Now that some elements of normal life are open for business, you may have found that the time you were spending on training has been swapped out for work, dinners or catching up on sleep after late nights out and about. That’s OK: it’s all about balance and not overdoing it as we work out our new normal. But if you know that you feel better for moving your body or are serious about finally mastering the art of press ups, how do you squeeze in your training when we have barely any time at all?
’Exercise snacking’ is the idea behind just that. Not the act of stopping mid-workout for a cereal bar, but instead the seperation of exercise into smaller chunks spread throughout the day. The clue is in the name, says strength and conditioning coach and exercise snacking advocate Pennie Varvarides: “It’s about breaking it down into small bursts, like a ‘snack’ rather than a meal. So that might be stepping away from your desk for five or 10 minutes and working on something small.”
And we really do mean small. In fact, a study from the University of Texas concluded that even just 4-second bursts of exercise have been shown to improve fitness.
How to do exercise snacking
You can ‘snack’ on any exercise, but logistically there are some things that work better than others. For example, you won’t be lifting heavy weights in short bursts throughout the day, as by the time you’ve warmed up and racked up the bar, snack time is over. Equally, you might want to assess wether cardio style training works for you – how comfortable will you be going back to your daily tasks after getting a bit sweaty from a five minute skipping session?
“I will often talk about mobility snacks or a short skill block because those tend to be the things that are easiest to fit in like five or 10 minutes,” Pennie explains. “You could also work on bodyweight strength moves, like push ups or pull ups, or you could work on moves as a circuit.”
What are the benefits of exercise snacking?
If the idea of swapping out an hours training for multiple bursts of five minutes of exercise on your lunch sounds too good to be true, you’ll be glad to know that it is proven to have benefits: in a study by the University of Bath, four weeks of exercise snacking increased the number of sit-to-stand repetitions participants could complete in 60 seconds by 30%, leg strength and power increased by 5% and 6% respectively, and thigh muscle size increased by 2%.
“If you don’t have an hour to spare or you just don’t want to spend that long exercising, then doing a small amount of something is quite beneficial and almost always better than doing nothing,” says Pennie. “It might even allow some people to get a better quality of work done. Instead of faffing around for a bit, people can focus on moving really well for just five minutes or 10 minutes.”
It’s also important to note that it might benefit those who don’t do regular exercise, more than it would the regular gym goer. “If you’re super busy, for example managing exercise around working full time and raising children or running a business, you might not be able to fit a whole hour in all of the time. Snacking is also quite beneficial if you suffer from chronic fatigue and getting through an hour is actually just impossible,” Pennie says.
However, if you are someone who usually trains multiple times a week, then you will notice that exercise snacking won’t give you the same strength and endurance benefits you’d get from your usual sessions. “Don’t swap all of your training because you will never have enough time to strength train, which is important,” says Pennie. “But if there’s one day a week or a period of time when you can’t move how you’d like, then this a great option. ‘Snacking’ isn’t a replacement for most, it’s just a way of getting a bit more moving in when you don’t have time when you can’t be bothered.”
Inspired? Try some of these exercise snacking workouts:
Mobility work: Spend five minutes working through the major joints in your body, such as the shoulders, hips and ankles.
Strength focused training: Five sets of press-ups until failure, with one minute rest between sets.
A cardio circuit: complete 10 press-ups, 10 lunges and 10 burpees as many times as possible in 10 minutes.
A skill building snack: Practice something such as L-sits, Turkish get ups or crow pose for five minutes.
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Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).
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