Micro workouts have become a popular trend on social media platforms like Instagram and TikTok – just search for one-minute dance or fitness challenges – with the concept making numerous lists of emerging health and fitness trends.
But do they really work or are they just another ‘revolutionary’ 6-minute abs craze? Well, according to emerging research, the latest excitement around micro workouts – they’re also called ‘exercise snacks’ – seems to have substance behind it.
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Micro workouts defined
Micro workouts are generally short bouts of easy activity or intense exercise performed periodically throughout the day, rather than in a single session.
Options range from a few reps between meetings, or power-walking up the stairs at the office to two-, three- or 10-minute interval sessions over lunch incorporating 2-3 compound exercises.
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10-minute home descending ladder micro workout
How to do it:
- Complete 10 reps of each exercise to complete one rung of the ladder.
- Drop a rep for each subsequent rung.
- Aim to get down to one rep for each exercise before the 10 minutes is up.
- Exercise 1: Banded squat
- Exercise 2: Push-ups
The micro workout benefits
A growing body of research suggests that micro workouts can certainly deliver benefits.
For example, a study1 published in 2022 in the peer-reviewed Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews journal determined that performing short ‘exercise snacks’ every day, rather than longer exercise sessions, was enough to improve metabolic health.
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A measurable fitness boost
But are these short bursts enough to improve your physical performance and fitness? Science suggests that this approach to exercise can positively impact your cardiovascular fitness (CRF), both for those who are currently inactive (or sedentary) with potential benefits for fit individuals as well.
A study2 published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that “brief (20-second), intense stair climbing is a practical, time-efficient strategy to improve CRF in previously untrained women.”
And a study3 that appeared in the European Journal of Applied Psychology found that “CRF was similarly increased by a protocol involving sprint snacks spread throughout the day and a traditional SIT (sprint interval training) protocol in which bouts were separated by short recovery periods within a single training session.”
They key here is the difference in intensity and the total volume and frequency of these exercise snacks throughout the day.
For instance, a short burst of intensity – a hard one-minute interval – during an 11-minute micro workout was enough to deliver similar benefits to a 45-minute workout performed at a moderate pace in a study4 published in the journal PLOS One.
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Should you include micro workouts?
It is unlikely that adopting this approach will work for anyone training for endurance events, like a marathon or cycle race, but it makes sense to incorporate micro workouts into a broader fitness regimen.
The right micro workouts can help you maximise whatever time you have available when demanding job schedules, sleep needs, and other daily obligations get in the way of your normal training. In this context, some exercise is better than none, and micro workouts are a convenient and efficient way to get it done!
It is also unlikely that exercise snacks will deliver the same degree of calorie consumption or the muscle-building benefits that come from a conventional gym session. But they can definitely augment your approach.
In this regard, performing micro workouts with weights would offer more benefits than bodyweight exercises. The same would apply to cardio exercise snacks – high-intensity intervals will burn more calories and deliver better gains in cardiovascular fitness than less intense activities.
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The potential health benefits
A key benefit shared by advocates of micro workouts relates to the recovery time you get between your multiple 10-minute (or less) sessions each day.
With the ability to fully recover between each session, you can theoretically maintain a higher intensity during each 10-minute session than you would during an unbroken 30-minute workout. This should theoretically burn slightly more calories over the same timeframe and may deliver better fitness improvements.
These short sessions also make exercise more accessible by removing limitations that time restrictions place on so many who work long hours or have an overwhelming number of commitments.
These bite-sized exercise snacks makes it feasible to squeeze movement into multiple moments throughout your day to experience the health and fitness benefits.
In this regard, a 2020 study5 (also published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise) showed that the cumulative effect of multiple micro workouts (five four-second cycling sprints every hour) helped participants reduce triglyceride levels by 31% while raising their metabolism by 43% compared to their inactive work colleagues.
- Exercise Snacks: A Novel Strategy to Improve Cardiometabolic Health, Exerc Sports Sci Rev. 2022 Jan 1;50(1):31-37. doi: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000275. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34669625/
- Med Sci Sports Exerc, Brief Intense Stair Climbing Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness, 2017 Feb;49(2):298-307. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000001188. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/28009784/
- Eur J Appl Physiol, Sprint exercise snacks: a novel approach to increase aerobic fitness. 2019 May;119(5):1203-1212. doi: 10.1007/s00421-019-04110-z. Epub 2019 Mar 7. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30847639/
- PLOS One, Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. Published: April 26, 2016. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0154075
- Med Sci Sports Exerc, Hourly 4-s Sprints Prevent Impairment of Postprandial Fat Metabolism from Inactivity, 2020 Oct;52(10):2262-2269. doi: 10.1249/MSS.0000000000002367. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32936598/
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.