Habit Stacking Microworkouts (aka Workout Without Thinking About It)

The beauty of microworkouts is that you can do them practically anywhere in a minimal investment of time, and the cumulative training effect really adds up … if you remember to do them.

To be successful with micro-workouts or any form of exercise, consistency is key. No rigidity – we’re not big fans of strict adherence to a rigorous training schedule – but you have to put the time and effort into it. Workouts that don’t happen don’t change you. Unlike going to the gym or taking a crossfit class that you might add to your schedule, micro-workouts should be spread out throughout the day. Unfortunately, micro-workouts are all too easy to forget or reject until you get to dinner and find that you’ve barely moved your body all day.

If this sounds familiar, it’s time to put some systems in place to make microworkouts a regular part of your day. This is a detour to say: You need to make micro-workouts a habit.

Changing habits: the not-so-secret secrets

Habits are behaviors that have become so automatic that you perform them with little to no conscious effort. However, it is not an easy task to get caught up in new habits. We have all gone through the ups and downs of trying to establish new healthy habits.

However, the habit change process is actually quite simple once you break it down. When trying to establish a new habit, you will need:

  • Clues or signals reminding your brain to do the thing (in this case, a microworkout)
  • Believing that you have the resources (time, knowledge, money) to do the thing
  • Desire to do the thing
  • Rewarding or positive reinforcement after doing what makes you want to do it again

Today we’re going to focus on the first: pointers to remind you to do your microworkouts. In particular, we use a trick called Habit stacking.

In habit stacking, you use behaviors that you are already automatically performing as cues to perform the new desired behaviors. In this case, it means doing everyday behaviors like brushing your teeth, making coffee, or going out the front door with certain exercises like push-ups or walking. Don’t worry, this will become self explanatory shortly.

What are microworkouts anyway?

Microworkouts are short bursts of movement that you can insert into your day. We have been led to think that the best or only way to be fit and healthy is to spend 90 minutes in the gym pushing plates or snorting and snorting through a 50-minute cardio kickboxing class puff. Not so. While athletes with specific goals – running marathons, deadlifts twice their body weight – need to complete specific workouts tailored to their goals, smaller efforts actually add up for general wellbeing. You can log a very significant amount of movement through short workouts ranging from as little as 20 or 30 seconds to a few minutes if done throughout the day.

Almost anything can be considered a micro-workout as long as you keep moving. Microworkouts can include HIIT or Tabata-type activities. Weight resistance exercises, exercise bands, free weights, TRX harnesses, or other equipment that you have on hand; or doing aerobic activities like a short walk.

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

Habit Stacking: Linking microworkouts to habits you are already doing

Below are 25 ideas for using habit stacking to facilitate micro-workouts. Use these for inspiration but mix them up to suit your life.

A safety note first: Use reasonable caution when transitioning from sitting or lying down to exercising. You may want to do a light warm-up exercise first, especially before doing exercises with heavy weights or a large range of motion. For more information, see the “Including Microworkouts” section in Mark’s previous post.

25 ways to stack microworkouts

Wake up + do a dynamic stretch

Brush your teeth + gently raise your legs

Brew coffee or tea + sun salutation on the first morning

Turn on Computer + Tech Neck Exercises

Check Your Calendar or To-Do List + Jump Squats *

Open Social Media App + Mountaineer *

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

Hang up a call + triceps dips *

Close a browser window + bicep curls

Top up your water + kettlebell swings *

Fill your coffee or tea + pushups against the edge of the counter

Start the microwave + run in place

Run the blender while holding a plank

Finish Lunch + Marks Road Warrior Workout

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

Go up the stairs + calf raises on the lower step

Go out the front door + jump squats *

Release the vacuum + alternate lunges *

Folded linen + V-seat *

When watching TV, food advertising = fluttering *

Pharmaceutical advertising = glute bridges *

Insurance advertising = elbow-knee-side boards *

Car advertising = burpees *

All other commercials = Grok Squat Hold

Brush your teeth at night + sit against the wall *

* These exercises are described in micro workouts from A to Z to weave into your day

Useful tips

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

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

Use whatever equipment you have on handand improvise with things like water jugs for upright rows or sacks of garden dirt for heavy stretcher.

Let me remind you. Put sticky notes on the coffee maker, bathroom mirror, or microwave. Leave your exercise bands on the refrigerator door and your kettlebell in the center of the office where you will see them. Involve your family members or roommates to help you move.

Start implementing a few. Pick two or three clues that you know will stand out – for me, it’s about making coffee, checking social media, and refilling my trusted water tumbler – and combine them with different exercises that work different parts of the body . When you have mastered these exercises well, add a more or two. Pretty soon you’ll be moving a lot more during the day!

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

About the author

Lindsay Taylor, Ph.D., is Senior Writer and Community Manager at Primal Nutrition, a certified Primal Health Coach and co-author of three keto cookbooks.

Lindsay is the author of Marks Daily Apple and the leader of the thriving Keto Reset and Primal Endurance community. Its job is to help people learn the what, why and how of a health-oriented life. Before joining the Primal team, she earned her Masters and Ph.D. in Social and Personality Psychology from the University of California at Berkeley, where she also worked as a researcher and educator.

Lindsay lives in Northern California with her husband and two sport-obsessed sons. In her free time, she enjoys ultra running, triathlon, camping and game nights. Follow @theusefuldish on Instagram as Lindsay tries to balance work, family and cardio exercise while maintaining a healthy balance and, most importantly, enjoying life. Visit lindsaytaylor.co for more information.

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