An emerging body of evidence is showing us that we can snack our way to getting stronger. Unfortunately, not the cheese platter or tapas version of snacks.
We are often told of the benefits of getting stronger. Not only does getting stronger protect you from injury doing the activities you love, it can increase your capacity to do those activities. Whether it be team sport, riding bikes, social tennis or playing with the grandkids.
The problem is that it is often difficult to squeeze a strength session into an already busy week. This is even trickier when we have been told the only way to get stronger is go to the gym 3 times a week, pick up a heavy thing 6 to 8 times (reps), repeat that another 2 times (sets) and do it in several different ways. All of this in an hour of negotiating for gym equipment. Now, this is an excellent way to get stronger, based on existing research, but is not the only way.
What is an exercise snack?
We still have to exert those muscles, it’s just that we can do it in a less rigid format. Research is suggesting we can get stronger using single bouts of exercise spread out through the day[i]. So that is one set at a time, with 6-12 reps at high intensity.
This may not be optimal, but it does increase strength and may be more manageable for your lifestyle[ii]. To quote pretty much any physio, “The best exercise is the one that gets done!”
How do you do it?
1/ Make a plan:
Figure out when you can squeeze exercises into your schedule. Can you plan quick 30 to 60 second breaks into your day? How long can you actually manage and how many exercises can you do in this time?
Scheduling quick, hourly exercise breaks into your day won’t just help you get stronger, it can stave off back and neck pain too. You can use a timer, App or every time you go to the printer, do some squats/push ups etc.
One person set up a chin up bar in a doorway and challenged themselves to do a chin up every time they walked through and built from there. As you can imagine, there are countless variations of this idea.
2/ Choose some exercises:
As a starting point, choose two upper body, two lower body and maybe a core exercise. How many exercises depends on your plan (how you’ll get them done) and how much spice you want (variety). There are many options out there using body weight or a range of equipment.
If you have specific goals in mind or an activity you want to complement, you can use exercises that focus on these. Setting goals will also help with getting them done, as you may have more focus.
3/ It should be hard:
To get the full benefit short bouts of exercise, they need to be at a high level of exertion. This means when planning exercise choice, you need to take this into consideration. It doesn’t mean struggling through the first rep.
As a rule of thumb, if you are struggling through the last rep, you have found the sweet spot. While bodyweight can often be enough with good guidance, having some tools sitting around can help loading. Things like chin up bars, dumbbells, kettle bells and resistance bands.
For a general starting point, target the upper body, lower body and the muscles on the front and back of your body. Balancing the push/pull muscle groups is another way of thinking about this.
Choose a push and a pull exercise for the arms (e.g. push ups and rows), squat and bridge for the legs (front and back), and add a calf raise at the end of the movement for added value (calves). Set an alarm for every hour (or for when you can manage breaks) and do one exercise for one high intensity set. Then cycle through the exercises with subsequent breaks. If you have the time in your break to do more, do two or three exercises, one high intensity set of each.
As you get into the rhythm of this routine, you can add exercises to spice it up.
There are a range of Apps around that can help you get started and keep you engaged. Naturally, your physio can help with exercise ideas, scheduling your day, specificity for your sport, goal setting or anything you feel you need assistance with.
[i] Androulakis-Korakakis P, Fisher JP, Steele J. The Minimum Effective Training Dose Required to Increase 1RM Strength in Resistance-Trained Men: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Sports Med. 2020 Apr;50(4):751-765. doi: 10.1007/s40279-019-01236-0. PMID: 31797219.
[ii] Iversen, V. M., Norum, M., Schoenfeld, B. J., & Fimland, M. S. (2021). No time to lift? Designing time-efficient training programs for strength and hypertrophy: a narrative review. Sports Medicine, 51(10), 2079-2095.
Author – Richard Mills (MGS Manly)
Richard’s long personal association with injury helps him understand how important it is to get back to what you love doing as quickly and confidently as possible, regardless of what that love is. Richard hates telling people to stop doing what they love (he’s looking at the runners) but often you need to slow down and build up again.
To help people get back to where they want to be, Richard has undertaken professional development in cycling, running and shoulder treatment, amongst others. He is about to brush up on the latest in pain science and is always broadening his strength and conditioning skills.
Richard is into natural remedies. You don’t get more natural than using the body’s inbuilt repair mechanisms by getting stronger, more robust and more resilient.
Richard grew up skateboarding and forgot to stop. This means a lifetime of falling over and figuring out how to get back up again. Now Richard is a skateboarder that surfs, snowboards and dirt surfs on a bike (MTB) and still falls over a lot.
He has had a long, varied career before he became a physio. He understands a range of work types from desk bound to carrying heavy things, climbing 15m in the air.
Click here to learn more about Richard.