Exercise Basics

How About an “Exercise Snack?”

What is an “Exercise Snack?”

This is the new phrase being used for shorter bouts of high intensity exercise, which are showing up everywhere.

Perhaps you have heard about programs like P90X, Insanity, or CrossFit, which are very high intensity programs that are being touted as the next big thing in training. The grabber for these programs is that you can get better results in less time. Who can argue with the appeal of that?

I began thinking about this (again) after reading a recent article in the New York Times Well Section. The article headline was, 1 Minute of All-Out Exercise May Have Benefits of 45 Minutes of Moderate Exertion. Pretty catchy.

But, is it true?

Well, not exactly.

The article in question reviewed research by a group in Canada that wanted to investigate a long term (12 week) program of short, intense, bursts of exercise on an exercise bike vs. another 12-week program that had subjects doing moderate biking for 45 minutes. Note that the short bursts group did indeed have 20-second bouts of all out biking three times during a 15-minute exercise session (totaling 1 minute of “all out”). Not exactly just one minute of exercise that the title might lead you to believe, but it was nonetheless a much shorter program. Both groups did their assigned exercise 3 times per week.

Both groups came out with virtually the same benefits, which in this case were improvements in aerobic fitness, and insulin utilization. Very, very cool.

But what does this mean for you if you have not done much exercise in the past or are getting on toward the older adult group?

How can you take advantage of this without getting hurt?

And, what else is there to think about before leaping into a program that promises great results in less time?

  • Even in this research, which involved men in their late 20’s, subjects were given a few weeks to ramp up their exercise before starting the actual 12 weeks. Bottom Line: you need at least some baseline fitness before jumping into high intensity workouts.
  • Research in this area is just beginning. Nice to say “all out”, but what does that mean? For many, doing all out exercise is going to be WAY too uncomfortable, and will stop people in their tracks. It could be that finding your comfortable “all out” would help you stay in the game. That may mean going to a 7 or 8 on a scale of 10, instead of 10.
  • Having said that, part of getting in the game is finding out what you can do. You need to get out of your comfort zone safely in order to make any progress. Trying some higher intensity intervals can help you find out what your body can do and help you to feel more comfortable with it. And, it will give you the added benefits that interval training imparts.
  • Once again, the key is finding something that you will be able to stick with consistently. Get out of your comfort zone, but not so far that you will not want to continue.
  • As with any exercise program, an appropriate warm up is key. In the research study mentioned, the 20-something men warmed up for two minutes. An 8-10 minute warm up would be more appropriate for someone in the older adult category.
  • Finally, watch out for catchy headlines. Read the fine print. And then adapt the message to your own situation. An exercise program like the one described in the research may not be for you.

There are plenty of ways to take these concepts and apply them to what you are doing. For instance, if you have been doing a walking program for a few weeks, you can throw in a more brisk pace 30 seconds at a time, every 5 minutes. After a few weeks of that, you can gradually add more brisk periods by reducing the time in between them. In another scenario, you can find some hills to walk or bike after you have become used to flatter terrain. As you add more of the intense bouts, you can start to back off of the time you spend on your routine.

Take advantage of this useful concept on your own terms, reap the benefits, and eventually design your own “exercise snack.”  Please post a comment below – I would love to hear how you are applying this in your daily routines.

© 2016-2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.


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