Raise your hand if you’ve ever mindlessly stepped on the elliptical for 60 minutes to feel like you got a “full workout” in, or if you’ve done a quick workout on YouTube just to be convinced you still needed “more” afterward. Maybe you’ve done two-a-days or felt down on yourself for not getting a workout in one day. Or perhaps you’ve even stopped—or failed to start—a regular exercise regimen for lack of time.
These scenarios are all too common, and some can even be signs of an unhealthy relationship with exercise. While there is a perception that the benefits of exercise only come with long hours spent at the gym, in reality, science and experts say otherwise.
“A lot of people associate hours at the gym with a ‘good’ workout and trust me, I was once there. The old me would feel guilty for not meeting that benchmark and it wasn’t a healthy place to be. The reality is you don’t really need much time or equipment to accomplish an effective workout,” explains celebrity fitness trainer and Founder of The Sculpt Society, Megan Roup, who offers “quickie” workouts on The Sculpt Society app.
Find out more about the science behind shorter workouts and how to use them to your advantage.
What are Micro Workouts?
Micro workouts are simply shorter, less time-consuming workouts (think: 10 minutes vs 60 minutes.) While they can be more intense than longer, steady-state workouts, they don’t have to be. They can be done on their own or you can add a few together throughout the day.
While many people correlate time with results, micro workouts done the right way can produce the results you want while building your endurance in the process, says Dr. Robin B, Pharm D., NASM-CPT.
The Benefits of Micro Workouts
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ most recent Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity, like brisk walking, and 2 days of muscle-strengthening activity a week. If you’re doing vigorous-intensity aerobic activity, like running, that recommendation comes down to 75 minutes. You can also do a mix of intensities to reach your aerobic goal. The American Heart Association goes even further to say you can gain more benefits by being active for 300 minutes weekly.
What these guidelines don’t tell you is just how, exactly, you need to get that exercise in. Fortunately, scientists have been exploring this more, and the research may surprise you. These are just some of the incredible benefits of micro workouts.
Shorter Workouts Help You Keep a Routine And Lose Weight
Researchers wanted to determine if the length of exercise sessions played a role in how likely people were to stick to their workout routines. They instructed two groups of women to exercise 5 days per week over 20 weeks, steadily increasing from 20 minutes to 40 minutes per day. Group A performed the exercise in one session, while group B broke it up into 10-minute chunks throughout their day. The group who did multiple shorter sessions per day reported exercising on more days and for longer in total than the group instructed to do longer sessions. Group B also reported slightly greater weight loss.
Micro Workouts Fit Busy Schedules
Time crunched? Micro workouts are a great solution. If you struggle to find a 30-minute block of time in your schedule for a workout, you can break it up into three 10-minute sessions—one in the morning, one on your lunch break, and one after your workday.
“Consistently fitting in 10-minute workouts throughout the week are just as, or more, impactful than spending an hour at the gym once a week,” says Roup. “They really give you the freedom to have a flexible schedule and take the stress out of having to figure out when you can make time for movement,” she adds.
You’ll Make Your Muscles Happier
To test whether arm strength could be built through a little bit of daily activity versus a longer strength session, researchers conducted a four-week study. One group of participants did six biceps curls a day for five days a week, while the other did the same number of biceps curls in a single day, once a week. The study, which appeared in the August 2022 issue of the Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports found the group that spread their exercise out throughout the week increased their strength by more than 10 percent and saw an increase in muscle thickness similar to the group doing all of their reps on one day. Meanwhile, the group doing their work all in one day did not show an increase in strength. The researchers say this indicates that muscles prefer to be stimulated more frequently.
You May Be Motivated to Move More
If a lack of motivation is keeping you from exercising, micro workouts could be the perfect solution for you. Not only do they take less commitment, but after you do one, the momentum may compel you to keep going.
“I love that once I commit to one 10-minute quickie, and I’ve completed that program, I usually feel motivated and energized to stack on another 10 minutes of movement,” says Roup. “I’m a firm believer in committing to less, to show up more.”
Micro Workouts Benefit Your Heart Health
Micro workouts don’t have to be high-intensity, but they can be a great opportunity to implement HIIT (high-intensity interval training) into your routine and boost your heart health in the process.
“Micro workouts are super beneficial for your heart health,” explains Dr. Robin. “You are able to reach an optimal heart rate quickly in your workout, which helps your cardiovascular system,” she says.
HIIT allows you to work harder for shorter periods of time instead of doing long, steady-state cardio to reap the same heart health benefits. “This is actually my preferred style of training and the one I teach as a coach on the Ladder app,” she says.
How to Get Started with Microworkouts
While micro workouts can be especially beneficial for busy professionals or time-crunched moms, they can benefit anyone who is looking to switch up their workout routine.
“If you have a great traditional exercise regimen that you love, you can add micro workouts in addition or supplement times that you miss your normal routine,” says Dr. Robin. She recommends using micro workouts to help limit your sedentary minutes, even if that means just running in place.
Both Roup and Dr. Roin recommend trying to get a micro workout in first thing in the morning. “If you are just starting out and trying to build a routine, I would think less about hitting certain exercise guidelines and focus more on showing up consistently to move your body so that you’re building a habit,” says Roup.
Roup also recommends making sure you work your whole body throughout the course of your micro workouts. “My approach is always full body, so if you did a quickie abs workout one day, the next day try and mix it up to a different body part,” she says.
3 Micro workouts to Try
Ready to get started? Check out these ideas from Roup and Dr. Robin below.
Lower Body Quickie
Roup loves this quickie combo below. Start in tabletop position with hands under shoulders and knees in line with hips:
- Right leg is straight back at hip height. Tap the floor and lift back up to hip height. Squeezing your glute, engaging your core and lifting out of your shoulders. Do 12 reps.
- Bend right leg into fire hydrant, pulling knee into your right shoulder and kicking straight back. Do 12 reps.
- Straight leg at hip height – pulse leg up and down an inch. Do 12 reps. Repeat the circuit 2-3 rounds on right side. Switch sides; repeat.
Tabata training is super helpful to make the most out of micro workouts,” says Dr. Robin. Tabata is a type of interval training that involves doing 8 rounds of 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest. Each Tabata lasts 4 minutes. You can choose just one exercise per round or alternate between two exercises. Want to make it harder? “I try to manipulate my workout-to-rest ratio each round of each circuit,” explains Dr. B. “Meaning, I may start 1:1 doing 30 seconds on then 30 seconds off, then next round switch 30 seconds on and 15 seconds off. It gets more and more intense and you leave feeling great!” Choose from any of the bodyweight exercises below:
- Bodyweight squat
- Squat jump
- Reverse lunge
- Side lunge
- Plank to pike
- Glute bridges
- Mountain climbers
- Triceps dips
Dr. Robin’s go-to for an easy micro workout is a brief warm-up followed by two circuits of three rounds each. Each circuit should have 2-3 exercises. Perform 8-10 reps of each exercise. Choose from any of the exercises above.