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  • Writer's pictureNick Allen

Are micro workouts actually worth it?

You’ve likely heard us talk about Zone 2 and Zone 5 training, two fairly regimented types of cardiovascular exercise that have extensive health benefits. Despite the fact that we try to follow these rigid protocols, we understand that the best form of exercise is the exercise that you’ll actually do and enjoy on a daily basis. The same goes for nutrition and other aspects of health — flexibility is important, and there’s no point implementing strict plans that you realistically won’t adhere to. In recent years, micro workouts have been proposed as a solution for busy people to squeeze a bit of exercise into their minimal spare time.

As it sounds, a micro workout is any form of exercise, performed for a short amount of time. This could be anywhere from 20 seconds all the way up to 10 minutes. Does exercise with such short duration really produce significant health benefits? Quality evidence is limited, but one study found that 20 second “sprint snacks” three times a day improved VO2 max in sedentary young adults. However, the same study found a slightly greater increase for subjects which completed the same 3 sprints in a single bout of exercise. This is in line with my overarching view of micro workouts: they are a significant improvement over no exercise, but almost certainly not as beneficial as longer bouts of exercise.

I’d hypothesize that this also depends on the type of exercise. For example, strength training and high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (Zone 5) may lend themselves more to these short bouts than something like low-intensity cardiovascular exercise (Zone 2) would. This is because in Zone 2, there is a benefit that comes from being at the high end of your aerobic capacity for an extended period of time; we aim for at least 45 minutes.

On the other hand, I’ve spoken before about how important it is to avoid extended periods of inactivity. Being sedentary is bad for your entire body from your blood vessels to your joints. This is something that micro workouts can help with, and to some extent I already utilize them for this purpose. While I’ve never really considered it a “workout,” I make an effort to get up and walk a few flights of stairs every hour while working. It only takes about one minute to get the blood flowing before getting back to work.

While there will surely be more research to come out regarding micro workouts, I think it’s safe to say that they have some benefit, especially if used to break up periods of inactivity. With how important aerobic exercise (Zone 2) is for your health, however, I think it’s best to treat micro workouts as a supplement to your exercise regimen and not a replacement.


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