“I did 5 minutes of pilates every day for 2 weeks and I’ve never been so sore”

Five minutes a day might not seem long enough to do any genuine exercise but after spending two weeks doing five-minute pilates workouts, writer Sakshi Udavant says that she’s never been stronger.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll have found yourself increasingly short on both time and new ideas – particularly when it comes to working out. For ages, I’ve wanted to switch up my exercise regime without necessarily spending hours at the gym. So, when I saw that five-minute workouts were trending on YouTube and TikTok, I was intrigued.

The idea of moving for such a short space of time was an interesting one. On the one hand, it seemed unlikely that a workout shorter than two movie trailers could possibly be that effective. On the other, I wanted to see what impact such a condensed exercise window could have. 

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After talking to fitness-loving friends, trainers and having a look at some of the research behind mini-workouts, I learned that short, high-intensity workouts can be just as beneficial as typical longer workouts. The University of Utah did a study (published in the American Journal of Health Promotion) back in 2013 which found that the “intensity of activity matters more than duration”, and that “short bouts of ‘brisk’ activity can add up to a positive effect.” 

Could exercising for five minutes really make a difference? I decided to try it for two weeks, and as with my 30-day yin yoga experiment, I gave myself permission to quit any time I felt uncomfortable. 

That’s important because stepping into a new workout challenge with compassion for your body can actually improve your performance and self-esteem. According to a 2011 study conducted by the University of California, self-compassion can increase your motivation to recover from failure, while giving yourself a break has also been found to improve mood, boost body image and enhance self-worth – all things you want to foster in the pursuit of getting physically stronger. With that in mind, here’s how my two weeks of short and snappy pilates workouts went.

14 days of quick-fire pilates

My challenge began with the Blogilates five-minute pilates series. Cassey Ho, a popular YouTube pilates trainer and founder of Blogilates, has been a part of my fitness routine since high school. Her workouts always leave me feeling sore and strong so I chose to start with her mini-workout series (as ever, better the devil you know!). Ho put together her toughest (and most effective) moves in a non-stop session for a continuous muscle burn.

I found myself getting more and more into the quick-fire sessions. For busy professionals like me who don’t have much time to get on a mat and exercise, a five-minute workout that’s super challenging but gets the job done is the perfect fitness solution.

But those five minutes didn’t fly by. In fact, anyone who has done pilates knows that on the mat, every minute feels like an hour. Moves like double leg lifts and side planks felt particularly challenging, partly because I was doing all the difficult moves back-to-back.

You can guess how sore I was the next afternoon. I couldn’t laugh because my abs hurt and climbing into bed with shaking thighs felt like a mammoth challenge.

When you use new muscle groups to perform isolated moves like pilates lifts, it’s normal to feel some soreness (or DOMS) the next day. But that (positive, bearable, healthy) pain is a sign your muscles are getting stronger, as Ho says in one of her videos.

Mixing pilates with yoga for maximum recovery

By the sixth day, I started paying more attention to how my body was responding to this type of exercise. After a week of groaning and thinking twice before sneezing, I knew I had to plan my workouts better.

You can’t have a leg day after an abs day – I learned it the hard way. Most pilates moves that focus on the abs also use leg muscles and vice versa, so if one of them is sore, you’d probably want to skip working the other.

To give my body the time to recover, I switched to a new format: one day of full-on five-minute workouts with a day of gentle pilates or light yoga in between – and that definitely worked better. Knowing I had a ‘light’ recovery day in between gave me the confidence to push myself harder. By the eighth day, I had ramped up to give my all to the workouts, safe in the knowledge that I’d have a full day to recover afterwards.

I once read somewhere that how you do one thing is how you do everything. If you take your workouts seriously and learn to give your best to the task at hand, that habit will spill over into other areas of your life. You also don’t need to go 100% in all the time; by taking your foot off the gas occasionally, you can push harder on the other days.

Is a daily five-minute practice really enough?

During the last four days of my challenge, I became more introspective. I reflected on my practice after each workout session. I kept track of what did and didn’t work. I realised that while these five-minute pilates workouts were challenging, they weren’t sufficient for my body.

If you have never exercised before, these quick-fire workouts can be an excellent place to start. They are short (obviously), fairly manageable and offer plenty of health benefits compared to a sedentary lifestyle. They also come in handy on busy days. Maybe you want a quick pick-me-up before an important meeting, you’re feeling cold or want a dynamic warm-up ahead of a run or more explosive workout. Since these workouts are so short and need little to no equipment, you can also try them when you are traveling or spending lots of time in your office.

But what about seasoned exercisers? I’ll be honest with you: I’m not the most hardcore workout enthusiast, nor do I train for any sporting events, but I do work out frequently. If you exercise almost daily too, you’re probably not going to get to a place where you feel like replacing your usual sessions for a five-minute workout.

Yes, they are tough and sure, they definitely leave you feeling sore, but I don’t think they work as a suitable substitute for full regimes. Instead, I plan to include them in my workout regimes going forward.

After experimenting with the duration and type of workouts over the past fortnight, I’ve realised that I need a combination of high-intensity and restorative exercise to feel good within my body. The two practices seem to go hand-in-hand – and that’s given me an idea for a new kind of fitness regime. A quick search on YouTube pulled up dozens of “Yogilates” videos. Perhaps it’s time for a new challenge…

After a slower way of moving? Join Emma for a 15-minute mobility class that’s guaranteed to have you feeling limber and stretchy in no time.

Images: Getty

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