The Countdown Workout

By Andrew Heffernan |

In a few short weeks, you’ll be tracking the dwindling hours, minutes and seconds before the New Year makes its first appearance. With luck, you’ll have family and friends around you, some good food, and a hearty kazoo blast or two to round out the festivities.

In honor of this annual clock-centric countdown ritual, we’ve put together a fast, furious and fun workout to help celebrate the fitness you’ve gained this year — and to mark your commitment to getting even fitter this year.

The Countdown Workout is a body-weight-only workout you can do virtually anywhere in just 10 minutes. It’s particularly effective because it develops “relative strength,” which is the ability to move your own body through space quickly and efficiently.

That guy at the gym who can crank out 50 pushups and 20 pull-ups? He has tons of relative strength. So do the gymnasts, dancers and team-sport athletes who jump the highest, run the fastest and go the hardest. That’s the kind of fitness we’d all do well to pursue.

But you don’t need to shoot for an assigned number of sets during this workout. All you need to keep track of is the time. That’s because the Countdown is a circuit, consisting of five exercises of escalating intensity performed as many times as your 10 minutes (and screaming muscles) will allow.

You’ll begin by doing five reps of the first exercise, four of the second, and so on, until you’re doing just one rep of the last, and toughest exercise — then you return to the first move.

This approach ensures that you don’t breeze through some exercises and burn out on others, and that you work your entire body equally, head to toe, during the brief-but-intense 10-minute time period.

If you crank through this workout three times a week, by New Year’s Day you’ll be moving better, feeling healthier, and looking leaner, too.

So prepare to work hard. “Since it will be over fast, you can give it your all for that concentrated period,” says workout designer Nick Tumminello, ACE-CPT, owner of Performance University in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. “Exercising for a set time frame, rather than completing a prearranged number of sets and reps, allows you to go at a pace that’s right for you.

“A mixed-martial-arts fighter can go full speed the whole time; a grandmother will take it slower, but they’ll both get a great workout.”

The Countdown: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, Work Out!


  1. For full descriptions and a video demonstration of alternate (easier) exercises, see The Countdown Workout video.

1. Alternating Reverse Lunge 


  1. Repeat the movement, stepping back with your right foot. That’s one rep.

Reps: Five.Coaching Cues: “It’s OK to lean forward a little when performing this exercise,” says Tumminello. “But if your knees hurt when you lunge, don’t go as deep — stay within a pain-free range of motion.”

2. Mountain Climber 


  1. While simultaneously moving your left foot back to the starting position, quickly draw your right foot up toward your chest so your feet switch in midair. That’s one rep.

Reps: Four.Coaching Cues: “The mountain climber isn’t a jumping or bobbing move,” says Tumminello. “Keep your hips about shoulder height or lower throughout the movement.”

3. T-Roll Pushup 


  1. Reverse the movement, returning to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Reps: Three.Coaching Cues: If you find it difficult to stay on your toes throughout the move, allow your feet to rotate all the way to the side when you roll so that your weight is resting on more surface area, instructs Tumminello.

4. Modified Burpee


  1. Land softly. That’s one rep.

Reps: Two.Coaching Cues: “When you squat down, allow your knees to spread outside your arms,” says Tumminello. “You’ll protect your lower back and get a nice hip stretch at the same time.”

5. Pull-Up


  1. Lower yourself slowly back to the starting position. That’s one rep.

Reps: One.Coaching Cues: “If pull-ups [palms facing away] are tough for you, try switching your hands to a chin-up grip [palms facing toward you] — either right from the start, or as you get tired later in the workout,” Tumminello says.

Visit the Countdown Workout video page for a “Make It Easier” version.

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