15 Minutes to Warrior Fit

Genghis Khan's soldiers didn't worry about how much they could bench press. Their focus was real-world strength and speed. Here's how to follow their lead

October 7, 2010
Man running up bleachers

It doesn't matter if you're a mongoose or a Mongol—if you occupy the top of a food chain, your body is designed for a high-protein diet and short bursts of activity. Indeed, the former fuels the latter. "That's why the idea of endurance training is totally misplaced," says certified athletic trainer Mike Boyle, who trains such modern-day warriors as retired Marcellus Wiley, of the Jacksonville Jaguars, and Scott Gomez, of the New York Rangers.

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"Why would anyone go out and run for 60 minutes knowing that life is, in fact, intermittent?" Our bodies, in other words, aren't designed for stamina—they're designed for brief displays of power. "We'd all be smart to follow their lead," says Boyle. "If you substitute intensity for duration and train for function rather than form, you'll get better at life itself." You'll also never have to spend more than 15 minutes at the gym. Here's a weeklong plan to get you fighting fit.


Day 1 The Strength Circuit
Think of each circuit as one continuous set. Perform eight to 10 reps of each exercise, resting for two minutes only after you've completed the entire circuit. Repeat each circuit three times. "True fitness is measured in workout density, how much you can do in as short a time as possible," says Craig Friedman, director of the performance innovation team for Athlete's Performance, in Arizona. "Single leg exercises are also key. We live life on one leg at a time, and by training on one leg, you'll get stronger faster."

Circuit A
Pistol Squats

Circuit B
Side planks
Single-Leg Dumbbell Straight-Leg Deadlifts

Day 2 Intervals
Find a football field and, after warming up by jogging the perimeter twice, begin running the length of the field (go for 70 percent of your maximum sprint speed) and jogging the width. Stop after you've circled the field five times. "If you don't have a field nearby, find a road with telephone poles," advises Boyle. "Run the distance between three poles, jog to the fourth, and repeat 10 times." The entire workout shouldn't take longer than 12 minutes, but that's all the cardio you need, says Boyle. In a recent study of cyclists at McMaster University, in Canada, researchers found that those who exercised intensely for just 16 minutes a day (four 30-second bursts of all-out cycling separated by four minutes of rest) experienced the same gains in performance as cyclists who pedaled continuously for two hours a day. "Have you ever seen a fat sprinter? Probably not," says Boyle. "But I bet you've seen a lot of fat joggers. Intensity will always win over duration. Always."

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Day 3 Strength Training
Follow the same strategy as outlined in Day 1. "The idea here is variation without change," explains Boyle. "You're going to perform the same basic movements--pushing, pressing, pulling, and squatting--but by switching up the exercises, you're going to hit different muscle fibers in different patterns." As a result, your muscles won't adapt to a routine, and performance won't plateau. "Body weight is also an important element of any functional exercise plan," says Friedman. "You don't carry around dumbbells in real life," so why overload your workout with them?

Circuit A
Wrist-to-Knee Crunches
Dumbbell Bulgarian Split Squats

Circuit B
Inverted Rows
Prone Cobra
Single-Leg Dumbbell Deadlifts

Day 4 Hills
"Hill training represents a near-perfect combination of aerobic and anaerobic conditioning," says Boyle. "On one hand, you're getting your heart rate up and working your cardiovascular system. On the other, the hill's incline provides resistance for building leg strength." Find a hill with a 20 to 30 percent grade (roughly equivalent to an intermediate ski slope), and then run 50 meters uphill at 80 percent of your sprint speed. Walk down and repeat 10 times. Distance runs on flat ground are the scenic route.

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Day 5 Sports
Thus far, you've focused on strengthening various muscles and bodily systems through a series of functional workouts. Today, you're going to put everything together into one compound exercise: basketball. "No other sport gives you as much bang for your fitness buck," says Boyle. "It strengthens and reinforces every conceivable movement pattern—accelerating, decelerating, jumping, sprinting, upper-body coordination, and rapid changes in direction. Everything is rolled into this game." And you only need one opponent to reap the benefits. If basketball isn't your game, try tennis, soccer, or rugby.