If you’re like most efficiency-minded Americans, you may be on the lookout for the exercise that’s going to whip you into shape, keep you fit and slow down aging—with the least amount of time and fuss. For those of us looking to streamline our workouts to just the essentials, two simple exercises can do the job. They are challenging but worth the effort…and can be easily modified to suit your individual fitness level.

THE DYNAMIC DUO

Burpees and jumping rope are the dynamic duo, in my opinion. Why burpees and jumping rope? Of all the exercise choices, these maintain high vigor while promoting strength, endurance, balance and coordination all at once—precisely the capabilities that tend to deteriorate as we age, increasing our risk for falls and other mishaps. These exercises are also… 

Compact. Both can be done almost anywhere—whether you’re in a hotel room…in your family room…or in your backyard. Note: If you’re indoors, you need adequate ceiling height to jump rope.

Quick. The regimen can be compressed into a tidy five minutes if you’re starting out and extended to a 10-, 20- or 30-minute workout when you’re ready to up your game.

PERFECTING YOUR TECHNIQUE

To get the maximum benefits and reduce your risk for injuries, it’s important to do both of these exercises properly…

Burpees. Unless this exercise is already part of your workout, start slowly to make sure you’ve got the right technique. Ready?

• Stand straight with your arms at your sides.

• Squat down until you can put your hands on the ground in front of your feet.

• Kick your legs back into the plank position, straight behind you.

• Do a push-up on your toes or on your knees.

• Pull your legs back into the squat position.

• Jump up as high as you can with your arms overhead.

For a somewhat easier version: Do the same exercise without the push-up and jump. If the plank position is too difficult, modify it by kicking your legs back only halfway. 

Jumping rope. Maybe you haven’t jumped rope since you were a kid, but it will come back to you. Keep the jump low to minimize the impact on your ankles and knees. When you feel ready, try using a weighted jump rope (which incorporates 1-, 3- or 5-pound weights) to rev up your heart rate and build upper-body strength. Skip the added weight if you have existing shoulder, arm or wrist problems. Use a jump rope that feels right to you—whether it has anti-slip handles or plastic beads strung on a nylon cord.

WARMING UP

Jumping jacks and running in place are great ways to warm up. These exercises are also good substitutes for burpees and jumping rope if you haven’t been physically active in a while and/or want a gentler way to ease into your routine.

If jumping jacks and running in place don’t appeal to you or you are concerned about your risk for falling or joint pain, there are other ways to modify the burpee–jump rope regimen while you increase your fitness.

Instead of burpees, try: Knee bends (also known as “squats”). If you’re worried about your knees, skip the knee bends and simply stand with your back against a wall and lift up one leg with your knee bent as high as you feel comfortable. Repeat with the other leg.

Or try push-ups, either on the floor or against a counter.

Instead of jumping rope, try: Brisk walking—set a pace that puts you at the edge of being short of breath.

THE WORKOUT

To begin a burpee–jump rope regimen, do five burpees alternating with 30 seconds of jumping rope. Do each set three to five times (for a total of 15 burpees and a minute and a half of jumping rope…or 25 burpees and two and a half minutes of jumping rope). Then work up to sets of 10 burpees alternating with one minute of jumping rope. As your stamina builds, continue to alternate exercises until you work up to longer sets of up to two minutes of each. Try to do the burpee–jump rope workout two to three days a week with brisk walking or cycling on the other days.

Important: If you have any chronic medical conditions, consult your doctor before trying this workout. Stop immediately if either activity causes pain. It will take time to build up your stamina. Scale up according to your age and ability.

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