Cumulative Training – effective training for the chronically busy

Use multiple short bursts of exercise to see the same or better results as one long workout

Most of our fitness goals are fairly simple, reasonable and achievable. Not too many of us need to look like Ryan Reynolds in Deadpool, or Green lantern or X-men….or Blade (that guy must really love to work out).

If you fall in the moderate category of fitness goals – lose some weight, build some muscle, work on general fitness, focus on mobility, stability and longevity, then I have some good news for you. It all counts. I’ll expand further on this in a minute…

I basically live in a gym and so its pretty easy for me to find time to get a solid workout in on most days. Having said that, some days are so busy training clients, researching for personal growth, designing nutritional/exercise programs that all I have time for is eating and pooping. yeah yeah, we all poop, don’t judge me. I eat a lot of beans and veggies so its pretty, um, regular. TMI?

Some of my clients work upwards of 60 or more hours per week and so they are only able to come in for 1 session each week, sometimes only every other week! I bet some of you reading this are, like them, workaholics. You start early and finish late and simply can’t find 45-60 minutes (or more) in a row where you can workout. Others may technically have enough time to workout but the added time it takes to get to and from the gym brings on anxiety and pushes other important things like, eating, family time (and pooping – last time I promise) to the wayside. But over the years I have found ways to get/keep my busy clients in tip top shape. And the way is cumulative training.

The investment in time, in a sense is replaced with an increase of intensity and sometimes a small financial investment in 2-3 pieces of equipment that allow for maximizing efficiency in a small amount of space – we’re talking living room, office space, park, elevator (for the more obnoxious) washroom stall, etc..

It all counts – If you are looking to go from zero to hero in a short period of time then the cumulative approach is not only helpful but necessary. The only thing is now we’re talking about multiple (usually 2) long sessions per day, 6 days a week. This is now your job. Most people don’t realize the effort and compromise it takes to look like a superhero or fitness model or Instagram fitness “guru”. Ask most fitness models and actors if they walk around looking like that all the time and you will get a “hell no” from many of them. So lets shoot for the moon rather than the stars and keep our goals reasonable!

The science is wanting for well designed strength programs and the effects it can have when you break up the workouts into shorter bouts throughout the day. But several studies have shown that the cumulative effect for aerobic exercise is equal to if not better than performing the exercise all at once. One study at The American College of Sports Medicine concluded that splitting up a 30 minute workout into three 10 minute bouts improved arterial pliability for longer after each successive session.

Several studies have come out in recent years touting the benefits of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The high intensity exercise in itself limits the length at which we can keep it up. Yet we are seeing significant improvements all around when looking at markers for fitness (for a more in depth look at the science and a full body program you can read this NY Times article). In my opinion the logic seems sound that if you can see some kind of metabolic, cardiovascular and strength improvements from one 7, 5 or even 1 minute workout, then we can multiply these throughout the day and compound the benefits into something that looks more like a serious 45-60 minute strength/sprint program.

So, now you’re asking yourself, if there is benefits in a one 7 minute workout, why do I need to do more than that. Here is where I split from those who tend to push the idea of short workouts. Anything is better than nothing and you will definitely be fitter for the 7 minutes of movement. But fittER isn’t necessarily fit and the one goal which I hold on to for each of my clients and readers is that of longevity – good mobility, stability and strength throughout your entire life. The reality of things is that most of us spend about 23 hours of a day completely sedentary and maybe 1-2 hours walking around, moving about the house, completing chores, etc.. I hate to be the bearer of bad news but 10 000 steps is kind of the bare minimum to keep you living…but barely so. Walking is the easiest way to go from point A to point B. Its not exercise its just the minimum amount of functional movement needed to survive.

Modern medicine has kept the average life span increasing for the past several decades… until now. It is suggested that for the first time since we began documenting these trends, we are going to witness the first generation of children who will not live as long as their parents. Medicine, for the time being has reached its capacity to overcome our kamikaze like approach to living.

Given this dire situation, it is in my opinion that we need to raise the bar for what is considered adequate amount and intensity of movement. What I am suggesting in this post isn’t a reduction of exercise (don’t hate me, keep reading) but that maybe we can think differently about needing to join a gym and set aside an entire hour or so to meet the requirements to keep you mobile and strong into your 80’s.

For several years I have performed what I call “practice” sets throughout the day. If I’m short on time for a prolonged workout, I’ll try and get in 3-5 sets of one exercise. If I’m lucky I’ll repeat this with 5-8 exercises at different points in the day. I’ve given this same type of plan to some of my busier clients and we’ve seen similar progress as I have with my clients who come 4-5x/week. The types of exercises can be strength based or sprint based. These are the 2 most effective and efficient ways to see progress. No 5-10 minute bouts of steady state cardio, and walking doesn’t count. Using highly effective body weight exercises and/or investing in as little as one dumbbell/kettlebell, and you can complete your practice sets at work, on your way to work, at home or at a park. No excuses.

In certain circumstances, myself as well as some clients have had “emergency exercises” to complete throughout the day to supplement our usual programs. For example, I’ve used the “300 squats in a day” protocol. Doesn’t matter how many you do in a row or how many sets you do it in. Just get them all done. Seems like a lot but you can bang out 30 squats pretty quickly. Got to go to the bathroom? 30 squats. Taking a call? put it on speaker – 30 squats. At the bust stop? 30 squats. And you can always find time for 5 squats here and there. It all counts.

Along with the regular benefits of consistent exercise comes another significant perk. No more midday crash. What we have noticed is that the sporadic short sessions has improved cognitive function, focus and energy levels throughout the day. I’m not a scientist and this is in no way, no how, a study of any sort. All I can say is that it has had similar effects for everyone who has tried it. More productive days, better mood and a sudden disappearance of the 3 o’clock wall.

Strength training helps with insulin sensitivity. It also helps regulate hormones and can increase metabolic rate for prolonged periods of time. Given this, I’m not surprised that these effects are being seen within our small group of busy-bee trainees.

So fret not my pets, for it can be done. Every single one of us has time to get some movement into our day (and if you don’t, you need to read this). With a bit of planning you can finagle a routine together that makes sense with your time constraints. Using effective and efficient exercises, you can expect the same progress as someone who can manage to spend an hour or so at the gym. You may even reap some of the cognitive rewards I spoke of above! Just keep your objectives in line with what you are able to do without losing site of the golden goal: longevity. Remember, it all counts.


Want to join our rag tag team of trainees? In-studio and online training is available. Contact us at – or call 514-730-6764. We can’t wait to work with you!






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