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The Secret to Getting in Shape When You’re Busy? Make Your Workouts Easier

Introducing the exercise snack.


Read when you’ve got time to spare.

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For anyone who has trouble getting to the gym or working out as often as you’d like, I come bearing good news: Your workouts don’t have to be crazy hard, they don’t have to be long, and they certainly don’t have to take place in a fancy gym or studio.

Unfortunately, thanks largely to expensive boutique fitness classes, gyms that smell like eucalyptus, and a mindset that anything worth doing is worth overdoing, we’re often sold the idea that a short, simple workout “doesn’t count.” That’s a problem. Not only because it helps prevent the wellness movement from being accessible to all, but because it means each of us are missing opportunities to get in some work. Because look: I’m busy! I know you are, too. Sure, there are times when you can block off 90 minutes and get a thorough workout in, but if we think every session needs to be some intense marathon sweatfest, we’ll never get it done.

This is why I love the idea of exercise “snacks”: short bursts of exercise that you can fit into those bite-sized free pockets of your day you often don’t know what to do with. I’m talking about just 20 minutes in the morning, or 20 minutes at night, in between calls or after you get back from dinner. The idea stems from a 2014 study which showed that three smaller sessions of physical exercise (around 12 minutes each) were more effective in lowering blood sugar—and keeping it lower for longer—than one 30-minute session. Which is great if you’re one of those people who can never seem to find time to work out between everything else you’re juggling. So maybe you don’t have a half an hour on any given day. But I bet you do have at least two 15-minute pockets.

For instance, I was recently in Chicago and spent a long day at a conference. I couldn’t fit a workout into my schedule. I wrapped my day by giving a talk and going out to dinner. When I got back to the hotel, I was dead tired and I wanted to go to bed. Instead, I went to the gym and set a timer for 20 minutes. I told myself, “You don’t got to be there long, but you got to do something.” I did a circuit involving ten dumbbell presses, ten stability ball push-ups, ten dynamic bosu ball push-ups, and then a 400-meter run. I repeated that three times (with short breaks in between) and that was it. It took me less than 25 minutes. But it can be even easier than that. Because High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is so popular, people often think a short duration has to mean a high level of exertion. But sometimes my snack is just ten minutes of stretching and five minutes of jump-roping.

The point here is just to do something, to get your body used to moving. I always say I want to “make movement a movement,” so that we can get people thinking about a workout as some simple body movement, not as blasting your pecs into oblivion.

Once you start thinking that way, you start spotting all kinds of opportunities to move. Live in a walk-up? Hurry up one flight of stairs; slow walk the next. Live in a city? Speed walk for a block; stroll for the next. You can even turn grocery shopping into an exercise snack: Vary your speeds on alternating aisles.

We’re so used to thinking of “wellness” only in very specific boxes: in the gym, on a run, or at a class. But our wellness extends into every corner of our lives. Maybe if you’re working out for 30 minutes in the morning instead of an hour, you can sleep in for an extra 30 minutes. Now, because of that extra half-hour of sleep, you can wean yourself off coffee a bit more. Maybe you’ll have more energy to make a smart choice when it comes time to choose an afternoon snack. That, in turn, amplifies the utility and value of your workouts, because your diet is better. That’s how these exercise snacks, though small, pay dividends. We’ve got to look at the pie as integrative. We’re hit with this SoulCycle, Equinox shit: It’s a lifestyle. No, being in a fancy gym or sitting on a bike is not a lifestyle. That’s a weird obsession. If it were truly a lifestyle, then it would just be integrated into your life.

I encourage you to start looking for these little tidbits of exercise, especially when you’re busy and don’t think you have time. First and foremost, because it’s a reminder that you can always do more than you think you can, without having to do the most. And secondly, because it keeps you moving forward. I like the metaphor of life being like climbing a mountain. If you stop climbing and some bad weather rolls in—that’s life getting hard—you might be knocked back down to the bottom. Then you’re like, “I’m done. I let myself go.” And not just physically, but mentally and emotionally, too. Now it’s even harder to get started. Your back is against the wall.

But you don’t have to do that. Find the next 15-minute pocket in your day and do one of the exercise snacks below. Then, you’re good. You won that pocket of the day. You’re moving up the mountain.


  • Jump rope or jog in place — 1 minute
  • Dynamic leg swings — 16 reps (alternating legs)
  • Knee hugs — 16 reps (alternating legs)
  • Hip circles (on all fours/in a tabletop position) — 8 in each direction
  • Bird-dogs — 5 each side
  • Cat/cows — 5 reps

1. Running Snack

Easy Option:

  • Run 200 meters
  • Walk for 30 seconds
  • Run 400 meters
  • Walk on incline (1.5-4.0) for 1 minute
  • Repeat 3 times

Hard Option:

  • “Deadmill” sprint for 15 seconds
  • Rest for 45 seconds
  • Repeat 4 times
  • Rest 2 minutes. Do 5 more reps.


  • Incline between 8.0 and 12.0, speed at 8.0
  • Sprint for 20 seconds
  • Rest for 40 seconds
  • Repeat 4 times
  • Rest 2 minutes. Do 5 more reps.

2. Mobility Snack

  • Side-lying T-spine sweeps — 5 each side
  • Seated T-spine reaches (up, side, straight) —5 each way
  • Lying hip swivels — 10 reps
  • Walking inchworms — 8 reps
  • Spiderman pushup — 10 reps
  • Single-side elevated plank — 8 each way
  • Jump rope — 3 mins

3. Weights Snack

  • Deadlifts — 8 reps
  • Bent over rows — 8 reps
  • Renegade rows — 8 reps (alternating arms)
  • Mountain climbers — 30 secs
    (Repeat above four exercises)
  • Runner’s deadlifts — 8 reps
  • Side lunges — 8 reps
  • Shoulder presses — 8 reps (alternating arms)
  • High knees — 30 secs
    (Repeat above four exercises)

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This post originally appeared on GQ and was published November 14, 2019. This article is republished here with permission.

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