Intermittent Training: How to Work Out in a 5:2 Format - Men's Health Magazine Australia

Intermittent Training: How to Work Out in a 5:2 Format

Kick it off with these cardio sessions.
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We all want to be fit and healthy, and on paper it’s the simplest thing in the world. Just eat well, get enough sleep and exercise daily.

But of course knowing what to do is the easy part. Making ourselves do it is the hard part. We usually start a new exercise program with enthusiasm and energy, but after a while the novelty palls, and it becomes harder and harder to motivate ourselves

Add to this increased focus on people looking to get rid of their ‘lock down bod’ ahead of the summer – and the pressure really is on to take on, and actually stick to your fitness routine. So how do we implement something that will truly go the distance, and that will outlast the temptations of our new-found freedom, warmer evenings and those oh-so-welcome after work drinks? 

For years now I have completely scrapped the idea of motivation and willpower. It just doesn’t last forever. You may get bursts here and there, but they are sometimes short lived or designed to service a specific date or event. Instead, to permeate my fitness goals, I have learned to automate my exercise routine. Yes, you heard that right… My exercise routine has become automated; I never think about it, it just happens.

Here’s how you can too.

As humans we have many flaws and design compromises. But we also have this nifty feature that you can hack into to automate your fitness routine, or any other behaviour. It’s called habit, and anyone can do it. In fact, we all do it already. 

The science on habit formation says all habits consist of 3 components: 

  1. A trigger (the thing that triggers or initiates the habit)
  2. a routine (the behaviour of the habit itself) and  
  3. a reward (something that reinforces the behaviour immediately after you do it)

You already have a lot of automated behaviours. Brushing your teeth is a classic example, but there are many others such as dressing after you shower, or checking your phone. We can use the same software that governs those automatic habits, to also create exercise habits. 

Once we’re done, your exercise routine will be every bit as effortless as brushing your teeth or getting dressed. You’ll just do it.

OK, now the method is as simple as the title of this article. The 5:2 program. It is beautifully simple: There are 7 days in a week, and our goal is to automate so that you exercise every day. The benefits of exercising every day in a 5:2 format are: 

  • If you do it every day it’s easier to maintain – like brushing your teeth
  • The 5:2 ratio allows you to maximize the effectiveness of both your strength and cardio sessions, and avoid what’s called the interference effect (more on that in a minute)

Now, before we start. Yes, I said exercise every day, but what I didn’t say before is that you can exercise for a very short amount of time every day, and still see massive results. Starting with a very short workout every day will start to build your habit, and automate your exercise routine.

Creating the habit is Step 1. 

Start with 10-15 minutes per day – yes you read that right. You can build this over time if you wish, but you don’t need to. 

So I’m going to propose you start with either 10 or 15 minutes per day. Yes you read that right. You can add more over time if you like – but you don’t need to.

Step 2 is identifying your trigger.

This is the stimulus or event that will trigger your exercise routine every day. Naturally, your trigger will need to be something you do, or that happens to you every day. Like having breakfast, or getting home from work, or waking up.

Pick a trigger during your best time of day – the time when you’re most energised and less likely to have brain fog. If you have a demanding job and you’re both mentally and physically drained at the end of the day, an afternoon workout is not for you. If you’re a morning person, your trigger could again be brushing your teeth, or getting up. That’s my personal favourite, so let’s use it as an example.

The night before you go to bed, lay out your exercise clothes for the morning. As soon as you get up, put them on. Now you’re locked in. Do your bathroom routine then head straight to workout. You could just as easily pick a different trigger, say after you have your breakfast, or when you get home at the end of the day. Whatever it is, have your workout clothes close by and pick an event something that happens around the same time each day. 

Say it in your mind now: “Every day as soon as I (trigger) I will head to the (place you’re going to do the exercise) for (amount of time you’re going to exercise for).”

Once your trigger is nailed, we head to Step 3 – the routine. 

Here’s what physical activity guidelines, and my degree in exercise physiology suggest is going to be most effective for you: 

  • 5 days of cardio
  • 2 days of whole body strength training (3 to 4 days apart) 

Below are some sample exercise programs that will take you 10-15 minutes to complete each day, and that represent a total body workout designed for max commitment, with no equipment: 

Monday: Strength

No warm up

Bodyweight lunges x 12 each side

2 min rest

Pushups (as many as you can do)

Doorway or table pullups (as many as you can do)

Repeat the above 2 or 3 times depending on how long you want to spend working out

Tuesday: Walk or run

No warm up

Either walk briskly so you’re very slightly out of breath, or run. Or you can alternate a minute of each.

10 or 15 minutes total

Wednesday: Walk or run

No warm up

Either walk briskly so you’re very slightly out of breath, or run. Or you can alternate a minute of each.

10 or 15 minutes total

Thursday: Strength

No warm up

Bodyweight squats full depth x 30

2 min rest

Pushups (as many as you can do)

Doorway or table pullups (as many as you can do)

Repeat the above 2 or 3 times depending on how long you want to spend working out

Friday: Walk or run

No warm up

Either walk briskly so you’re very slightly out of breath, or run. Or you can alternate a minute of each.

10 or 15 minutes total

Saturday: Walk or run

No warm up

Either walk briskly so you’re very slightly out of breath, or run. Or you can alternate a minute of each.

10 or 15 minutes total

Sunday: Walk or run

No warm up

Either walk briskly so you’re very slightly out of breath, or run. Or you can alternate a minute of each.

10 or 15 minutes total

This program might look very simple and basic, but believe me it’s got everything you need to get strong, fit and healthy, and if you run, it meets the WHO physical activity guidelines. If you don’t run, don’t worry – you’ll still get massive benefits from walking.

The benefit of splitting your cardio and strength over different days is to avoid something called the interference effect. When you train both strength and cardio in the same session (or even on the same day) the effectiveness of your strength training is reduced. However when you split strength and cardio out into separate days, you get the full benefit of both with no interference.

So this program is deceptively simple, but it’s using science to do a lot of the metaphorical, heavy lifting for you. Trust me, it’ll get you strong and fit.

This brings me to the final Step 4 of The New 5:2 – the reward. 

Many trainers will try to veer you away from ‘rewards’ – and I fully support this. But a reward does not have to be something that conflicts with a healthy diet, or encourages behaviour that isn’t conducive to your new routine. 

For many, exercise gives us a high that is its own reward, for others it might be a relaxing cup of coffee afterwards, or a piece of your favourite luxury fresh fruit, or a smoothie with some protein powder and your favourite ingredients. Something that sparks joy and that you look forward to. 

The trick is to reward yourself immediately. Don’t put it off until after you shower, have your first meeting or complete some chores. Tending to this reward immediately after your routine is crucial to keeping the habit. 

If you follow this plan and follow the simple steps, you will find yourself both physically and mentally committed to a new exercise routine. One that you can complete every single day, without having to think about it, decide to do it or motivate yourself for. Try it for 2 weeks and see what sticks – Now, Go!  

About the author:

In 2006, Raphael started a Pilates and yoga studio in Melbourne’s CBD called Breathe Wellbeing. At the time, it was Australia’s largest specialist yoga and Pilates studio. After he began training Pilates instructors for the studio, Raphael saw a huge opportunity to help people transform into a better version of themselves. This realisation eventually paved the way for Breathe Education, which is now the most popular pilates training program in Australia. Raphael has a Masters degree in Clinical Exercise Physiology (Rehabilitation), a Bachelor degree in Exercise and Sports Science, a Diploma of Pilates Movement Therapy and completed the STOTT PILATES full instructor trainer certification. He’s also the host of the Pilates Elephants podcast, along with his co-host Cloe Bunter.

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