60 seconds to shred fat, build strength, and transform your body.
Sounds farfetched, but high-intensity micro-workouts are one of the hottest trends in fitness.
For good reason…
You don’t need an expensive gym membership. Simple at-home exercise can get you better results than the crowded, loud, 2-hour exercise classes in industrial facilities.
Perfect if your gym closes indefinitely, you’re low on motivation, or you have a busy schedule. Intermittent exercise can keep you fit.
Our ancestors naturally moved throughout the day. They walked, sprinted, sat, squatted, knelt, climbed trees, swam, etc.
Tiny bursts of physical activity woven throughout the day can help you break personal records, get fit, improve overall wellness, and see changes quickly. This guide covers the science and benefits of micro-workouts, as well as how to build them into your fitness program.
What Are Micro-Workouts?
Micro workouts, also called trigger sessions, are a form of extremely brief (often 1-minute) high-intensity movement. These mini-sessions are performed multiple times throughout the day to add an appreciable amount of physical activity, muscle growth, and weight loss.
Mark’s Daily Apple has written extensively about this topic. I’ve heard the same concept go by various other names including “mini workouts” and “intermittent exercise”.
Whatever you call them, micro-workouts are simple, quick, and convenient — even while holed up in the confines of your home. I’ll explain.
The Health & Fitness Benefits of Micro-Workouts
For some reason, the fitness industry promotes long gym sessions and even longer cortisol-fueled runs over what actually matters most…
Frequent low-level movement.
You don’t need to punish your body for 45 minutes just to get results.
I’ll admit, there’s little double-blind, placebo-controlled research on micro-workouts.
Historical examples and anecdotes, however, paint a very vivid picture.
Micro-exercise works. You get some of the body-transforming benefits of H.I.I.T. but without the tissue-destroying sky-high stress. Can these brief periods of movement really compare to exercise?
This study showed that just one minute of intense exercise produces powerful genetic signals to increase your fitness.
Some experts believe the true threshold to get exercise benefits comes from even less than that.
Building cardiovascular health
If you want to get good at running, you run.
If you want to get good at biking, you bike.
Unless you are training for a specific event, long endurance activities may not provide unique heart-strengthening effects. HIIT may be more effective than moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) for cardiometabolic health.
Well-trained rowers that transitioned from long, low-intensity training to HIIT improved their aerobic systems.
“Super walking” paired with a few bouts of intense movement compares favorably to traditional cardio training:
- Less time
- More enjoyable
- Better hormonal effects
Dr. Phil Maffetone, an endurance exercise authority, states that general movement suffices to strengthen your aerobic system.
So, if you dislike long steady-state exercise, try this instead.
Justifying junk food
I don’t advocate a low-quality diet. When you’re going to indulge, first do some movement.
Studies show that even a few days of inactivity can generate a significant decline in glucose tolerance and increase insulin resistance.
Worse blood sugar control quickly leads to weight gain and diabetes. The simple change?
You could use a natural blood sugar-stabilizing supplement. Or just move around every once in a while.
Of course, putting some effort into physical activity can only help.
The aftermath of ambitious workouts may feel good, but daily low-impact movement is likely more important.
Burning stubborn body fat
You may worry that without a gym session or long run, you won’t burn enough calories and gain weight.
Reviews on the matter show otherwise:
“Our results show that completion of interval training increases [whole-body fat oxidation] in approximately 50% of studies…”
Short intense exercise can burn body fat.
There are two types of fat: white and brown.
Staying even moderately active throughout the day does two other wonderful things for weight loss:
- Increases how many calories you burn going about your daily life, referred to as non-exercise activity thermogenesis (or NEAT)
- Increases your tolerance to sugar by draining your muscles of glycogen (sugar)
The combined effect of a higher NEAT and depleted glycogen lead to sustainable weight loss.
Building strength & muscle
Have you ever heard of the 100-day pushup challenge?
Initially, participants often struggle to complete a single pushup. 100 days later, they’re all the way up to doing 100 pushups. They built strength, hypertrophy, and endurance because of their gradual increase over three months. According to conventional strength training advice, this wouldn’t work because they need more rest.
A quick scroll through Instagram showcases that it works.
How does this all translate to the physically active population? What about people that already follow a fitness routine?
A 2017 study of master endurance athletes showed that 30-second intense exercise efforts increased both muscle power and free testosterone. Athletes benefit in other ways too.
Those same rowers mentioned earlier also experienced greater 2000-meter time trial performance, power output, and better ability to withstand painful exercise after switching to HIIT.
Apply the same concept to your new mini-movements. Slowly build your movement habits up, and you won’t need long recovery periods for each muscle group. Here I shared the strategies for biohacking muscle recovery for a speedy bounce-back. With time the exercises will become easier and you can handle more.
Keeping your stress low
Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing.
Stress hormones turn on energy production and fuel your exercise sessions.
- Impaired learning and memory
- Lower immune function and bone density
- Increased weight gain, blood pressure, cholesterol, and heart disease
Today, most of us are chronically flooded with stress. Our fast-paced, deadline-driven society inundates us with cortisol around the clock.
Typical exercise routines can add fuel to the fire. The aftermath of brutal workouts is free radicals, inflammation, and oxidative stress.
Over time, this can lead to extreme fatigue (HPA Axis dysfunction).
To an already taxed body, micro-workouts can bring about beneficial changes without the added burden of additional stress. This aligns with the way humans evolved. It’s bioharmonic.
Our ancestors likely experienced tiny spurts of stress followed by ample recovery on a near-daily basis. Only on rare occasions our ancestors fled predators and went through long-term stress (equivalent to a typical modern workout).
They would, however, move regularly and occasionally lift heavy things.
Now that you have a basic background on micro-workouts, let’s skip to the most important part.
How to Micro-Workout Anywhere Without Equipment
You can make micro-workouts as simple or as complex as you want.
First things first.
There are three factors to designing micro-workouts:
- Time: How much you have available
- Location: Your ideal micro-workout program differs depending on where you are
- Equipment (optional): You’ll have more options if you have gear like BFR bands, KAATSU, or resistance bands.
Build your micro-workout plan to fit into your unique schedule.
Minimal time commitment
Do you have a minute free? Good. One minute is enough. Even 30 seconds work.
I like to pair an interval of sedentary time I give myself to work, with a specific amount of exercise. The longer I sit around, the longer I offset it with exercise.
Here’s a quick guide to different micro-workout timing options:
- Brain booster: 1-minute sessions done every 30 minutes.
- Cardio builder: 1-2-minute sessions done every 60 minutes (bonus points for completing them on the hour).
- Strength master: 5-10-minute sessions but far fewer. I usually shoot for 3-4 per day.
- Productive jock: a few minutes of movement between your calls, meetings, and appointments.
Go ahead and choose one of the above options based on your circumstances. Next, you pair it with a workout type.
Perfect exercise selection
Do you have a preferred workout type?
You can choose to focus on one throughout the day or mix it up for each session.
- Circuit: pick several different exercises, HIIT style. Divide your session time across the exercises and rotate through each. Goes nicely with the longer sessions
- Targeted exercise: focus on one major body part throughout the day (legs, chest, back, arms). Then tomorrow, continue the cycle by choosing the next
- Full-body: best paired with shorter sessions, you can practice full-body exercises every day.
On to the fun stuff.
Exercises for micro-workouts
Just about any exercise that elevates your heart rate works. Simple or complex. Equipment or not.
Here are some of the best exercises for micro-workouts include:
- Jump lunges
- Mountain climbers
- High knees
- Plyometric jump
- Kettlebell swings*
- Air squats
- Jumping jacks
- Running your stairs
- Sun salutations
- Brisk walk
- Equipment from around the house
* I’ve used a five-gallon water bottle or even a big bag of rice instead of weights
** Doorframes, trees, fences, and overhanging objects are all fair game. Get creative
Building Your Custom Micro-Workout Plan
There you have it.
Now set a timer or schedule it into your calendar. When the time comes, perform the exercise (or circuit) for the allotted time, and go back to your normal life like nothing happened.
Repeat again later.
Example micro-workout #1
A micro-workout schedule I would use without any gear could look like this:
- Brain booster
- Targeted exercise
Every 30 minutes a timer on my computer reminds me to take my 1-minute squat break. Over the course of a work day, this can easily add up to hundreds of squats.
Example micro-workout #2
I choose this one when I have more resources available:
- Strength master
In the morning, before lunch, later in the afternoon, and before the end of the day, I set aside a few minutes to perform deadlifts. I have the luxury of a barbell in my house, but the Harambe System, rocks and other heavy items work too. I perform several sets with a rest between.
Ease into this. Like the pushup challenge hero that progresses from one all the way to 100 consecutive pushups, adaptation takes time.
Example micro-workout #3
This one isn’t for the faint of heart.
I call it Super Walking:
- Productive jock
It does require gear. Two things. A backpack with some kind of weight. Then, KAATSU bands work best, but cheap BFR bands will do in a pinch. For more information on why there’s no comparison to traditional BFR Bands, click here to visit my full KAATSU B1 system review now.
Basically, KAATSU pre-fatigues endurance muscle fibers so you can build muscle and strength just from walking, the added weight amplifies the effects, and you rapidly accumulate metabolic byproducts. When you return to work 5-10 minutes later, removing the bands releases a beneficial cascade of blood flow, oxygen, growth factors, and nutrients to bathe the body and brain.
My most productive days are when I combine nootropics with a micro-workout. After this session, I return to work feeling unstoppable.
This one has been shown effective by research. Super Walking is also my favorite of all the micro-workouts.
15+ Tools to Amplify Your Micro-Workout & Transform Your Body Faster
Whether you’re looking to pack on some muscle or torch body fat, fitness gets confusing.
Do I need a monthly gym membership?
Will this hot new technique actually work?
Which supplements can accelerate my results?
How do I continue making progress while on the road?
This is all possible. And remember this…Injury is the fastest way to derail your progress and lose your hard work. Click To Tweet
Eventually, most runners get injured. As do most weightlifters.
So what do you do?
Use the right tools.
You can get better results fast, without spending 2 hours in the gym, 6 days per week.
So I designed a simple “Body Upgrade Cheatsheet” to handpick the most essential tools the pros use to transform their bodies in minimal time. Download it here…
Try a Micro-Workout Today
This one study perfectly summarized my view of this style of exercise:"Physical activity, when properly prescribed, is an inexpensive and universal medication with minimal side effects. It is our 'home pharmacy' we always have with us." Click To Tweet
From the obvious body transformation to driving hydration deeper into your cells, to keeping your tissues supple, micro-workouts can act as a standalone fitness strategy or layered on top of an existing plan.
Incorporating this easy strategy may help you break through a plateau and set a new personal record.
Establishing the habit can take some time. Figure it out, however, and the benefits of these little movement morsels compound throughout your life. You’ll feel less guilty when the inevitable life event causes you to miss a workout.
Micro-workouts double as a networking tactic.
I like to knock out some air squats in the back of planes. Sometimes the flight crew will even join in.
Whether you use these short “exercise snacks” to sculpt your dream body or make new friends, let me know how your first micro-workout goes!