I too would have thought the exact same thing… “Does he mean flapjack?” or “Is this about gels on a bike” or even what would you have for breakfast before a run? But in fact none of the above. Exercise Snacks are nothing to do with food, but could provide a bit of a boost to to your daily exercise schedule. Especially during lockdown.
The term Exercise Snack refers to the idea of frequent micro workouts through out the day. Unlike a normal workout you do not need to get changed, shower afterwards or allocate a lot of time to it. Neither is it any form of High Intensity Micro Interval. The underlying idea appears to be habit and frequency. You might “snack” on the hour, every hour, from 9am to 6pm Monday to Friday for instance.
I initially heard the term on the OxygenAddict Podcast in an interview with Dr. Anton Krige. In the context of that discussion the “Snacks” where flavoured very much towards Athletes. But it didn’t take a lot of imagination to realise that this principle could be much more broadly applied. Particularly in a competitive household, with bored children, during lockdown.
So what could a “Snack” be? Pretty much anything you want, so long as you aren’t spending more than a few minutes doing it. You could to 20 steps (if you have a staircase, just repeat the bottom step 20 times) followed by 10 sit ups. Or you could do 10 bicep curls and 10 squats. It’s very much free format, and what you choose to do just needs to be driven by the ability of the participants. So long as you make sure you snack frequently through the day (7 to 10 times) and on repeated consecutive days (Monday to Friday every week?) then this is going to work.
And as the Snacks start to feel easy, well ramp it up a notch. Or something I quite like to do is increase them through the day; for instance, if you were doing press ups, then maybe start with 3 (or whatever is appropriate for you) and add an extra one each “snack”. The next day start on 4 and do the same. You will improve and by the end of the week you will be amazed where you got too. Try it, you won’t believe it until you do it.
Thinking this could be a useful exercise model, I decided to have a quick look around the Internet to see how broadly it is being used. The New York Times wrote about this back in January, and their spin was interesting, as they eluded to how you could build this in to your day in the office. Whilst I applaud the sentiment, I can’t help thinking that for most professionals it would soon get drowned out be meetings and deadlines that meant it was completely impossible to “snack” every hour.
In terms of hard science to back all this up? Well as with most “exercise plans” it is VERY light on the ground. I did find one very small scale scientific study published by the Department of Kinesiology, McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario that researched Does stair climbing exercise “snacks” improve cardiorespiratory fitness? Their finds were that it did, but only to a small extent. However, I would suggest that 3 times a day with 4 hour rest between each bout would very light cardiovascular exercise and just too minimal to gain any meaningful adaption. If this study had looked at maybe 7 to 8 bouts of exercise a day with less than an hour interval between there might have been a more marked improvement. And of course one of the fringe benefits if lockdown is that we have a window of opportunity to adopt just that kind of regime.
Does the lack of data really matter? Not in the slightest! Most people know that being active and mobile is a good thing for the human body. Standard advice is for most people is to exercise 3 times a week for at least 20 minutes each time. I feel that (particularly right now) Exercise Snacking would be more valuable. Why?
- It’s an exercise “Gateway Drug” in that by removing many of the “reasons” people don’t exercise then it is far more likely to be performed. It feels very achievable and if approached with an open mind could easily become a habit. And as most Fitness Professionals will tell you, achieving improvements in fitness is largely dependant upon creating habits.
- Many people want to be more active, but it is just so alien to them that finding a realistic starting point is difficult. In this case laying down next to their desk every hour and popping out 20 press ups is unlikely to happen. But maybe 20 steps and 5 lunges… That would feel much more achievable. And achievement is important, especially at the start of a new exercise journey you really want to feel like you can do it. The fitness benefits are likely to accrue quickly so you may well see rapid progressions – again a strong motivator for many.
- For the athlete that was training hard before lockdown and is now a little jaded with no races in the diary? Well scaling this up (in terns of intensity), building it out in terms of pyramids and other workout designs and structuring different snacks on different days can soon start to create a “training” mindset!
But NOW is the time for Exercise Snacks. The concept lends itself really well to Social Sharing and Gamification. I return you to that family in lockdown, the parents might be trying to WFH and the children are getting super bored. Everyone is getting fatter and the general mood is… Lets say flat! You could turn most of that around by using Exercise Snacks to inject energy, a bit of fun and create a distraction. For instance; on the hour / every hour everyone quickly gathers at a set place (think space / trip hazards). Everyone competitively does the Snack. Maybe the first one finished rings a bell? Maybe there is a board or note pad to keep scores? Maybe you do it virtually and three or four households all do it on Zoom together every hour (that could work really well)? It’s a simple idea, but introducing Social Media, Gamification and Peer Accountability are all really important ways to transform exercise from super tedious to something more fun.
But watch out, I think Exercise Snacks will be addictive and maybe change from a ‘snack’ to a daily main course. What seemed like a super tedious and unachievable 45 minute Full Body Killer Workout will slowly become exactly what you, and maybe the rest of your family, start to crave 😉
Photo Credit : Photo by Valeria Ushakova from Pexels