When I was first learning to play guitar, one of the foundational principles I was taught was how to continuously move my strumming hand during the song. My right hand needed to get into rhythm, a flow, of the music even though my fingers wouldn’t necessarily strike the strings on each movement. This was an important concept because it’s far easier to hit the right notes at the right times if the strumming hand is already moving well in time. Incorporating mini workouts throughout the day can get your body into a rhythm that can translate to a harmonious quality to your fitness.
Many workout enthusiasts will spend an hour at the gym or out on the roads getting in their formal training, but neglect the other 23 hours of the day. You may have heard about the deleterious impacts of prolonged stillness over the course of the day, like increased metabolic disease risk. It turns out that an hour of vigorous or moderate exercise is simply not enough to offset an otherwise stationary lifestyle. They even have a name for this: active couch potato syndrome. Our bodies expect us to move around throughout the entirety of the day. Sitting still in front of a computer is not an activity wired into our genetics.
Practice this fundamental of human movement by finding clever ways to inject micro workouts across your whole day. Keep your body moving up and down to the rhythm of a thoughtful movement practice. When you might be strapped for time or indeed, your gyms are still closed from the quarantine season. Here are a few suggestions:
1. Establish a habit cue.
One of the principles of habit formation is establishing a cue. When you sit in your car (cue), you put on your seat belt (action) without having to think about it. With micro workouts, your cue could be any time you go to the bathroom or cross a threshold in your home. Maybe that’s going out to the garage or you could have a timer that goes off on the hour to remind you to move. Your cue might simply be waking up in the morning or finishing a meal. Many fitness watches will have reminders to get in your steps each hour. These are all excellent ways to cue yourself to move more.
2. Pick 2-4 exercises to execute at each habit gate.
Developing strength goes hand in hand with developing skill. Anyone can get on a bicep curl machine and simply pull on the device to move that weight stack. But that movement doesn’t represent any realistic action you’d perform in daily life. By doing machine-based exercises, you really only get better at moving weight on machines. Practice something like pull ups, air squats, kettle bells swings, ground to overhead movements, or even just push ups in your micro workouts.
Keep the reps low and the rest high. The point of doing micro workouts is to lift your platform of baseline fitness so the next time you perform a structured workout, you’ve effectively been “greasing the groove” in between formal sessions. This term, coined by Pavel Tsatsouline, the man credited for introducing the kettle bell to the US, refers to the neural connections our brain makes with movement functions. Greasing the groove, repeatedly performing a particular movement at low reps over the course of the day, fires up your “motor units” and makes the next lifting session easier. It’s more about developing the skill component of the movement rather than the hypertrophy (actual muscle growth) component.
3. JFW – Just friggin’ walk.
Step counters have been getting more and more popular lately, and for good reason. Movement is a wonderful antidote to depression. A stationary brain is a sad brain. Without regular movement, our actual brain chemistry shifts and we can lose mental inertia that would otherwise keep us moving. One of our brain’s primary functions is to facilitate movement and when we don’t oblige, our moods dapen. In fact, getting in enough steps every day (or movement in general), is directly associated with depressive symptoms. One study found an 88% increase in signs of depression in adults who reduced their daily step count. The study found that the average threshold of steps you must take to keep anxiety and depression at bay was about 5649. However, the average American only gets in 4774 steps per day. Is it any wonder so many of us are turning to antidepressant medications? JFW!
Just because we may not have access to a gym or a group fitness setting doesn’t mean we can’t keep in step with good fitness rhythms. By incorporating more movements over the course of the day, you’ll be shuttling more oxygen and nutrients to your brain, put up resistance against depression, and prime your mind for problem solving and social engagement.
Marcus Farris is the Veteran Wellness Coordinator at Mission 22. He’s a Certified Health Coach and Level 1 Crossfit Trainer.