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All About Micro-workouts

Less than half of Americans get the recommended minimum for physical activity, 150 minutes of moderately-intense exercise. That said, no activity is a waste of time, even small spurts all add up and offer health benefits. Some is better than none.

And that leads us to a current trend known as the micro-workout, also known as a mini training session. Think of a micro workout as an exercise ‘snack’. Snacks, if well planned and nutritious, help to bridge gaps in the diet and contribute to overall nutrient needs. They are, essentially, small meals. Micro-workouts are exercise bouts that last at least 20 seconds but typically less than 10 minutes. Knowing you can get through a session in a few minutes is motivating.

Intense exercise spurts of 20-60 and up to 3-7 minutes at a time, offers huge benefits. Any movement you can comfortably maintain for 30 seconds, engages large muscle groups and gets your heart rate elevated can be a micro-workout.

What to do? A quick walk, using a step bench, or performing calisthenics (jumping jacks, squats, lunges, step-ups, push-ups) are all options. A four-minute micro-workout might look like this: 25 seconds: jumping jacks, 25 seconds: body weight squats, (doesn’t have to be high-impact to be vigorous), followed by 10 seconds of rest (or take the rest in-between sets.

The greatest health benefits are seen in those logging 15 minutes per day of micro-workouts. Setting aside 4-5 minutes per day of vigorous intermittent exercise, however, may lower your risk of developing cancer. Other benefits of doing 10-minute micro-workouts 3x/wk include improvements in insulin resistance, increased endurance and lower blood pressures. Even taking quick walks (a couple of minutes every 30-60 minutes) puts you ahead of the game.

Boot-camp workout: A pumped up version

It’s autumn already and luckily we still have some beautiful weather to enjoy. Get the most out of the clear and sunny days left by exercising outdoors, whenever you can…even if it’s just a fast walk at lunchtime. An outdoor boot-camp workout need not be limited to the beach on summer days. When you can, get outside before it cools down and starts to get dark (around 6 pm).

A fast track to fitness is to combine classic strength training moves, such as body weight exercises (back-to-back with limited rest) with short aerobic intervals to keep your heart-rate elevated for about 20-30 minutes, a variation of the traditional boot-camp workout. To minimize fatigue, alternate upper and lower body moves. Not only are there dozens of body weight exercises to choose from, but they are effective and require no equipment or accessories.

Focus on choosing compound strength training exercises or moves that work multiple muscle groups at the same time. Big movements that involve large muscle groups burn more calories. Think of a boot-camp workout taken up a notch. The goal is to keep your heart rate elevated (peaks and valleys) throughout the workout by performing 3 to 5 ‘sets’ of exercises in rapid succession. For example, one ‘set’ might start with walking lunges (the full length of your back yard). Before you turn around to walk back, perform 10 to 12 crawl out straight leg push-ups. From a standing position, with straight legs, touch your palms to the ground in front of you and, keeping your legs straight, inch your straight arms out and away from your toes, until you are in a plank position. Perform a full push up, crawl your hands back to your toes, stand erect and repeat.

After performing another set of walking lunges, proceed straight into a cardiovascular set. Do a full minute of kettlebell swings or try incorporating challenging “burpees” into the set. To perform a “burpee,” begin in a standing position. Quickly drop down into a squat with your hands on the ground and kick your legs back into a push-up position. Perform one push-up and jump back into a squat position to complete the movement.

Of course proper form and positioning is key to ensuring a safe and effective boot-camp workout. Squeeze in at least a few of these workouts before the really chilly air sets in!

Interval Training Workouts for Weight Loss

Interval training is a popular method for increasing workout intensity to burn more calories and lose weight (body fat) faster. By definition, interval training is physical exercise routine that intersperses bursts of high-intensity (vigorous cardiovascular or aerobic) work with periods of lower-intensity work. The high-intensity periods should match your fitness level (longer high-intensity intervals for advanced exercisers). Strive to workout for at least 20 minutes (including warm-up and cool-down).

Interval training basics

You can engage in an interval training workout using a variety of exercise machines (stationary bicycle, treadmill, elliptical trainer and/or rowing machine) as well as outdoors. Interval training is used in many sports’ training. The American Council on Exercise (ACE) recommends performing at least one (if not two) circuit or interval training workouts weekly to overcome weight loss plateaus and challenge your body. Interval training takes your exercise routine to a new level. The recommended methods for making the high-intensity intervals ‘tough’ include increasing resistance, speed or incline. A simple interval training cycle might involve cycling at a higher resistance level/faster pace for one minute and then reducing the resistance level/slowing your pace for two minutes. You’ll repeat this cycle several times depending upon the length of your workout.

Interval training: Importance of RPE

Use perceived rate of exertion (RPE) to gauge how hard you are working (1 = easiest, 10 = most strenuous). Begin your interval workout with a 5-minute warm up on your cardiovascular machine. Begin your interval training workout with a 5-minute warm up (RPE of 3 to 4) followed by 20 to 30 minutes of cycles alternating high-intensity periods with shorter, less intense or ‘recovery’ periods. During the high-intensity periods, work at a RPE of 7 to 8 and during the less-intense periods, work at a RPE of 5 to 6. End your workout with a 5-minute cool-down at a RPE of 3 to 4.

Boot camp interval training

Have you ever participated in a boot camp-style workout? These high-energy group workouts often more sophisticated interval training. During a boot-camp style workout (in a gym) you might engage in cardiovascular intervals (jump roping intervals followed by recovery jogs). Another method is to combine interval training with circuit training. You can do this yourself or in a small group. Circuit training basically involves going from one exercise to the next, doing different exercises on using various exercise equipment.

Interval training plus circuit training

Combine both styles of training by performing one set (in fairly rapid sequence) of three to five challenging strength training exercises (after a 5 minute warm-up). Sample exercises might include squats to overhead presses (with dumbbells); straight-leg push-ups with alternating dumbbell rows (one row after each push-up) and alternating lunges with bicep curls.

Next, jump on a piece of cardiovascular equipment, such as an elliptical trainer for about six or seven minutes, alternating high intensity 30 second ‘intervals’ (faster speed and higher tension) with lower-intensity recovery periods for 45 seconds to one minute. Immediately complete another set of your three to five strength training exercises (do the same exercises, choose different exercises that target the same muscles or alternate upper and lower body focused exercises). Keep in mind that compound exercises (such as squat to overhead press) are time-savers as they work multiple muscle groups simultaneously. All the while, your heart-rate remains elevated since you are never really ‘resting.’

After the second set of strength training exercises, jump on another piece of cardiovascular exercise equipment, such as a rowing machine, for another six to seven minutes for interval training. Again, alternate 30 seconds of faster rowing periods (and/or increasing tension) 45 second to one minute periods of ‘recovery’ rowing.

Do this one more time with another set of three to five strength training exercises and another six to seven minutes of interval training on another cardiovascular exercise machine, such as a treadmill. Finish this workout with a 5-minute cool down. At the end, you’ve completed a 45-minute to 1 hour workout that blasts calories and fat. Interval training, with or without circuits, keeps the intensity and pace high throughout your workout.

Interval training benefits

Two of the most significant and rewarding benefits of interval training are that it beats boredom and torches more calories in less time, aiding in weight loss. Scientific studies indicate that interval training workouts build muscle endurance more quickly than traditional (static) workouts.