This slow-and-steady circuit is super-effective, no matter how unmotivated you are.
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When your energy—or motivation—is waning, a fast-paced, high-intensity workout sounds about as enjoyable as scrubbing toilets. But the alternative doesn’t need to be ditching exercise entirely.
Instead, opt for a slow-and-controlled workout, says Samuel Simpson, C.S.C.S., co-owner of B-Fit Training Studio in Miami.
“I’m a big fan of working on movement patterns and body awareness on low-energy days,” he says. “Taking the time to understand and learn to control your body will lead to improved performances and results when you do higher-intensity sessions.”
Plus, sometimes you get a lot more out of moving slowly, with control and perfect form, than you would by churning through moves as quickly as possible, likely with a lot of momentum, says Janet Hamilton, C.S.C.S, an exercise physiologist with Running Strong in Atlanta.
Performing exercises slowly not only helps enforce body awareness, but it also increases your time under tension. That’s trainer-speak for “how much time a muscle is spent working,” and “it allows people to get more bang for their buck without impacting their joints as much,” Simpson says.
This slow-and-steady circuit is proof. Keep it on hand for those days when your body needs to move, but your mind needs more convincing.
How to Do This Workout
Complete one set of each exercise below in order, resting only as needed between moves.
One round is all you need to wake up your muscles. But if you feel your energy start to spike after all five exercises (you might be surprised!), you can perform the full circuit up to three times total.
The key is to perform each movement slowly and with control. When applicable (squats, rows, and pushups), take four full counts to lower and four counts to raise back up. No rushing!
Ready to get started? Here’s how to perform each movement. As always, safety is key. The exercises here may be different or more advanced than those you’ll experience in a SilverSneakers class. If you have a chronic condition, balance issues, or injuries, talk to your doctor about how you can exercise safely.
Exercise #1: Bird Dog
Do 4 to 5 reps
Start on all fours with your hands below shoulders and knees below hips. Engage your abs, keep your spine neutral, and gaze down or slightly forward.
Lift your left arm and extend your right leg until they are in line with the rest of your body. Pause, then lower back down, and repeat on the opposite side with right arm and left leg extended. That’s one rep. Perform four to five reps total.
Make it easier: Keep your hands on the floor, and only extend your leg. Or, press play to try one of these standing variations:
Exercise #2: Squat
Do 6 to 8 reps
Stand tall with your feet shoulder- to hip-width apart. Hold your arms straight out in front of you at shoulder level, and brace your core. This is your starting position.
From here, push your hips back, and bend your knees to slowly lower your body into a squat, not letting your knees cave in as you do so. Pause, then push through your heels to slowly return to starting position. That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps. Remember: Take four full counts to lower and four counts to return to standing.
Make it easier: Check out tips in this guide to the #1 exercise for older adults. Or, press play to try one of these variations:
Exercise #3: Bent-Over Row
Do 6 to 8 reps
Grab a pair of dumbbells, and stand tall with your feet shoulder-width apart. Pushing your hips back and allowing your knees to bend slightly, lower your torso until it’s almost parallel with the floor. Let the dumbbells hang at arm’s length from your shoulders, palms facing in.
From here, squeeze your shoulder blades together as you bend your elbows and slowly pull the dumbbells up to the sides of your torso, taking four counts to raise the weights. Pause, then take four counts to lower the dumbbells to the starting position. That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps.
Or try this alternative: If you don’t have dumbbells on hand or feel any pain in your back, try the seated row instead.
Sit with your legs extended, and place the center of a resistance band securely behind the arches of your feet. If you’re using a long exercise band, you can loop it around your feet once or twice so that, when you hold the band, it’s taut. Grab the ends of the band with both hands, arms extended and palms facing each other.
Sitting tall, pull your shoulder blades down and back, and bend at the elbows to slowly pull the band toward your core. Drive your elbows straight back; do not let them flare to the sides. Slowly reverse the movement to return to starting position. Perform six to eight reps.
Exercise #4: Dead Bug
Do 4 to 5 reps
Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. (You can also do this exercise on a firm mattress.) Raise your bent legs up so that your knees are stacked over your hips, keeping a 90-degree bend in your knees. Brace your core to press your low back into the floor; make sure to maintain this flat-back position throughout the entire exercise. With your palms facing each other, bring arms up to point toward the ceiling.
Straighten your left leg and bring it toward the floor (try not to let it touch). At the same time, bring your right arm back toward the floor (try not to let it touch). Pause, then bring your arm and leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the opposite side with right leg and left arm extended. That’s one rep. Alternate sides for four to five reps total.
Exercise #5: Modified Pushup
Do 6 to 8 reps
Stand facing a table, dresser, or wall. The taller the object or the more upright you are, the easier the move. Place your hands on the edge, slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Move your feet back until you are at a comfortable angle, keeping arms straight and perpendicular to your body.
Bend your elbows to slowly lower your chest toward the object (four full counts!), pause, and then slowly press back up to straighten your arms. That’s one rep. Perform six to eight reps. Keep your body straight throughout the entire movement, making sure to engage your abs and squeeze your rear.
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