Habit Stacking Microworkouts (aka Working Out Without Having to Think About It)

Photo series of stay at home fitness during lockdown in self isolation.The beauty of microworkouts is that you can do them virtually anywhere with minimal time investment, and the cumulative training effect really adds up… if you remember to do them.

To be successful with microworkouts, or any form of exercise, consistency is key. Not rigidity—we’re not big fans of rigidly adhering to a strict exercise schedule here—but you need to put in the time and effort. Workouts that don’t happen don’t change you. Unlike going to the gym or taking a Crossfit class, which you might schedule into your busy calendar, microworkouts are meant to be sprinkled throughout your day. Unfortunately, that makes microworkouts all too easy to forget or push off, until you get to dinnertime and realize you’ve barely moved your body all day.

If this sounds familiar, it’s time to get some systems in place to make microworkouts a built-in part of your day. This is a roundabout way of saying: you need to make microworkouts a habit.

Changing Habits: The Not-so-secret Secrets

Habits are behaviors that have become so automatic that you do them with little to no conscious effort. Locking in new habits is no easy feat, though. We’ve all experienced the ups and downs of trying to make new healthy habits stick.

However, the process of habit change is actually quite simple when you break it down. When you’re trying to establish a new habit, you need:

  • Cues, or signals, that remind your brain to do the thing (in this case, to do a microworkout)
  • Belief that you have the resources (time, knowledge, money) to do the thing
  • Desire to do the thing
  • Reward or positive reinforcement after you do the thing that makes you want to do it again

Today, we’re focusing on the first: cues that remind you to do your microworkouts. Specifically, we’re leveraging a trick called habit stacking.

 

With habit stacking, you use behaviors you already do automatically as cues to do the new desired behaviors. In this case, it means pairing everyday behaviors like brushing your teeth, making coffee, or walking out the front door with specific exercises like push-ups or going for a walk. Don’t worry, this will become self-explanatory shortly.

What Are Microworkouts Anyway?

Microworkouts are short bursts of movement that you insert into your day. We’ve been tricked into thinking that the best, or only, way to be fit and healthy is to spend 90 minutes at the gym pushing plates or huffing and puffing through a 50-minute cardio kickboxing class. Not so. While athletes with specialized aims—run a marathon, deadlift twice their bodyweight—need to do specific workouts tailored to their goals, for general wellness, smaller efforts really do add up. You can log a very respectable amount of movement via short workouts lasting as little as 20 or 30 seconds, up to a few minutes, when you do them throughout the day.

Almost anything can count as a microworkout, as long as you’re moving. Microworkouts can encompass HIIT or Tabata-type activities; resistance exercises using bodyweight, exercise bands, free weights, TRX straps, or any other equipment you have on hand; or aerobic activities like going for a short walk.

Don’t overthink it. Any (quick) activity that builds muscular strength or endurance, cardiovascular fitness, even balance or flexibility falls under the microworkout umbrella. Ideally, you want to incorporate a range of movements that engage different muscle groups.

Habit Stacking: Linking Microworkouts to Habits You Do Anyway

Below are 25 ideas for using habit stacking to facilitate microworkouts. Use these as inspiration, but feel free to mix and match them to suit your life.

One safety note: Use appropriate caution when transitioning from sitting or lying down to exercising. You may want to perform a light warm-up movement first, especially before exercises involving heavy weights or a large range of motion. Check out the section entitled “How To Incorporate Microworkouts” in Mark’s earlier post here for more details.

25 Ways to Habit Stack Microworkouts

Wake up + do some dynamic stretching

Brush teeth + gentle leg raises

Brew first morning coffee or tea + sun salutation

Turn on computer + tech neck exercises

Check your calendar or to-do list+ jump squats*

Open social media app + mountain climbers*

End a Zoom meeting + walk to the end of the driveway and back, or take a lap around your building

Hang up a phone call + triceps dips*

Close a browser window + biceps curls

Refill your water + kettlebell swings*

Refill your coffee or tea + incline pushups against the edge of the counter

Start the microwave + run in place

Run the blender + hold a plank

Finish lunch + Mark’s road warrior workout

Use the bathroom + pull-ups (or one of these alternatives if you don’t have a bar)

Go up stairs + calf raises on the bottom step

Walk out the front door + jump squats*

Run the vacuum + alternating lunges*

Folding laundry + V-sits*

While watching TV, food commercial = flutter kicks*

Pharmaceutical commercial = glute bridges*

Insurance commercial = elbow-to-knee side planks*

Car commercial = burpees*

All other commercials = Grok squat hold

Brush teeth at night + wall sit*

*These exercises are described in A to Z Microworkouts to Weave Into Your Day

Handy Tips

The more specific you are about your intentions, the better. Don’t just say, “I’ll move more during commercial breaks.” Instead, say, “I’ll do 20 jumping jacks during every commercial break.”

Tailor the movements to your fitness level. If regular push-ups are too difficult, try wall push-ups. On the other hand, if they’re too easy, do one leg push-ups or dead stop push-ups instead.

Make use of whatever equipment you have on hand, and improvise with things like water jugs for upright rows or bags of garden dirt for heavy carries.

Leave yourself reminders. Put sticky notes on the coffee maker, bathroom mirror, or microwave. Leave your exercise bands hanging on the fridge door and your kettlebell in the middle of the office where you’ll see it. Get your family members or housemates involved so they help prod you to move.

Start by implementing a few at a time. Pick two or three cues you know will stand out—for me, it’s making coffee, checking social media, and refilling my trusty water cup—and pair them with distinct exercises that work different body parts. Once you are good about doing those exercises, add one or two more. Pretty soon, you’ll be moving considerably more during the day!

Tell us: What has helped you implement microworkouts into your day?

About the Author

Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is a senior writer and community manager for Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach, and the co-author of three keto cookbooks.

As a writer for Mark’s Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance communities, Lindsay’s job is to help people learn the whats, whys, and hows of leading a health-focused life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her master’s and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California, Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and instructor.

Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sports-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping, and game nights. Follow along on Instagram @theusefuldish as Lindsay attempts to juggle work, family, and endurance training, all while maintaining a healthy balance and, most of all, having fun in life. For more info, visit lindsaytaylor.co.

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