Is Snacking For You?

When my daughter was born one thing kept me from falling completely off the wagon; snacks.  I’m not only talking about eating snacks, (because we didn’t have time to sit down and eat full meals at first so we survived mainly on quick partial meals)  I’m also talking about exercise snacks.  If it wasn’t for exercise snacks I probably wouldn’t have trained at all in the weeks right after she was born.  I think I was pretty realistic going in though.  I just assumed my day would be consumed by changing diapers, cleaning up puke and trying to nap where I could and I would have very little time to dedicate to my own health.  It was even more work than I could ever have imagined but I was able to train almost every day.  I’m lucky, though, that I have assembled my own gym in my garage so it was easier to keep up with a weight lifting plan and have my exercise snacks include weight training, but it can be done at home without a full gym set up.

Backing up a bit, I’ll explain what a workout snack is.  Recently, researchers have looked at splitting up daily activity into short, manageable bursts – mainly in office settings to help combat the health implications from working a sedentary job.  These short bursts allow people to add some more activity into their days without having to dedicate large chunks of their schedule to organized activity.  In many cases the exercise snacks didn’t even involve workers changing out of their work clothes because the durations were so short they hardly even broke a sweat but the snacking worked as it increased their daily activity.  A workout snack could be something like walking up and down the stairs for 5 minutes a few times per day and was not a  burden to do so.  It could be doing jumping jacks on an off for 5 minutes.  It could be 5 minutes of the bear crawl for 30 seconds on and resting for 30 seconds.  It could even be doing as many burpees as you can in one shot.  Anything works.

The way I used exercise snacks just after my daughter was born was I would start by picking two exercises per day.  I would then complete one set of each exercise 4 to 5 times per day and that was my workout for the day.  Each snack took about 5 minutes because I would add in 1 or 2 quick mobility or torso drills prior to lifting each set then complete each exercise and I totalled about 20-30 minutes per day of activity.  I would also add in a few minutes at a time on my airdyne bike at an uncomfortable pace but not long enough to need more than a minute of recovery – she never stopped crying, so there was no time for a long recovery.  I would generally pair an upper and a lower exercise – usually a push for one and a pull for the other such as a hip thrust and a shoulder press or a lunge and a TRX row.  I chose exercises that weren’t overly technical and used loads that didn’t require an extensive warm up, usually a 15-rep max and I would only do 10-12 reps.  Sometimes I would go two hours between sets and sometimes I would be back in the garage only a few minutes later.  We also didn’t set up a diaper change station on our main floor so I had to climb the stairs 15 times per day to change her diaper plus change her clothes any time she puked all over herself or if we needed a new burp cloth.  It wasn’t uncommon to climb the stairs 25 or 30 times per day.

I certainly didn’t set any strength records during this time but I also didn’t lose much strength, if any at all.  My fitness levels weren’t the best that they have ever been but my resting heart rate remained in the low 60s and I wasn’t spending any more than 5-10 minutes per day trying to maintain it.  I had to keep reminding myself that it’s enough and that there were two very important people that needed my help.  However, while many people can afford to let their fitness slide during this stressful time in their lives, being a firefighter I never believed I had that option.  I felt that the moment I allowed that to happen then I became a liability to my crew and I was no longer serving the community as I should be.  If we had a really rough night then I would reduce the number of snacks for the day and continue on the next day – a clean slate.  I focused on getting in as much quality food as I could and tried to stay hydrated, only using caffeine when necessary.  I kept telling myself that this was only temporary and that no matter how stressed or tired I was there was a little girl that didn’t ask to be here and a very tough, amazing woman doing everything she could to keep that little girl alive and well.  In comparison, I didn’t have it that bad.  Months later a friend told me that at the time she was worried I might have been having my own brush with whatever the male version of post-partum depression is.. I thanked her for telling me months after the fact.  I’m confident that if I hadn’t figured out this exercise snacking thing that it could have become an issue.

So, that’s how I used exercise snacking and I have gone back to it any time left gets too hectic to fit in a full training session.  Another way to use snacks is if the thought of working out is just too daunting.  Add in a few snacks per day to increase your overall daily activity.  When you get the urge to do something physical, go do it.  Don’t think about it or you might change your mind.  This is also a great strategy in the fire station.  This can help to improve the fitness level of your crew without fatiguing them at any point throughout the day and everybody stays fresh to respond to calls.  It also helps to break up the long shift.

The next time you feel you are too busy to train consistently or if you are just starting out but are intimidated by the time commitment that a training plan requires try an exercise snack.  Snacking could help you maintain your fitness level or even improve it if you’re just starting out.

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