ôô

How Micro Workouts Can Help You be More Active

Can short bursts of exercise sprinkled across your day allow you to achieve your goal of living a more active lifestyle? My guest believes they can!

By
Brock Armstrong
11-minute read
Episode #525
The Quick And Dirty
  • If you find a gym intimidating, you can do micro workouts at home.
  • You don't have to be fit or have any previous experience to start doing micro workouts.
  • Putting a sticky note on your computer as a reminder to do your micro workouts is a great way to start.
  • Leaving your exercise gear in plain sight can be a great way to spark a micro workout. 

In the past, I have introduced you to the concept of movement snacks as a way to break up your sedentary day by adding in some brief, but meaningful, movements breaks. Well, today we are going to take a deeper look into something similar. With the help of our special guest, we're going to learn all about a similar concept called micro workouts. 

My guest on this episode is Brad Kearns, a New York Times bestselling author, Guinness World Record-setting professional speed golfer, #1 ranked USA age 55-59 high jumper, and former US national champion and #3 world-ranked professional triathlete. He hosts the B.rad podcast, covering healthy living, peak performance, and personal growth with his carefree style and lively sense of humor. 

Micro workouts

In recent years, Brad says that micro workouts have quickly become one of his favorite daily activities. Brad believes that this fantastic fitness concept, which consists of explosive feats of strength that are both efficient and easy to perform, has allowed him to hit his number one goal of being more active in daily life.

The following is a transcript of our conversation, which has been edited for clarity. But if you want to hear the enthusiasm and joy in Brad’s voice as he shares his micro workout secrets, I suggest you push the play button on the audio player at the top of this page. 

Interview with Brad Kearns

Brock Armstrong

In your opinion, or your estimation, or what you've written in your Two Meals a Day book, what exactly is a micro workout?

Brad Kearns

Well, Brock, it's pretty easy to conceive. It's a brief burst of physical effort. Ideally, it would be something that applies resistance to your muscles and taxes your cardiovascular system—something explosive and challenging—and then you go back to your busy day.

So, it's kind of reframing our typical perspective about a workout being the thing you do when you get in your car and you drive down to the gym and look for a parking space and check in with your tag and get a towel. And it's this big ordeal. And so I think it opens up the concept of living a fit, active lifestyle to more people. And it's more approachable and doable because, at any time, you can drop for a set of 20 deep squats in your work cubicle and then get right back to work, and it's a wonderful fitness benefit. We can talk about all the benefits.

Brock

A lot of people that I talk to, and a lot of people that come to me for coaching, are always saying things like "You know, I don't have time to get to the gym" or "I don't want to spend the extra money to join a yoga club" or something like that. So, it sounds like this could be the antidote to those struggles.

It's the number one excuse for not adhering to a fitness program—insufficient time.

Brad


Yeah. It's the number one, excuse for not adhering to a fitness program—insufficient time, too busy. But I think the secret excuse is many people are either intimidated or burnt out by following the template—the fitness world’s template—of what's generally an overly stressful program. And I'm talking about the group exercise programs.

We don't have to name names, but when you go and sign up and join these clubs, or take a class at your gym, and you get into this pattern of doing these workouts repeatedly, it can easily lead to breakdown, burnout, illness, and injury because of the overly stressful nature of an hour-long Bootcamp class or Spin class or CrossFit session.

Oops! I was naming names.

Brock

That's okay. We're not taking sides here.

But that's a really interesting point, actually. The psychological barrier. When we hear how these big fitness chains leave you absolutely demolished, and you have to dedicate this amount of time and stuff to it, well, that can be the barrier right there. I always think of it more as being like what you were saying in terms of injury and burnout. But before you even get the chance to be injured or burnt out, there may be that whole psychological barrier as well.

Brad

Yeah. And a health club is a very intimidating environment. I mean, even I've gone in, as a professional athlete, seeing these guys lifting the heavy plates and grunting and you know, that's not my area of expertise. I'm a long-time endurance athlete. And to go in and say "Excuse me, can I unload some of these plates and use the device after you?" It takes a certain type of personality.

There are a lot of people who just aren't comfortable in a fitness environment because they're not flashing the goods when they walk through the door.

And I know there are a lot of people who just aren't comfortable in a fitness environment because they're not flashing the goods when they walk through the door. So this is something you can do in the comfort of your own home, which is a really great point in recent years because of the quarantine. But I also love the idea that it's not strenuous. It's not going to exhaust you. And it's not going to interfere with, let's say, if you do have a proper template of structured workouts and athletic goals that you're pursuing.

So this is something for everyone from every level, from a novice who's not active enough to someone who's a serious athlete like me. And I think what I've found with these micro workouts is that it elevates the platform from which I launch all my formal fitness activities. So now when I go and do my sprint workout, which is only once a week (or something that's extremely challenging), I have more adaptation and more injury resilience because I spend the time to do a set of squats here and there, do a set of pull-ups, lift one set of the hexagonal deadlift bar, which is in my side yard. It happens to be on the way to the garbage can. So my rule is whenever I have to throw garbage out from the kitchen, I pass by the bar and I'll do at least one set. Sometimes I'll do two or three if I'm in the mood and I want to a more substantial contribution to my fitness goals.

My rule is whenever I have to throw garbage out, and I pass by the hexagonal deadlift bar in my side yard, I'll do at least one set.

But just doing these little tidbit things and sprinkling them in—we might call it an under-the-radar approach to fitness. Pavel Tsatsouline calls it "greasing the groove," where you're not punishing your muscles and requiring recovery time. But you are, if you add it up over time, and a year later, you can come back and say, "Yeah, I occasionally do a set of pull-ups when I walk under my closet door" and over a year's time, that means you've lifted your body weight into space 1200 times or whatever the numbers. They really do add up.

Brock

So some people may remember Brad from a previous episode of Get-FIt Guy, and you may remember during that episode, we talked about how you were actually a professional triathlete and you have the Guinness world record for speed golf, and you're a high jumper and all of that kind of stuff. So you are a lifelong athlete. Now, a lot of—I venture to guess most of—the people listening to this podcast are not. Would this type of workout program or this type of micro workout program actually create fitness, even for somebody like that?

I think that's probably the most exciting thing about this. The barrier to entry is three inches off the ground.

Brad

I think that's probably the most exciting thing about this. The barrier to entry is three inches off the ground. So you don't have to have any competency in certain technical events or know your way around pushing the pins into the weight machine. And if you're a real beginner, like I said, the best example is, you know, lowering down and doing a set of squats.

Squats are one of the greatest anti-aging exercises. There's research connecting your squat competency with your longevity potential. Or doing a plank, right? So you're loading up your core muscles for the first time perhaps throughout the day, but there's no danger to overdoing it or getting injured. And you do something that takes one minute or two minutes and gives you that burst of energy and enthusiasm, and it's appropriate to whatever level of conditioning you have.

Brock

So this becomes the sort of the daily fitness practice or the daily movement practice. And then you mentioned that you do some sprints once a week or something like that. Now is it part of this micro workout that you do some harder, longer, more strenuous efforts at different points?

I like to define the micro workout as these little bursts that you sprinkle in throughout the day

Brad

Well, I like to define the micro workout as these little bursts that you sprinkle in throughout the day, and you don't need to write them into your training journal. They don't necessarily add up too much.

Brock

You don't track it on your Fitbit or log it in your MyFitnessPal, right?

Brad

Yeah. If I do hit that single set of deadlifts when I'm throwing the garbage away, many times I'm attracted to adding a little bit more. And I have my morning routine, which I'm so fond of discussing with people because it's really been a life-changing anchor for me to start my day with this deliberate sequence of movements. And you could call that a micro workout, but what's happened over time, it has become—and it's amazing to me—it's become such a habit and so automatic that I carefully add on another move and another challenging set to the extent that it's become a pretty long and devoted routine. 

But it started out as this baby little thing where I did some leg stretches (I was doing them in bed until I realized that it's so easy to sink into a mattress that the core work is twice as hard when you hit the deck). So now I get out of bed, I go onto the floor and I do my little sequence. But it's grown over time because it's turned into a habit. 

And so I think if these micro workouts can just start with something that's really easy and doable. I've talked to brain training expert John Assaraf, a bestselling author, and he says to set life-changing goals that are so easy you'll shake your head and laugh that "of course I can do one minute of exercise per day!" in this micro workout paradigm. And if you can start jumping over those little barriers, then they could become anchored as habits. And then you can get a little more devoted in a natural and graceful manner. So, it's not a bother to, let's say, do four of these different sessions a day that last for one, two, or three minutes.

So it's not a bother to let's say, do four these different sessions a day that lasts for one, two, or three minutes.

Brock

So, let's get really concrete and give the listeners ways they can start off with that "so easy you can't possibly fail" kind of thing. What would be three ways that the listeners can start doing that right away?

Pretty soon, you're going to get into this groove where it's just part of your day, like refreshing your inbox or brushing your teeth.

Brad

  1. Well, let's make a sticky note that has a very modest accomplishment to get you through the workday. And if it's two sets of 20 squats and one minute total of plank position, then you can't flip that laptop lid closed or leave your workspace until those achievements are hit at the end of the workday. Pretty soon, you're going to get into this groove where it's just part of your day, like refreshing your inbox or brushing your teeth. You put it in that same category where it's routine. It's nothing that you have to apply a lot of willpower or creative energy to. You just have a few go-to choices.

  2. I like to use the stretch cord—you know, the surgical tubing with a handle on it? And so these are hanging in plain view. And that's another big factor here—you want something in plain view that's beckoning you to go use it. Our psychologist friend, Dr. Lindsay Taylor, that we've worked with for a long time, says there's a huge difference between having a fitness implement in a drawer and having it right in your sight that you have to walk by every single day. So when I say that the deadlift bar is on the route to the garbage can, this is a big factor that makes it so easy to go over there and put in a set.

  3. And then my third one would be to do something the very, very first thing in the morning. There's a recent survey from a reputed digital agency suggesting that 84% of Americans do the same thing when they wake up in the morning. Do you know what it is?

Brock

Check their social media accounts?

Brad

Yeah, yeah! Reach for the mobile device. And as soon as we reach for that mobile device, we change our brain function into reactive mode and we're going for the dopamine hits and the excitement that we get from interacting with the world in that manner. But we go out of that high level, strategic thinking, reasoning, planning mode that we ideally would be in first thing in the morning where we're maybe pondering a to-do list or prioritizing the tasks that we have to do that day. So if you can put the micro workout right into that slot before you reach for your phone, that will be the most powerful habit and it will anchor your day to make you more focused and disciplined against all other forms of stress, distraction, or procrastination.

I'm asking for one to two minutes. That's all we need to get this micro workout commitment locked into place first thing in the morning.

So if you can do your first micro workout, number one, check that off on the sticky note. And again, if it's only a minute or two that you have to devote, that's fine because you will very likely increase your commitment over time.

But what we don't want to say—and Brock, you and I have seen these guys on YouTube with their fabulous morning routine that involves 20 minutes of meditation, preparing a power smoothie for the next 10 minutes, then spending seven minutes in your gratitude journal, then doing your 20-minute workout then going and getting some fresh air and ... come on! I mean, most people are going to shake their heads. So I'm asking for one to two minutes. That's all we need to get this micro workout commitment locked into place first thing in the morning. And then, you know, throw a couple of things in there on the sticky note and your day will be sprinkled with these great fitness boosts that really do add up over time. And there's some good research about that.

Brock

Yeah. And you know what, I'm going to add a fourth tip in here, and that is to go and check out Brad and Mark Sisson's new book called Two Meals a Day. And oddly enough, a book that sounds like it's about nutrition and fasting actually has a remarkable amount of information about fitness, about exercise, about micro workouts, about meal choices, food choices, all kinds of things like that. And it's available starting on March 9th, is that correct?

Brad

Yeah. And we have this cool website, TwoMealsaDayBook.com, where you can get these pre-order bonus items. So yeah, go ahead and pre-order the book now, wherever you like to shop for books, and we'll give you an audio summary recording of everything in the book, a PDF, and a recipe guide.

Brock

OK! So, we know where to find the book. Where can the listeners find you?

Brad

Oh, my gosh. If you go to BradKearns.com, you will be regaled with exciting videos and fun stuff. You've mentioned that Guinness World Record in speed golf, and yes, I broke the record for the fastest single hole of golf ever played. And it won't take much of your time to watch the video because I played this par five in a minute and 38 seconds sprinting full speed. So I'm trying to have fun. And we love spreading the message. We've been working together for so long, Brock, and it's great to be on your show. But I do think we have to emphasize, enjoying ourselves and taking a lighthearted approach to all these athletic, dietary, and lifestyle goals.

Brock

And that is exactly what you do in your podcast every week. Well, sometimes more than once a week, isn't it? That's the B.Rad podcast, which you can also find on Brad's website. So yeah, that's perfect. Head over to BradKearns.com and you'll find links to everything that Brad does. And thank you once again, Brad, for being one of the only people who's ever been a two-time guest on the Get-Fit Guy podcast. Bravo!

Brad

Oh, what an honor.

Brock

Thanks for coming.

Brad

Thanks, Brock. Keep up the good work.

About the Author

Brock Armstrong

Brock Armstrong is a certified AFLCA Group Fitness Leader with a designation in Portable Equipment, NCCP and CAC Triathlon Coach, and a TnT certified run coach. He is also on the board of advisors for the Primal Health Coach Institute and a guest faculty member of the Human Potential Institute. Do you have a fitness question? Leave a message on the Get-Fit Guy listener line. Your question could be featured on the show.