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.
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, and swam.
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 will explain how to perform micro-workouts, and the science behind why every fitness plan should include them.
What are Micro-Workouts?
Micro workouts are extremely brief ~1-minute HIIT sessions of any suitable exercise (listed below). Performed throughout a day to easily load physical activity into otherwise sedentary days.
Mark’s Daily Apple has written extensively about this topic. I’ve heard the same concept go by various other names including “mini workouts”, “trigger sessions”, and my favorite, “intermittent exercise”.
Don’t let the fancy term fool you. Micro-workouts are simple, quick, and convenient — even while holed up in the confines of your home. I’ll explain.
Using Micro-Workouts to Enhance Any Fitness Goal
Somehow we overlook the importance of normal everyday movement in favor of long gym sessions, and even longer cortisol-fueled runs.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) doesn’t require 45 minutes of punishing your body to bring about results.
There’s little research on micro-workouts. Especially on occasional bouts of brief, intense exercise. Although I would imagine that the effects would closely mirror HIIT but inducing far less stress. Can these brief periods of movement really compare to exercise?
Just one minute of intense exercise produces powerful genetic signals to increase your fitness. Some experts believe benefits come from even less.
Building a Strong Heart
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 duration training to HIIT improved their aerobic systems.
Dr. Phil Maffetone agrees that general movement surffices to strengthen your aerboic system.
So frequent movement build that aerobic engine you once had. Your metabolism enjoys the movement too.
Justifying Junk Food
I don’t advocate a low-quality diet. When you’re going to indulge, get some exercise first.
Studies show that even a few days of inactivity can generate a significant decline in glucose tolerance and increase in insulin resistance. Worse blood sugar control quickly lead 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 an ambitious workouts may feel good, everyday movement is probably 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. White fat stores energy. Scientists believe that brown fat burns white fat. This study shows that HIIT stimulates the conversion and increase calorie burning.
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 weight loss.
Building Strength and Muscle
Have you ever heard of the 100-day pushup challenge?
Participants often go from barely able to complete a single pushup all the way up to 100 over the course of 100 days. They progress because of their gradual increase over 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 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. 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 our species evolution.
Our ancestors likely experienced tiny spurts of stress followed by ample recovery on a near-daily basis. Only on rare occasions would our ancestors flee a predator and go through long-term stress (equivalent to a typical workout).
Now that you have the 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.
What’s important is that you start. Now, where to begin?
First things first.
There are three factors to designing micro-workouts:
- Time: How much you have available.
- Location: What you choose will differ when in the office or working from home.
- Equipment (optional): You’ll have more options available if you have gear like BFR bands or resistance bands.
This workout style is among the most flexible. Build your micro-workout plan to fit your unique schedule.
Minimal Time Commitment
Do you have a minute free? Good. One minute is enough. Even 30 seconds works.
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.
Plenty of Exercises to Choose From
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:
- Jump lunges
- Mountain climbers
- High knees
- Plyometric jump
- Kettlebell swings*
- Air squats
- Jumping jacks
- Running your stairs
- Brisk walk
- Equipment from around the house.
** Doorframes, trees, fences, overhanging objects are all fair game. Get creative.
I’ve used a five-gallon water bottle or even a big bag of rice.
Building Your Custom Micro-Workout
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:
- Brain booster
- Targeted exercise
Every 30 minutes a timer on my computer reminds me to take my 1 minute squats 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 rocks and other heavy items work too. I perform several sets with rest in between.
Returning to work after a few minutes of intense exercise creates a rush of blood flow and nutrients to the brain. Don’t hold me responsible if you get more work done in less time.
I’ll say it again but ease into this. Like the pushup challenge hero that progresses from one all the way to 100 consecutive pushups, adaptation takes time.
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 goals, 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 PR.
Establishing the habit can take some time, but figure it out and the benefits of these little movement morsels compound throughout your life. You 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!