How to Create a Full-Body Deck of Cards Workout

Use a Deck of Cards to Develop Your Own Workout

Woman working out with a kettle bell, training outdoors

Jojo Jovanovic / Stocksy

A simple deck of cards is one of the easiest ways to plan your own workouts. While several companies have developed exercise playing cards specifically for workout routines, there's no reason to go out and buy a set if you have a good ol' deck of playing cards sitting around your house. All you need to plan your own deck of cards workout is a list of exercises (a few examples are included below), a timer, and a set of cards. 

Determine Workout Focus

If you want to do a cardio-based full-body routine, you need to choose exercises designed to raise your heart rate, like jumping jacks. If you want to focus on strength training, you need to choose resistance-based exercises, like dumbbell chest press. If you want a mix of both, you need to select a combination of exercises that can do both, like squat presses, burpees, lunge curls, or spider push-ups.

Select Four Exercises

Choose just four exercises aligned with your workout focus. Here are some suggested exercises, grouped into workouts based on workout focus: 

Need more exercise ideas? Check out these lower body, upper body, core, and cardio exercises. 

Assign Each Exercise to a Suit in the Deck

Simply assign each of your four exercises to one of the suits of cards. For instance, if you're doing the full-body workout suggested above, you might pair the exercises with the card suits as follows:

  • Diamonds = Squats
  • Hearts = Push-ups
  • Spades = Jumping Jacks
  • Clubs = Sit-ups

To help you remember which exercise is associated with which suit, write it down on a piece of paper to keep next to your deck of cards. This way you can double-check which exercise you're supposed to perform when you pull a particular card from the deck. 

Know Your Numbers

When working out with playing cards, the number on the card is representative of the number of reps you'll perform. For instance, a two card represents two repetitions. It's fairly straight forward. Except, this gets tricky with face cards, like jacks, queens, kings, and aces.

For face cards, you have a couple options. First, you could choose to assign each face card the equivalent of 10 repetitions, so no matter which face card you draw, you always perform the same number of reps.

As an alternative, you could assign each face card a different number of repetitions. For instance, jacks might represent 11 reps, queens 12 reps, and kings 13 reps.

In either scenario, decide what to do with aces. You can treat them as a face card, assigning them the equivalent of 10 or more repetitions, or you can treat them as a one, assigning them a single repetition.

In a nutshell, the number or number equivalent of the card you draw from the deck is the number of reps you'll perform. 

Number of Reps

  • Ace = 1 rep, 10 or 14 reps, player's choice
  • 2 = 2 reps
  • 3 = 3 reps
  • 4 = 4 reps
  • 5 = 5 reps
  • 6 = 6 reps
  • 7 = 7 reps
  • 8 = 8 reps
  • 9 = 9 reps
  • 10 = 10 reps
  • Jack = 10 or 11 reps, player's choice
  • Queen = 10 or 12 reps, player's choice
  • King = 10 or 13 reps, player's choice

As an example, using the total body workout detailed above, if you pull a 10 of hearts from the deck, you'd do 10 push-ups. If you pull a six of spades from the deck, you'd do six jumping jacks. 

Choose a Time Limit

Now that you're ready to go, you need to decide how long you're going to exercise. It's a good idea to do each series of four exercises for at least 5 to 10 minutes. If you want to exercise longer, give yourself a brief water break, switch up your exercises, and continue.

For instance, if you do a full-body workout for the first 10 minutes, when you're done, assign new exercises to each card suit, and do a lower body workout for five minutes, then an upper body workout for five minutes, for a total of a 20-minute total-body routine.

Start Your Workout

All that's left is to get to work! Set a timer or keep an eye on the clock. Shuffle your cards and pull the first card from the deck. Perform the designated exercise for the assigned number of repetitions, then immediately pull another card from the deck. Continue drawing cards and performing exercises until your time expires. Just like that, you've planned and implemented your own workout routine using nothing but a deck of cards!

A Word From Verywell

Don't be afraid to get creative and add your own rules or twists. For instance, if you draw the same suit three times in a row, you could add a challenge, like holding a 60-second plank before progressing to the next card. You could also turn it into a partner workout by using two decks of cards. The first person to make it all the way through his or her deck of cards has to make the other person dinner. 

1 Source
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Nystoriak MA, Bhatnagar A. Cardiovascular effects and benefits of exercise. Front Cardiovasc Med. 2018;5:135. doi:10.3389/fcvm.2018.00135

By Laura Williams, MSEd, ASCM-CEP
Laura Williams is a fitness expert and advocate with certifications from the American Council on Exercise and the American College of Sports Medicine.