The 4 Minute Workout—Four Spartan Exercise Routines You Can Do in Your Home Office

I like to work out.  It’s one of the good habits I developed when I was trying to overcome some bad ones.  Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t something that encompasses my entire life.

My routines generally take an hour per day, 3-4 days per week.

I use fitness as a way to punctuate my off-balanced lifestyle.  It is a therapeutic retreat, hitting the whole mind-body-spirit thing.  

More importantly, exercise allows me a sense of primal accomplishment while living an entrepreneurial lifestyle chock full of rejection and failure.

A while ago, a “busy” friend of mine was talking about working out.  He talked about working out often.  There are talkers and there are doers. I called his bluff.

I promised him that doing a four-minute workout would kick his ass and that he’d be sore for days.  He said I was full of shit.  So I gave him the Tabata routine.

Tabatas are a form of Japanese torture designed by Dr. Izumi Tabata.  Actually, it’s a workout routine, but 2 minutes in, death will seem like a better option.

Here’s the formula: 20 seconds of activity, 10 seconds rest x 8 sets = 4 minutes of hell.

Try it.  Do 20 seconds of pushups.  Rest 10 seconds.  Repeat 8 times.  Die.

My friend was sore for a week.  But it was the first time he worked out anything other than his mouth for several years.

I started working out back in 2010 when I was in jail.  There, you have a floor, a metal toilet, a bunk, a bible, and a deck of cards.

My first workout in there, I did 86 pushups over the course of several hours.  So much for being a tough guy.  I eventually managed to get 950 pushups in under an hour – though I often compromised proper form to hit that.

As an entrepreneur, my home office can seem eerily similar to a jail cell (exchange bible with computer).  I still live a Spartan lifestyle.  Freedom is really a state of mind.

I still work out like I did in jail.  I don’t drink or do drugs anymore, so coffee and endorphins are the best ways give me a solid head change.

And like developing positive habits, it’s easier to start lightly and to stay consistent.  Don’t commit to two gym memberships and promise yourself two hours per day, six days per week.  

It’s easier to commit to four hours per week than twelve.

Just do something.  You can start right now.

Required Equipment to Start Your Own Spartan Office Gym

  • Deck of playing cards
  • Medicine ball
  • Exercise ball (the pilates kind)
  • Pull-up bar – or something pull-upable

If you spend more than $50 to acquire these items, then you’re not being a Spartan.  You’re being a yuppie.

Here are four other Spartan routines that will break you off in an hour or less:

Deck of Cards

Time:  60 Minutes

Technique:  Using the deck, pick a workout (i.e. pushups or squats) – each card you turn over represents a number in a set.

Ace = 15, King = 13, Queen = 12…10,9,8…2  = 424ish movements to a full deck

For a lighter approach, you can change the suits to = 1.  Sum = 236ish

Joker = Max out (or not)


Time:  20 Minutes

Technique:  Select one form from each group (i.e. push-ups, squats, leg lifts, chin-ups), perform one set each in rotation for 20 minutes straight.  You can drag this out a little longer if you want.

i.e. (1 set each of: pushups + squats + pull-ups + leg lifts) X qty sets  (4-8 sets) = 20 minute routine


Time:  30-45 Minutes

Technique:  Do 1 set isometrics + a set of plyometrics x Qty desired (4-10 supersets per workout session)

An isometric rep can be either static (holding position) or very slow (called a negative).  Doing one slow pushup, taking 10 seconds, is brutal.  These hit your slow twitch fibers for strength and endurance.

A plyometric is explosive.  Like a clapping pushup.  These hit your fast-twitch muscle fibers for superhuman powers.


Time:  20-60 Minutes

Technique:  1 (pushup) + 2 (pushups) + 3…10 + 9 + 8 + 7…1  (go up to 10 reps then back down to 1 = 146 \\ there are 456 reps if you go up to 20 and back down to 1)

Exercise Variations


  • Push-ups 
    • Regular (hits chest, shoulders, and triceps)
    • Wides (emphasizes pectoral muscles)
    • Diamonds  (emphasizes pectoral muscles, albeit more challenging than words)
    • Judo (chest, shoulders, triceps, hamstrings, lower back)


  • Pullups (hits back, biceps, core…)
    • Close grip (all the above with an emphasis in forearms and biceps)
    • Wide – behind back  (emphasizes lats and awesomeness)
    • Chinups  (emphasizes biceps)
    • Variation:  Knees up – or legs straight out will give you a nice core routine too.


  • Planks  (full body torture, from toes to core to shoulders)
  • Crunches  (abs)
  • Leg lifts (on floor or hanging from pull-up bar – hanging from the bar, this is one of the best ab routines out there)
  • Bridges  (hits upper glutes, small of back, core)


  • Squats  (emphasizes quads, inner thighs, glutes)
  • Lunges  (gluuuuuuuuutes, hamstrings, quads)
  • Back lunges  similar to above)
  • Wall sit (another form of torture)


  • Plyometric – fast twitch, power, fast, hard (clapping push ups, jumping squats/lunges)
  • Isometrics – negatives (count down from 5 or 10), one-second hold, or hold for 5-30 seconds per movement.

There are hundreds of variations you can do by using your medicine and pilates balls.  From uneven pushups to inclined diamonds, to split squats…

Helpful Hints

  • Focus on quality over quantity
  • Watch YouTube videos to understand the proper form and techniques
  • Breathe
  • Maintain posture
  • Don’t kill yourself – make fitness enjoyable.  
  • Gamify your techniques to have fun.  (I knew a guy in jail who would do a little dance between sets)
  • Switch up routines to avoid plateaus.  Muscles like confusion.  Keep ‘em guessing!
  • Keep your workouts an hour or less and just work out 3-4x per week to start
  • Develop these healthy habits

Now, these routines won’t morph you into Mr. Olympia.  But by staying consistent and maintaining healthy dietary habits, you’ll definitely help you develop a physique similar to King Leonidas (that dude in the leather speedos from the movie 300).

If you do need accountability and aren’t dangerously antisocial, joining a gym may be a better solution.  Here Nadine highlights her approach to fitness as an entrepreneur.

Even if you belong to a gym, logistics and scheduling conflicts can often off-balance a structured fitness routine.  When this is the case, grab a deck of cards and see what you can do in 45 minutes.  

Or better yet, torture yourself for four.


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