What is exercise ’snacking’?
Exercise snacking is a technique I use with lots of my vip clients when schedules become too busy to accommodate their regular exercise program. What we do is take the overall amount of ‘work’ that they would typically do over a week, and divide it out into several much smaller, and much more digestible pieces. If we can’t find a full hour then we’ll do our best to find three lots of 20 minutes
A balanced workout regime should include strength (resistance) training 2-3 times per week and cardiovascular training 2-3 times per week – whilst being sure not to neglect our mobility
I am a big advocate of consistency and adherence as being the most important consideration in any health and fitness program: someone following a less effective program consistently all year around will get better results than someone following a scientifically perfect regime some of the time and then giving it up altogether when it doesn’t fit into their life. One of the most important parts of my role as a trainer is to help each client find a regime that they can be consistent with – and this includes accepting that schedules and life commitments can (and most likely will) vary throughout the year.
Is there an ideal length of a workout?
Typically we see all of our workouts as being an hour long – mainly because that is how most gyms, studios and personal trainers work their diaries. Whilst for the most part this way of timetabling works very well, and trainers have become very adept at incorporating resistance, cardio and mobility work into hour long blocks it absolutely isn’t the only way…
When we view our workouts as being an hour or nothing, then when life gets in the way and schedules start to fill up (as is very common during the party season), finding a full hour in the diary can become difficult meaning we’re left with ’nothing’ as being the only other choice!
There is certainly a very valid argument for resistance workouts needing to have a minimum length – this is the part of your regime that carries the most risk (along with, of course, carrying the most reward!), and so we should be looking to minimise that risk with thorough warm up and preparation work.
However, when it comes to cardiovascular training – unless you are an elite athlete or training for a specific performance goal (like your first 10k or a half marathon) there is no reason why cardio workouts have to be of a specific length.
For most non-athletes, their cardio workouts are simply a case of getting moving, elevating the heart rate, and of course burning some fuel. Much the same way as dividing up your meals into several smaller snacks doesn’t change the amount of fuel consumed, expending it in a series of smaller ‘snacks’ also doesn’t affect the amount burned. We can absolutely think of our cardio workouts as an accumulation of activity across a week, rather than any individual workout needing to be a specific duration.
Will this change the effectiveness of my workouts?
If we are smart about our choice of exercise then any impact on the effectiveness is negligible. Cardiovascular workouts can consist of any activity that causes us to work a little harder, and to raise both heart rate and breathing rate. With clients who don’t particularly enjoy cardio, or those who find it boring, then I like to disguise their cardio workouts with activities that have some kind of skill challenge (boxing, climbing, or anything with a game element), whilst this is great for giving us a distraction from the work we’re doing – its actually not great for being broken down into bite size pieces as we won’t be doing it for long enough to pick up the skill required.
For the exercise snacking technique we really need to choose the activities that have little to no skill requirement – so think running, cycling, or pretty much any machine based cardio exercise. The trade off is the fun activity versus the convenience of exercise snacking
Can we do this indefinitely ?
If it means that you stick with exercising consistently then yes. Whilst most people do well long term with more of a structure around their program – structured sessions allow a greater choice of activity, more improvements in movement ability, and more opportunities for coaching – the exercise snacking technique gives the option to maintain consistency even when we’re at our busiest and when it comes to heath & fitness consistency is key.