The Power of Micro Workouts
Despite what most people might think, you really don’t need much time to work out.
In fact, even ten to twenty (or yes, twelve) minutes of challenging exercise a few times a week is enough to burn fat, build muscle, boost strength, and contribute to a healthy, active lifestyle.
Which means that no matter how busy you are, we all have time to exercise.
After all, just think about how much time you waste on social media, watching TV, or being inefficient throughout your day. You can easily shave a few minutes off your daily tasks and have enough time for a warm-up and a twelve-minute HIIT or circuit workout most days of the week.
But sometimes, the resistance isn’t really about the actual time the workout takes. It’s about the energy it takes to gear up for it.
Maybe your stress levels are over the top, or your energy levels have been so low that you keep talking yourself out of a workout. Or maybe you just don’t want to get all sweaty and have to take a shower afterward.
These are understandable excuses, especially during a pandemic. We’re all struggling right now, myself included. But when it comes to exercise, being healthy and fit isn’t actually as black and white as the fitness world tries to make it seem.
This is one of my gripes with the average person’s understanding of a typical gym workout — they either go to the gym for 45 minutes or none at all.
The reality is that something is always better than nothing when it comes to movement. Getting out for a fifteen-minute walk instead of doing the strength training workout you’d planned on doing that day might not be what you’d hoped for, but it’s significantly better than doing nothing at all.
Doing something movement-related — whether it’s a short walk, a few sets of push-ups or pull-ups, or ten minutes shooting baskets in your driveway or playing catch with your kid is always better than doing nothing at all.
If you want to maintain a healthy lifestyle, make time to move every day. And if you’re not sure where to start, I have a few suggestions.
Add in Micro Workouts Throughout Your Day
One extremely effective way to stay fit when you’re busier than normal or have a mental block about doing a full workout is to add in micro workouts during the day.
(I saw someone on Twitter once call these micro workouts “exercise snacks” and thought that was really great.)
Basically, rather than do a full workout, you’ll just add in reps throughout your day.
For example, try sprinkling in some of the following during semi-frequent work breaks:
- 10 push-ups
- 15 bodyweight squats
- 5 pull-ups (get a doorway pull-up bar for convenience)
- A 10-15 minute walk
The key here is to keep the challenge level fairly low so that you won’t feel a mental barrier to doing the number of reps.
You can play around with what works for you — fewer reps and more sets, or fewer sets and higher reps. Your goal is to find a solution that’s easy enough that you won’t put it off but that challenges you over the course of the day. You can gradually increase the number of reps and sets as you get stronger or keep them the same if your goal is maintenance.
Try Tabata Training
If you have a few minutes to spare, you can also try a Tabata workout. These workouts take only four minutes to complete, but they’re far from easy. To successfully do a Tabata workout, you need to give it all out effort. Pretend like you’re running as fast as you can from a bear during each interval, and you’ll be moving at the right pace.
Although they’re challenging, Tabata workouts are one of the most efficient forms of training. Research conducted by Dr. Izumi Tabata in the 1990’s has shown that Tabata workouts can have similar aerobic benefits as a 60-minute moderate-intensity cardio workout.
Here’s an example of an equipment-free Tabata-style workout you can try:
Set a timer to eight rounds of ten-second and twenty-second intervals — rest on the ten-second ones, then go all-out on the twenty-second ones (8 x :10 x :20).
Cycle through these exercises so that you end up doing four rounds of each:
- High knees
You can find other Tabata workout ideas here.
Note: Remember to never work out completely cold. Even with a Tabata workout, you should warm up a little beforehand, especially if it’s cold outside.
Stop Your All or Nothing Thinking
If you’re busier than usual or are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, sometimes setting aside time for a “full” workout can feel daunting (yes, even if it’s just twelve minutes). Try and get away from an all or nothing mindset around movement and start adding in mini workouts during the day.
Add in simple exercises like a quick set of push-ups, bodyweight squats, or stretches every 30 to 45 minutes when you’re at home (set a timer if you need to) and go for a short walk to take a break. It may not seem like a lot, but all these short bouts of movement throughout the day add up and will still get you many of the same benefits of a longer, harder workout.
“Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.” – Chinese proverb
What’s your favorite strategy for adding movement to your day? Share with me in the comments!