How and Why You Should Split Your Workout Into Shorter Chunks

By on March 7, 2022

Those that have been watching the channel for a while will know that my physique has fluctuated a little over the years. I’ve been pretty lean, I’ve been pretty puffy, and I’ve been quite bulky.

About nine month ago, though, I had my best physique in years. I looked bulky but with good definition. AND I was stronger than usual, unlocking a bunch of different skills all the while. The weird thing was, I hadn’t changed much about my diet or training volume. After a few months it wore off but, again, I couldn’t figure out what I was doing differently.

I looked at my nutrition and supplements: I tried adding creatine and magnesium back into my regime and taking it out. I looked at my lifestyle: was I training any more than usual? Any less?

While the magnesium DID make a difference for me (I’m pretty sure, anyway), that wasn’t what I ultimately discovered to be the secret sauce.

Nope, what it turned out to be was an experiment I had started running a few months before. You may remember the video: can you spread your workouts throughout the day?

This was something I’d been wondering for a while and in the video, I tested the theory. Would I lose gains? It turned out the answer was no.

But what I didn’t expect, was to massively increase gains. And I didn’t even realise it had happened.

When I tried this style of training again about a month ago, I started to see the exact same progress I’d seen before! And actually, it makes loads of sense when you think about it.

Workouts throughout the day

I’m not saying that this is definitely going to work for you. All I’m saying is that this worked for me. That it makes a lot of sense. And that you should maybe give it a go. Here’s how I’ve been doing it.

How I’m Dividing My Workouts

While splitting my training throughout the day, I have taken a very simple approach: take my regular workouts and break them into chunks. I call these “modules,” but you can call them what you like…

Kettlebell Swings with View

This is a little different from my old “incidental training” approach. Here, I would exercise sporadically throughout the day, while still having one “main” workout. This is a whole different animal versus having three equal workouts (though the two concepts pair very nicely, of course).

See also: Incidental Training: Everything Can Be Training

The modules are grouped together either by muscle group, using a “push, pull, legs” system, or based on the kinds of traits they focus on. For example, I might do a few exercises specifically for hypertrophy (usually high-rep calisthenics), a few exercises for strength (a few heavy lifts), or a few movements for mobility. Other modules focus on traits like jump height, or running speed. For example, I do one little sequence of:

  • Weighed jump squats
  • Jump squats
  • Squats
  • Split squats
  • Glute bridge

This is my jump height routine and it’s delivered noticeable benefits, rapidly. You could easily add kettlebell swings in here, too.

I also have little routines just for burning calories – like my 100 kettlebell swing challenge, or my high-rep push ups routine. Another module is simply to play Beat Saber for 15 minutes!

Fast and Efficient

None of these modules takes more than 20 minutes to complete. Most take 10 minutes or less.

But the key is that they have been designed to be highly efficient: to get maximum benefit in the shortest amount of time.

For example, performing three sets of 100 push ups with a one minute rest period in-between takes no more than five to six minutes. However, this is more than enough of a stimulus to flood my pecs with blood and metabolites, thus encouraging growth. I might also do a flush set at the end, or finish with push ups on my knees until failure.

Jumping Push Ups View

Later in the same day, I might perform three sets of 40 dips. This has a very similar effect.

In under ten minutes, I’ve done something that I can really feel. When it stops being intense enough, I’ll increase the weight, change the movement, or increase the rep count to keep it that way.

This where I think the “micro workout” approach can go wrong: the workouts themselves are often not intense enough. And by splitting them up, this gets compounded: you end up doing just a few reps of something that doesn’t challenge you, then call it a day.

The aim is to be efficient with your training. To trigger a response in the shortest time possible. An example might be to do three sets of four reps using your six rep max (after a warm up set). That’s plenty of stimulus for building strength. Especially if you do some accessory lifts later in the day.

I often perform three sets of 100 push ups, usually paired with another push exercise like dips. This is enough to create a metabolic build up in the muscles and to stimulate a lot of growth, as a result. This kind of “pump” training is also great for increase blood supply and strength endurance.

See also: The Surprising Benefits of Doing 100 Push Ups a Day (Or More)

There’s No Downside

As long as you’re doing enough to trigger some kind of result, there is no drawback to dividing your training up this way. You still get the muscle damage, or the practice, or the metabolic stress, or the calorie burn… or whatever else it is you’re trying to improve.

micro workouts

This is even easier with mobility work. Most stretches only need to be held for 30-60 seconds, so you can easily do a bunch of mobility work in some free time. And there is ZERO downside to doing this in isolation. You think your body cares if you do your shoulder stretch right after your hamstring stretch, or later in the day?

Clue: it does not.

The Benefits

But I’m not saying you can train this way and expect to see similar results. I’m suggesting that you should train this way, in order to get superior results.

Other than the fact that it may be easier to fit into your routine (I recognize that this very much depends on your routine… it’s great for parents!), there are also a lot of biological benefits when it comes to building strength, size, and all-round performance.

Build Muscle by Training Multiple Times Per Day

In terms of hypertrophy, training three times a day with enough intensity means you’ll send blood and nutrients to the muscles three times. It also means you’ll trigger the release of anabolic hormones… three times. You’ll spike your protein synthesis three times. Oh, and you’ll also suppress the muscle-blocking protein myostatin. How many times, you ask? Three!

Oh, and each time you go to start a workout, you’ll have enjoyed hours of recovery. So, you’ll be stronger on your next lift than you otherwise would have been.

The same goes for cardio. If your interest is in burning calories, running three times rather than one means that you will benefit from post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) three times. In short: your raised heartrate following training will burn additional calories following exercise, thrice. And that also means your heart will spend more time working harder, which means greater cardio benefit!

See also: Greasing the Groove – Batman Skills Training

For skills training and mobility, you’ll get greater benefits by practicing movements more often and with breaks. This way, you benefit from both “greasing the groove” style training and the “spaced learning” effect.

Extra Energy

But the REAL benefit of all this is the increased energy you’ll enjoy throughout the day. Many people who think they’re tired are actually lethargic. Work didn’t tire you out because you were answering calls (well, maybe it did a bit…). Rather, it put you to sleep because you were sat in one place all day in a dimly-lit office!

Training in nature

Training this way gives your muscles less opportunity to fall asleep, too. Getting up from your office chair to exercise just once or twice means your glutes won’t be as likely to fall asleep (or, at least, it will be a light sleep). This means you’re less likely to injure yourself during squats or running.

And it actually means you need to warm up a little less… but more on that in a moment.

In short, the body likely responds well to this type of training because it’s the way we would naturally have exercised. This is how we trained during our evolution. We adapt to our environment.

See also: How the Environment Shapes You

So, why aren’t hunter-gatherers extremely tanked? Again: that comes down to intensity and specificity. Those guys weren’t heaving weights around.

If you were able to move just a little, you’d likely find that you had much more energy to not only train but also do all the other things you want to do.

And the best part? It’s much easier to convince yourself to do a ten minute mobility routine, rather than a four hour workout. I personally don’t find 10 minutes of push ups that daunting either, even when the intensity is up there.

Grouping Modules

In terms of how you go about choosing which modules to perform on a given day, this ultimately comes down to your goals and preferences.

Some days I make about hypertrophy. On those days, I tend to pick modules targeting similar things: such as the push ups and dips example I gave earlier. Or maybe push ups and a shoulder module (I do L-sit to handstand press, then high-volume pike push ups). Or maybe I’ll follow up my jump routine with my leg-hypertrophy routine later that day.

Once I’ve had enough, I might just do some mobility work or a bit of cardio.

Other days, it will all be mixing and matching. These are more like rest days, and I tend to focus more on things like skills. I might do a little bit of isolated handstand practice, for instance. While this is a skill and shouldn’t involve too much brute strength, it nevertheless sends blood to the shoulders and traps.

If you want to see how I’ve grouped this together, then you’ll actually find an entirely new lesson in my training program SuperFunctional Training 2.0. The new lesson explains how to perform the entire workout broken into shorter 10-20 minute sessions.

It’s free for anyone who already owns the program and you can find that lesson here: Modular Training Schedule (NEW) – The Bioneer

Some Common Problems

Now I’d just like to address some common concerns surrounding this type of training:

What about sweat?

I tend to find that 3 sets of 100 push ups actually don’t get me that sweaty. Especially if I’m outside. Mobility and skills training don’t have this problem at all, meanwhile.

That said, if you get a little sweaty, you can always take your top off during training and then splash your arms with some soapy water afterwards (add a little deodorant, too).

If you’re really worried about sweat, just schedule the sweatiest workouts before your morning and evening wash. During lunch you could do some standing curls or mobility work, then before your shower you could do your HIIT.

Training outside helps, too, if it’s cold where you live.

What about recovery?

While training three to four times per day might sound like a lot, the truth is that you’re not actually doing any more work than you normally would. In fact, you’re lifting the same while getting greater rest times in between. You’ll spend less time in a “recovery state” of course, but you’ll also spike that recovery state more frequently.

And if you want proof that moving and working throughout an entire day is doable, just take a look at any laborer or farmer. That’s that infamous “farm strength” again!

Gama Cast

What About Lifestyle?

I’m writing the written version of this post after the video went live. This is good because it lets me respond to some of the questions and criticisms. One of the most common was that I was out-of-touch and that people who don’t do fitness for a living wouldn’t be able to train this way. They have jobs, afterall!

Firstly, while some routines make this harder, others make it much easier than a regular workout. Visiting the gym for an hour four times a week is not doable for a lot of people. Not if you’re a new parent, or you travel a lot, or don’t have the money, or don’t live near to a gym. Then there’s the time taken up by the commute.

This post explains how and why you should divide your workouts into smaller chunks. This method got me my best results & there's good reason!

But by dividing workouts into smaller chunks, you’re able to fit them around your routine. For those working a 9-5, that could just mean doing a short workout before your morning shower, doing something very light during your lunch-break, and then doing a little workout again in the evening.

I’m not saying it will work for you. But you should definitely try it before you knock it!

About Adam Sinicki

Adam Sinicki, AKA The Bioneer, is a writer, personal trainer, author, entrepreneur, and web developer. I've been writing about health, psychology, and fitness for the past 10+ years and have a fascination with the limits of human performance. When I'm not running my online businesses or training, I love sandwiches, computer games, comics, and hanging out with my family.

5 Comments

  1. Paul Andrei Turcea says:

    Hi Adam! I love this approach and I can attest to doing something similar for the past eight years, and have had wonderful results with next to no injuries.
    I say similar because it falls more under the microworkowts and incidental training categories.
    I’ve just introduced movement into my lifestyle and I use daily tasks and job related situations to pay attention to the biomechanics of my body, and recruit certain muscles.
    Also flexing in the mirror at shower time and just flexing different muscle groups throughout the day has permitted me to improve mind muscle connection.
    Sure there are upsides and downsides to everything, but I think the point to be made is that there are many more ways to skin a cat.

  2. Daniel M says:

    Hey Adam,

    I’ve been following your blog a while now after purchasing your ebook v1. Amazing stuff. I am a psychology major in school right now and very much interested in the features of human neurology. I believe it was your book that introduced me to The Brain That Trains Itself and I’ve taken it very much to heart like you have. You mention greasing the groove pretty often these days (yes, I’m sorta stalking you lol) and I had an idea that you might find interesting or want to explore for a post. Jeez this is a long comment… Anyways. I’m very much an avid reader and for most of my life have really only expressed myself through text. I have not been tested but I believe intelligence wise I am well above average. I understand things quickly and often “see” things unfolding before they do. To my idea… I’ve noticed that if I spend enough time focused on something like understanding a complicated book that for a while afterwards my cognition seems heightened. My out loud speech is much more fluid and my reaction times seem faster. I didn’t used to be as fast as I am now and have always believed that I can be smarter / faster if I train in some way. What do you think about this? Have you noticed anything similar in your experience? Since you can’t taste things do you think your hearing or sight or perprioception has been enhanced through necessity? Anyways. I’ll keep watching your videos and reading your blog. I find your style endearing and philosophy towards life much the same as mine.
    All the best
    -Daniel

  3. Ryan says:

    Hello Adam! Great article and it came at a good time – right when I wanted to spice my routine up!

    One thing you mentioned in passing in the article was the difference between tiredness and lethargy. Could you expand on that, especially on how to tell the difference?

  4. Quin says:

    Hi Adam.

    Love your site and focus on functional strength.

    Is modular training something you would recommend for a beginner (I max out at 6 pullups right now)?

    Also, when doing modular training, is your “main” workout focused on a category (push, pull, etc.) that you will do again later in the day or is it separate? How long is your “main” workout?

    Thanks.

    – Quin

  5. Callum Austin says:

    Hello there! I have recently started watching your channel and I’ve fallen in love with the way you view fitness, so I would like to start thinking of it in the same way. I just wanted to ask what different types of “modules” as you call them, I can create. I’d like to be able to have a bank of workouts to pick and choose from. I’d like to work on everything, such as speed, mobility, endurance, strength and so on. Along with the different types of modules, could you suggest some exercises that would be good for an intermediate 17-year-old who is slavering over his studies and creating a life for himself? Thank you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.