The Hidden Downsides of Exercise Snacks: Rethinking Brief Workouts

The Hidden Downsides of Exercise Snacks: Rethinking Brief Workouts


As humans continue to evolve into an age with increasing access to information and knowledge, it is safe to say,  as a collective, we don’t seem to be getting healthier.  The global trends of obesity have seen a steady increase since 1980 in both males and females therefore our current methods of thinking and training clearly aren’t solving the problem. Recently people have turned to their creativity to help stir up new exercise ideas in order to lose weight and tone up. (1)

Exercise snacks

Exercise snacks or mini workouts throughout the day have been all the new craze. These are essentially short workouts, anywhere from less than 1 minute to 11 minutes of vigorous activity that can be done throughout the day. Although this way to exercise might seem like a good idea on the surface for those with busy days, this article will dive deeper into why vigorous mini workouts throughout the day the way it's recommended is actually more damaging than beneficial. We will discuss how to make ‘exercise snacks’ actually work for you and provide realistic actionable behaviors that will help you lose weight and tone up and ultimately live a healthy pain free life. 


According to recent studies done on exercise snacks, the perceived benefits are mainly centered around cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF). (2) CRF is the ability of the circulatory and respiratory systems to supply oxygen to skeletal muscles during physical activity. CRF is a component of physiologic fitness and is an important marker, in traditional fitness, of physical and mental health. 

Although this may make sense on the surface, these studies fail to take into consideration whether or not people are in pain while the exercises are performed as well as the long term impact of exercise snacks. Pushing movement just for the sake of movement is a very naive way to measure longevity and health because there is such a thing as moving correctly. It is safe to say that the researchers conducting these studies are not taking biomechanics into account. 

Exercise snacks

Some of the common exercises performed during these mini workouts are jumping jacks, pushups, mountain climbers and cycling because of the easy accessibility. Simply put, these exercises do not respect the way our bodies evolved. When we look at the FP first 4 (standing, walking, running, and throwing), there are clearly aspects of rotation built into our anatomy that these ‘exercise snacks’ do not account for. If we skip steps and get good at things like jumping jacks and cycling as opposed to running and throwing, this is what leads us down the path of pain and injury. 


Exercise snacks

When it comes to health and developing resiliency, here at Functional Patterns we advocate for our clients to think deeper about the saying “as long as you are active and moving, it’s good for you.” Moving better in space is essentially a form of skill acquisition. When you think of training in this way, you must take a similar mental approach to acquiring the skill of anything. Creating relevant tension in your muscles through proper technique when training the FP first 4 (standing, walking, running and throwing) is what will ultimately get you on the sustainable path of fitness. 

At Functional Patterns we help point out your weaknesses across a multitude of behaviors as well as provide you with the technique and structure to improve steadily. Therefore short workouts just for the sake of “getting it in” doesn’t make sense, and is essentially disconnecting the brain from that process. Mini workouts throughout the day in the fashion that most people are encouraging does not address the root cause of our terrible health appropriately. In some ways this can be even more anxiety and stress inducing on the brain and body, especially if the vigorous activity you are doing is something like cycling, which is the common activity tested when studying exercise snacks or mini workouts. (2) To understand the detriments of cycling deeper, click here.


Exercise snacks

Now, it’s not to say that mini or short workouts are a completely terrible idea. If you focus on FP corrective movement during these short durations, you are more likely to see a return on your investment over time. This is because we focus on precision and attention to detail when it comes to movement. Therefore you will be consistently chipping away at your imbalances if you do decide to workout in “snacks” as opposed to a 60 or 90 minute workout. Along with the biomechanical precision FP offers, we also recommend other precise and practical tips that aid in losing weight and toning up as well as getting the most out of your mini workouts. 

This includes:

1.) Getting regular sun exposure to improve your redox potential. 

2.) Eliminating or decreasing the consumption of grains, legumes, PUFAs (vegetable oils), nuts and caffeine/stimulants, from your diet. These are likely to cause inflammation and bloating which in turn will make it harder to engage your abdominal muscles and impact your biomechanics negatively. 

3.) Consume minimum 2-3 liters of clean water per day. Hydration is vital especially when you are undoing restrictions and moving toxins out of your body. 

4.) Sleep 7-8 hours in a dark room at night in order to allow your mind to download the new associations you are trying to ingrain and so the body can heal. Matching your sleep/wake time with the sunrise/sunset is ideal. 

5.) Decrease exposure to blue light, especially 1-2 hours before bed. Any decrease can be helpful when it comes to this. If you live in the northern hemisphere and it’s winter, invest in a red light. Especially if you have darker skin and your family background is from sunnier climates. 

6.) As often as you can, sit/lay and do nothing. Put away your phone and don’t distract yourself with books, music, podcasts, friends etc. Just sit with your thoughts and anxiety and try to relax, without fidgeting or scratching. 

7.) Grounding. As often as you can, be barefoot in nature. This may be on the lawn in front of your house, in the park or out in nature in a forest or on the beach. 


When we start taking a systems over symptoms approach to training the body, we are now able to take a holistic approach towards healing and losing weight and toning up is involved in this process of healing. We don’t need to be lifting weights every day in order to start decreasing inflammation and developing muscles in the areas we are lacking. Short workouts or mini workouts throughout the day are also not necessarily a bad thing if that's all you are able to do. If all you have is 5 minutes to workout, repping out 5 minutes of FP contralateral step presses and rows as opposed to cycling and stair climbing will be more conducive to your overall well being. Along with this, you will be working on walking and running better! A fundamental trait that all humans do. 

In conclusion, the idea of shorter workouts throughout the day is not the problem, it’s how we approach it. Instead of hourly bouts of  4-5 min of stair-based exercise snacks, incorporating 4-5 min of FP movements along with getting out in the sun and grounding, drinking water, eating nutrient dense food, and sitting and doing nothing can all be incorporated into a day's work that will help improve digestion and aid in regeneration. The FP 10 week online course is a great place to start if you are looking to maximize the benefit of your mini workouts. 


  1. Boutari C, Mantzoros CS. A 2022 update on the epidemiology of obesity and a call to action: as its twin COVID-19 pandemic appears to be receding, the obesity and dysmetabolism pandemic continues to rage on. Metabolism. 2022 Aug;133:155217. doi: 10.1016/j.metabol.2022.155217. Epub 2022 May 15. PMID: 35584732; PMCID: PMC9107388.
  2. Islam, Hashim; Gibala, Martin J.; Little, Jonathan P.. Exercise Snacks: A Novel Strategy to Improve Cardiometabolic Health. Exercise and Sport Sciences Reviews 50(1):p 31-37, January 2022. | DOI: 10.1249/JES.0000000000000275 
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