’s one by the rec center, one behind the library, one on Harrison near the residence halls, several down at South campus near MRH and TBH…it makes a quick commute around campus super easy and fun.

Memberships are $75 a year, but students can usually get discounted prices through school. With summer approaching, if you’re spending time in the city this summer, I highly recommend it! Or, if you just want to get lost in the city on the Divvy bike for a day, you can get a 1-Day pass for only $7. Either way, I’ve found biking to be a much quicker and more fun alternative to taking public transport or walking, and the extra exercise added into my day is perfect when I don’t have time to make it to the gym.


Plank periodically throughout the day

Planks are one of the easiest and most effective exercises for your core. When I’m bored of studying or just have a spare moment, sometimes I just drop down and plank for 30 seconds or 1 minute. It’s surprisingly strenuous sometimes if I’m feeling winded! There are also a dozen variations on the plank, the most obvious of which are the side planks. You can search online for different variations that are higher or lower in intensity, but in any case, it’s a great short workout to insert in any time of the day. Try to challenge yourself by gradually increasing your time increments! Go from 30 seconds one day to 35 the next…then 40…and so on! My personal goal right now is to get back up to 2 minutes (something I used to be able to do easily back when I was really in shape) and then eventually get it up to 3 minutes. Make sure you watch your form too! You’ll get the maximal effect if your posture is correct.


Random exercises while watching TV

Decompressing with an episode on Netflix? Try lifting some light weighs while you do it! Or perhaps do some stretches or hold some yoga/Pilates poses. It makes multitasking easy, especially if you do a mindless workout that’s still reasonably effective. My favorite (which may look odd but works) is to plank while watching videos — whether that is Netflix, MCAT channel videos, or YouTube, it works out very well! If you’re looking to get into some light lifting, you can get some cheap dumbbells at Walmart or Target to just keep around for some casual bicep/tricep curls. Of course, this isn’t going to make a huge impact on your muscle mass, but it helps me on days where I have no time to make it to the gym.


Quick workout videos on YouTube

YouTube is full of self-made fitness workouts! Just use the search bar to find a workout you want for the day, whether it’s for arms, legs, core, or even cardio. My favorite channel is blogilates. It’s run by Casey Ho, who is an expert at setting easy and short (ranging from 5 to 15 minutes) workouts to pop music! It’s perfect for a morning workout or a workout right before bed.

I hope that some of these ideas might get you moving! I’ve been rather sick this past week with a bad cough (hoping that’s all it is and not more serious) so my workouts have been more spread than I like…I really miss the feeling of taking a long run just to decompress and let my mind wander! But in the meantime, if you’re pressed for time and feel too rushed to put in a full workout at the gym, try to sneak in a quick workout into your day! Every little bit counts!

Explosions on TV and all the girls with heads inside a dream / So now we live besides the pool where everything is good…

(Buzzcut Season – Lorde)


Sarah Lee (F)


Sarah Lee is a junior studying neuroscience and Russian in the GPPA Medicine program at UIC. She’s still trying to figure out exactly what she wants to do, but some of  life goals include running a marathon, exploring Eastern Europe and becoming fluent in Russian. In her free time, she loves running, playing piano and guitar, and reading. A Naperville native, Sarah is a peer mentor in the Courtyard residence hall.



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