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Effective exercise for busy women, by Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill

Many of us have that feeling that we must work out for hours when you can achieve so much in just 20 mins

If anyone knows how to fit exercise into a hectic schedule then it’s British Olympic Gold Medallist and World Champion Heptathlete Dame Jessica Ennis-Hill . Between juggling her two young children, managing her fitness app Jennis as well as many other work related commitments, Jess is a master at fitting the most effective exercise into small timeframes. The Jennis app was created by Jess and the team that have worked with her throughout her career and who took her from birth to World Champion in just 10 months. With hundreds of videos of Jess completing each exercise, there is a Fitness section where you can focus on different body parts or the whole body, or follow a month-by-moth guide. There is also a Pregnancy section created by Jess and the physio that saw her through her pregnancies which demonstrates effective but safe exercise. Finally there is a Postnatal exercise section which Jess very strongly feels needs to be done slowly and carefully.

Jessica , image from Instagram

Granted, fitness-wise Jess is built differently to you and I, but those Olympic medals means she has the inside track (excuse the pun) on which exercises will reap maximum results. And those abs don’t just happen by themselves…

We spoke exclusively to Jess about her techniques for tackling fitness as a women in today’s busy world.

Organisation is Key

If there’s one thing we can learn from Jess, then it’s that exercise doesn’t just happen by itself , and if you don’t structure it into your life, it will fall by the wayside. She admits to personally being a super organised person when it comes to working out, “Something that I learned from being an athlete was to have a structure in my days and weeks, so I plan my exercise at the start of a week and lock it in my diary.” 

When she was competing, Jess followed a rigid training programme nearly every day of the week, but now she maintains her fabulous body with just three workouts, proving that you don’t need to kill yourself in the gym to make a difference. “A normal week would include a minimum of one run and two circuit sessions, generally slotted in around school and nursery and any work commitments,” she says. 

The Jennis App
Be honest with yourself 

Despite her clear superpowers on the athletics pitch, Jess is well known in the world of wellbeing for being incredibly relatable. This translates to her attitude to fitness, where she says it’s important not to overcommit, “I have to make sure I can physically, realistically and clearly see what I am aiming to achieve that week in order to stick with it.” She also insists that downtime is as important as ‘on’ time.

“Make sure you allow yourself rest days and build any exercise routine up so you get stronger and fitter gradually so you can maintain it and also keep motivation levels high,” she says. “To help my community out, I’ve created plans and challenges that help them structure their weeks – and my 30-day bum and ab challenge are proving really popular.”

Get Intense

In order to get body and fitness results fast within a short timeframe, Jess suggests quick but tough workouts, “I am a big fan of quick intense workouts that leave you feeling like you’ve worked hard and that give a great endorphin kick,” she says.  The workout devised in Jess’ exercise app Jennis do just that – they are quick, body and brain blasting workouts that give you the maximum benefit in a relatively short time. What’s more she has set challenges to keep you on track and help when motivation is lacking, “ I have created 30-day plans and challenges that mean you don’t have to think – you simply have to sign in and follow that day’s session or have a prescribed rest day. There is something really motivating about following a programme and in the case of the Jennis challenges, no workout is more than 30 mins.”

Twenty minutes is enough

It is often thought that we have to work out every day for hours on end to get the results we crave, but Jess says that’s a myth, “I think so many of us have that feeling that we must work out for hours to feel we’ve worked ourselves hard enough or we feel that if we don’t have a full hour to do our workout then we might as well not bother. When actually you can achieve so much in 20 mins. In a 20 min HIIT circuit you can push your rep strength and aerobic strength and come away feeling as if you’ve worked extremely hard. It’s all about level of intensity,” she says. 

No gym required

It’s also a myth that you need an at-home gym in order to get fit. Instead you can use the weight of your own body as resistance, “I think there are so many body weight exercises you can do at home and plenty of ways to adapt them to make them more challenging,” says Jess, Most of the circuits in my Jennis app are bodyweight focused and use minimal kit.”

Be kind to yourself 

Jess knows all too well how tough it can be juggling motherhood with work, let alone trying to fit in exercise too, “Being a busy working mum is really demanding. If there is a week when things are so crazy that you cannot find time to train or simply just don’t feel like it, just make sure that it is a priority the next week, don’t beat yourself up” she says. 

She also stresses the importance of finding an exercise you love else you won’t stick to it, “Trying lots of different types of workout is a good idea,” she says “Variety may suit you as a person too. As my son is getting a little older, I am able to go on bike rides with him and even short runs – I love it and it combines time with him with exercise. “

Examples of Jess’ workouts for the busy woman

Warming up

It is essential you warm up pre any exercise to avoid injury. One  of Jess’ warm up sessions involves 4 x warm-up exercises  such as low level high knees, reactive bounces, hip flex into hamstring flexes, and arm circles. See her app for visual examples of warm up as well as cool down sessions. 

When you have 5 minutes…

Jess says: “In my app I have a number of body blasts that are just 5 minutes. I get my community to do these 1, 2, or 3 times a day, depending on how they are feeling. Just a few minutes might feel like it’s not enough, but just getting a few minutes of movement in is really positive – and once you start you always end up doing more than you planned.” Here is an example of an Ab Blast that Jess says she does all the time (please check the app to follow Jess’ demonstration)

You will need: An exercise mat

How it works: 10 exercises and 10 reps of each

Jess demonstrating the 5 minute Ab Blast
The exercises
  • Crunches x 10
  • Flutters x 10
  • Cross over scissors x 10
  • Sit up and twist x 10
  • Sit up and reach x 10
  • Touch toes crunches x 10
  • Classic sit ups x 10
  • Double leg lowers x 10
  • Side to sides x 10
  • Russian twists x 10

When you have 15 mins…

Jess says: “There are 19 minutes HIIT circuits on my app that are really quick and effective and I have a 15 minute session that requires no kit and targets the whole body.” Here is an example of the 15 Minute Full body session but we recommend you check out the app to watch Jess in action.

How it works: There are 3 sets of 7 exercises. Set 1 is 25 seconds per exercise, then 10 seconds off. Set 2 is 30 seconds per exercise and 10 seconds off. Set 3 is 25 seconds on per exercise.

Jess demonstrating the 15 Minute Body Blast
The Exercises:

1.Jumping Lunges

2.shoulder taps

3. Squat jumps

4. Feet together crunches

5. Bum lifts

6. Plank crunches

7. Sumo squats

When you have 30 mins…

Jess says: “There are a range of 29 minute pyramid sessions in my app – all bodyweight and minimal kit.’ She explains Pyramid sessions like this “For your first set of seven exercises, I keep it slightly easier by keeping the amount of time we perform each exercise slightly shorter (20, 25 or 30 seconds, depending on the difficulty level). This first set is designed to warm you up and get the blood flowing to your muscles.”

“For the second set, it gets harder as we’ll do each exercise for longer (25, 30 or 35 seconds, depending on the difficulty level). Then, on the third, it gets easier again (we drop down in seconds) and so on. If you were to draw out the time periods for each set, you would see it creates little pyramids.”

Here is an example of a Full Body Intermediate session but we advise watching Jess on the app as you go.

What you will need: An exercise mat and a low table

How it works: There are 4 sets of 7 exercises each with a 10 second break inbetween. In the first set do 25 second bursts, the second do 30 second bursts, the third do 25 second bursts and the fourth do 30 second bursts again. Inbetween each set have a longer rest.

Jess demonstrating her perfect form in the Full Body Blast
The exercises:
  • 1 x set of full body exercises such as press ups (25 second bursts) each broken up by a 10 second rest
  • 1 x longer rest
  • 1 x set of full body exercises such as jumping lunges (30 second bursts) each broken up by a 10 second rest
  • 1 x longer rest
  • 1 x set of full body exercises such as situps with  reach (25second bursts) each broken up by a 10 second rest
  • 1 x longer rest
  • 1 x set of full body exercises such as tricep dips (30 second bursts) each broken up by a 10 second rest
  • 4 x cool down exercises

Jessica Ennis-Hill’s fitness app jennis fitness is available to download on iOS and Android for £9.99/ $12.99 per month.

If you enjoyed this article you might enjoy reading about how to create a portable gym here

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