Last Updated on July 26, 2020 by Milo Martinovich
Micro workouts are simply periods of relatively intense exercise spread throughout the day to accomplish a cumulative effect from the combined volume and workload. While that might sound confusing, it’s just a way to ensure that you stay active all day and avoid the “active couch potato” syndrome where you work out hard for 1-2 hours a day and live a sedentary life for the rest of the time.
Micro workouts were popularized recently by Mark Sisson, creator of The Primal Blueprint (which I highly recommend if the Paleo diet interests you at all). Instead of going all out on one dedicated hour of training and call it quits for the day, you can spread all, or most, of that workload out over the entire day to reap more benefits. After all, the majority of the benefits of training come from total volume and intensity, not the rest periods between exercises or the total time you spend in the gym during a training session.
What Are Micro Workouts?
Micro workouts aren’t truly defined besides embracing the idea of small training sessions spread over a long period.
For example, doing a set of push-ups when you wake up in the morning is a micro workout. Doing squats while you wait for your food to cook is a micro workout. Performing planks during every TV commercial or streaming ad is a micro workout.
You get the idea…
But, we can take the entire idea further by utilizing these small training sessions more appropriately for out goals and reduce the workload that we need to do during full training sessions if we need them at all!
Here are 7 awesome ideas to use for micro workouts for maximum results and efficiency. These can be done at any time throughout the day, perhaps once an hour.
#1 – 10 Minute Walks
10 minute walks sounds like a lazy stroll in the park compared to traditional training. However, when performed at the right time with the right intensity, they can have outstanding effects on health and body recomposition.
10-minute walks are especially popular with followers of Stan Efferding’s Vertical Diet, a program designed to maximize health and digestion for athletes while boosting performance and recovery.
Stan recommends performing 3 10 minute walks daily, after your largest meals. These walks should be brisk, meaning you should slightly struggle to hold a consistent conversation. You should be walking like you are in a hurry.
The benefits include enhanced digestion, improved recovery from exercise, improved insulin response from the food intake, and even helps fat loss efforts.
So many great benefits from a simple 10 minute walk a few times a day!
#2 – Mobility Drills
Who takes their mobility training seriously? I was a Personal Trainer for about 5 years and still haven’t met anyone dedicated to working on their mobility daily.
That’s where a mobility-based micro workout can be very useful!
It’ll only take a few minutes of your time and you are done. It doesn’t have to be performed at any specific time, but doing it before any intense exercise that may come later in the day can be useful.
One of my favorite mobility drill complexes is the De Franco Agile 8. It’s popular with strength and sport athletes and produces good results when used regularly. There are plenty of other circuits like this out there if you get bored.
Try performing one mobility micro workout per day, or every other day if you loathe it.
#3 – Balance & Stability Training
Just like mobility work, balance and stability training takes a back seat to other training methods like weight training and HIIT. But, micro workouts can split up the work and make it a few minutes of focused training with lasting results.
When I was a Trainer, I liked to push my clients with unilateral work to improve balance, stability, and coordination. Some of my favorite moves were:
- Suitcase Deadlifts
- Bulgarian Split Squats
- Dynamic Plank movements where hands and feet routinely leave the ground for reaches in some direction (like reaching up and reaching through)
- Core Work with a stability ball, like Pull Ins, Spidermans, and Pikes
These moves shouldn’t be taken to failure and offer a good challenge for a 5-10 minute micro workout. Try a variety of moves out in a circuit to get a little sweat going to if you’d like!
#4 – Core Circuits
I hate training my core. It bores me when compared to heavy lifting or intense cardio sessions. Something about the burn in my abs just doesn’t appeal to me.
But, like any good trainee, I know the importance of core work. So, I like to separate it into a micro workout once per day. That way I am focused on one task and can get it done in a matter of minutes.
There are tons of routines for core training online, and even in programs like P90X and Insanity. Just find one that takes a short amount of time and do it separate from any other training you have scheduled for the day and you have yourself a high-quality micro workout for your core.
Most core workouts are short and are usually tacked on to the end of longer training sessions for other body parts, so it shouldn’t be hard to find a myriad of different options for training your core.
#5 – 1 Mile Runs
It might bring back middle school and high school memories of running in P.E. class, but 1-mile runs are a good test of your basic cardiovascular fitness.
You don’t have to do these runs every day. Instead, do them as a test to find out if you are improving your fitness levels. If you can’t improve on your run times, you need to adjust your training to make improvements.
It’s a simple idea, and it’s even simpler to implement. Go to your local track and run a mile every once in a while!
#6 – The Minute Match Challenge
One of my favorite short training sessions to use with my Training clients for years was my Minute Match Challenge. It’s really easy to design too.
Simply pick an exercise that isn’t overly complicated or easy to mess up, especially when fatigued. One of my go-to’s was a simple variation of push-ups, like shoulder tap push-ups.
Now set a timer to go off every minute for anywhere between 5-10 minutes. My favorite is 8 minutes.
Each minute you are to complete the multiple of 5 of the minute you are currently in. So minute 1 you do 5 push-ups. The next minute you do 10 push-ups. The cycle continues until you inevitably fail. Let’s say you get to 23 push-ups on the minute where you aimed to complete 30. The next minute you only complete 5 reps and repeat the process until your total time limit is up.
So your workout might look like this over 8 minutes: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 23, 5, 10. Each rep count represents one of the minutes in the challenge.
This can be one of the more intense micro workouts you have in a day, so save it for when you are most energized.
#7 – Pyramid Progressions
Another of my favorites when I trained clients, a Pyramid Progression is less intense that the Minute Match Challenge. I typically used it as a finisher for training sessions but it also works wonders for micro workouts.
Pick 2-3 exercises to perform. I like to use complexes: exercises that use the same equipment and don’t require a weight or position change to complete all of them. My favorite combination for shoulders is what I coined the 3D Delt Flies which includes dumbbell front raises, side raises and bent over reverse flies (which technically includes a position change but doesn’t affect the integrity of the training).
What you want to do is set the upper limit of the pyramid. I usually chose somewhere between 7-10. Each level you do reps for each exercise in the complex.
So for 3D Delt Flies, you’d complete 1 rep of front raises, side raises, and reverse flies, then do 2 of each, 3 of each, etc. until you finish at the top level. The goal is to not take a rest or set the weight down at all for the duration of the Pyramid Progression.
That means you have to pick a weight light enough that the first few levels are light as a warm-up. Don’t worry, but in the end, your muscles will be screaming to stop!
Are Micro Workouts Effective?
If you use the tactics laid out in this article, they can be very effective for a multitude of goals. You can essentially concurrently train for a variety of goals while having each micro workout designed specifically for one goal.
Just like anything else, they can be overused and turns something positive into something harmful. Never do so many micro workouts that you constantly feel fatigued and sore. Instead, micro workouts should give you a good energy boost throughout the day and not drain you each time.
Limiting your intense sessions, like the Minute Match Challenge and Pyramid Progressions, to once or twice a day with different exercises each time will keep you in the right intensity zone. The rest of the micro workouts can be designed from the other less intense tactics, like walks, mobility drills, and core work.
You can add them to your regular training program as long as you are recovering well from it already. Or, my favorite, is to take bits and pieces out of a total training program and use them as micro workouts throughout the day.
For example, complete programs offer mobility work, core work, and balance training. Separate those pieces and use them as a micro workout to take the duration of your full training sessions down and make them more focused. That allows you to put more effort into each training modality and can improve results.
Micro Workouts Every Hour
If you have a lifestyle that supports the idea that you can perform micro workouts every hour, then go for it. Just make sure that you don’t go intense on every single one!
If you are awake 16 hours each day, you have an opportunity to train 16 times per day with an individual focus on different goals each time. You might separate your day like this:
- 5 weight training sessions, each focusing on a different movement pattern
- 10 minute walks after 3 largest meals
- 3 stability and balance sessions, each focusing on a different movement pattern
- 3 core sessions, one for abs, one for obliques, and one for lower back
- 2 mobility sessions, early AM and late PM
This will hit everything effectively every day, so missing one or two here and there wouldn’t be a big deal. Also, throwing in 1-mile runs and Minute Match Challenges sporadically would be just fine!
Can I Do 10 Pushups Every Hour?
Theoretically, sure, you could do this. However, all it will do is put you at risk for overtraining in the beginning. Once you do adjust to the volume of 160-ish push-ups per day, you won’t make further results, since you need progression to improve. You’d get good at doing sets of 10 push-ups and not much else.
Micro Workouts For Weight Loss
Will micro workouts work well when looking to lose weight? The unanimous answer is Yes! Just looking at the benefits that 10-minute walks can provide for weight loss efforts shows how effective short workouts can be for body composition.
Pair them with the proper nutritional plan for losing weight and you are set up for great success. Micro workouts might be even better for weight loss than traditional training since training effort and ability declines drastically over long training sessions when you are in a calorie deficit state.
Micro Workouts & Hypertrophy
Sure, they might work for weight loss. But, they can’t be good for muscle growth, can they?
Well, the main driver of muscular hypertrophy is overall volume and sufficient intensity. While rest times between sets may make a minor difference, the hypertrophic response of 10 sets for a muscle group, at the same intensity, performed in one hour or spread across the day will essentially be equal!
If you want to delve into the science of hypertrophy, I highly recommend the Muscle & Strength Pyramids as they dive into the science to deliver the optimal training protocols for strength and muscle size. Simply adopt the training volume and intensity recommendations for your level of fitness spread across all your micro training sessions and you will have a properly designed hypertrophy program without long gym sessions!
Are You Ready To Try Micro Workouts Out?
They are a slap in the face to traditional exercise programs. But, if you keep an open mind and use them properly, you are in for a treat! They are effective and efficient and break down long training sessions to mere minutes each time.
Are you going to try some out? Let me know how it goes with a comment below!