Deck of Cards Workout
Deck of Cards Workout avatar

Awesome, intense full-body workout in less than 30 minutes!

There are so many contraptions out there being sold in stores and on late night infomercials that it’s hard to keep track.  You can sink hundreds of dollars into the latest and greatest exercise widget that will eventually get shoved in a closet, or… you can grab a deck of 52 playing cards and get a workout in that will kick your ass!  Sorry… but it does!  It works the chest, legs, arms, back and core… and it is cardio-intense.

There Goes Breakfast!

The first time that one of my trainers, Jay, challenged me with the DOC workout, I had to prepare mentally because I knew it would be tough. After all, this is a workout used in police academies and by the military.  I even went online to see what I should eat the day before and morning of the workout.  I knew I couldn’t do it on an empty stomach, but I was afraid I might get nauseous, too.   And that’s exactly what happened.  Ten minutes into the workout, Jay slid the trash can over so I could heave up everything I’d eaten that morning… a piece of  whole wheat toast with peanut butter, an orange, and cup of oatmeal.  But, I went right back to it.

Who Can Do It?

Since I’ve become a trainer, I’ve become a little sadistic at times.  I find unsuspecting clients who are in pretty good shape and challenge them to make it through the DOC workout.  Over the past month, I’ve only had two out of about a dozen clients complete the workout in under 30 minutes.  One guy hit it out of the ballpark with a 22:15 and another, this morning, did it in 23:34.  I’ve had three ladies finish in about 32 minutes.  I’ve finished at 28:56 after only getting through 45 cards in 30 minutes my very first try.  I wouldn’t recommend anyone who is out of shape to tackle such an intense workout without checking with their doctor.  If you are out of shape, you’ll probably only get through a handful of cards in 30 minutes, and that’s okay.  Go at your own pace and fitness level.

So, what is the DOC workout? 

It’s very simple.  A trainer (or partner) takes a deck of playing cards (sans Jokers) and shuffles them. Each of the four suites (hearts, diamonds, clubs and spades) is assigned a particular exercise.  The number of each exercise you do is the face value of the cards with 2-10 equal to the number, jacks = 11, queens = 12, kings = 13 and aces = 14.   The timer begins when you flip the very first card.  The person who is flipping the cards will have the next card on the top of the deck ready so that as soon as you complete that exercise, you go right into the next one.  You can take rest breaks to catch your breath and get a drink of water.  But… the clock keeps running.

The Exercises

I like to use the four exercises that Jay initially put me through. They are as follows:

  • Hearts = Push Ups (Ladies can do them from the knees)
  • Diamonds = Sit Ups (or crunches)
  • Spades = Squats with a weight (10 lbs for ladies, 25 lbs for men)
  • Clubs = Burpees (If you don’t know how to do a burpee, see the video below of the one that I use.) 

Spades = Weighted Squats

Hearts = Push Ups


Ladies can do knee push-ups.


Diamonds = Sit-Ups

Room Set-Up

For my clients, I like to take them into a cool room because they will sweat their butts off.  I set out two exercise mats so that they have some padding and something soft to set the weight (for squats) down on in-between exercises.

Resist Temptation to Switch Cards

Everyone knows that even when shuffling cards, there will always be times that there are several of the same suit right in a row.  I’ve had times where I’ve had to do 38 burpees in a row because four clubs were drawn (4, 9, J, A; that’s 4+9+11+14=38).  It’s all part of the process and is what makes every workout different.

The Toll

When you complete the deck, you will have done 104 of each exercise.  That’s a lot in 30 minutes or less!

On Your Own

The beauty of this workout is that you can do this on your own, either at home or in a hotel room.  You just need the deck of cards.  If you don’t have weights, grab the biggest phone book or just do body weight squats.  Deal the first 13 cards out in front of you and then complete the exercises before dealing out the next 13, and the next 13, and the last 13.

Variety Is the Spice of Life, Right?

You can design your own DOC workout with different exercises.  I’m going to design an upper body, dumbbell workout using bent-over rows, biceps curls, shoulder presses and chest presses.  I’ll keep the load reasonable since there will be 104 reps.  But, it will be challenging.


I have an extreme love/hate relationship with this workout, as do my clients.  Even the ones that have blasted through it, hate it.  But, when it’s over, you know you’ve been through a workout and have a huge sense of accomplishment.  And… if you don’t make it through the deck in 30 minutes or less, then keep track of how many cards you did go through and then try to beat that number the next time.  But, I’d only do this workout maybe once a month.

So, no more ordering stupid “shaker” weights or Thigh Masters from television commercials!  Put away the credit cards and trade them for a cheap deck of playing cards!  You’ll save money, increase your strength, improve your cardio AND lose weight!

To Your Health!

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2 Responses to Deck of Cards Workout
Deck of Cards Workout avatar

  1. Carolyn says:

    This is a good workout. I started out as a newbie with 10 cards, then 2 weeks later 15 cards and so forth….
    I am still doing this work out and I love it…

    PS – makes for a good night’s sleep!

  2. Ellery says:

    Just wondering why you would only do this workout once a month?

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