Typically trigger sessions are 5-15 minute routines used to complement a strength program, adding a smaller, additional stimulus to encourage muscular growth. They work on the principle that breaking down muscle isn’t the only way to grow new muscle, and utilise the benefit of low intensity and high frequency. But, trigger sessions could also be a great alternative to your traditional gym/home-workout program.
When our routines change so do the way we exercise.
If you are no longer being as active throughout the day, because you are staying at home, or if you don’t have your gym sessions throughout the week, how can you continue to maintain the same fitness levels?
The three main components to any fitness program are Intensity, Duration and Frequency, typically we might think that we should hammer a particular body part once or twice a week, then let it rest and recover. That means if we focus on intensity, we have less frequency, but what if we aren’t being as intense with our workouts, how should we be increasing our frequency?
With a lifestyle shift we have to re-think our approach
to the traditional 1 hour of daily exercise prescription.
And that’s where trigger sessions come into play; they are simple, effective and perfect to be done at home. We can use them to:
- Move more frequently throughout your day for better overall health
- Make working out seem “easier” while improving your fitness
- Do lots of exercise—without needing an hour of uninterrupted time
- Take short work breaks that invigorate your mind
- Have fun trying out a new approach to exercise
Traditionally, we tend we work out for an hour a few times a week, totalling around 100-200 reps.
You might do 25-50 reps of primary exercises, big compound movements such as squats, deadlifts, pull-ups and presses. Maybe that’s 5×5, 4×10 or even a German volume training variation like 10×10. You might follow this with some accessory work, core training, single-leg variations, or arm work.
But what happens after this hour? Most likely we spend the rest of the day commuting between different chairs – the home office chair, the chair at the dining table, the sofa in front of the TV. That one hour workout is the most active part of what might have become a rather sedentary lifestyle, a daily routine now defined more by stillness, and low-impact activity.
An hour of intense exercise just isn’t going to be enough to counteract a predominantly sedantry lifestyle.
The solution of course is to increase activity throughout the day, and we can do that in several ways. We could split our 60minute workout into two 30minute sessions, or we could add in different types of sessions throughout the day, such as 20minutes of fasted cardio in the morning, and evening yoga.
Take a look at our Daily Activity Schedule below:
Trigger Sessions are another way of changing our approach to training. We can encourage ourselves to make our activity intermittent throughout the day, with brief spells of inactivity. The goal here isn’t to induce physiological stress by smashing out high-impact rounds every hour, but to keep movements open-ended, with sub-maximal loads.
We all know the great benefits exercise has:
“Muscles contract, circulation increases, nutrients are shuttled into cells, and energy expenditure climbs. The body’s management of insulin improves, and we also see changes in hormonal function and energy metabolism. Our brains also change in response to movement. Physical activity, ranging from traditional gym exercise to simple walking, can improve mood and cognitive function, and helps reduce the effects of aging on the brain.” (1)
Our bodies are amazing at adapting to the stimulus we provide. If we are sitting for long hours, our bodies will adapt to be better at it, while if we are moving around, then recovering from that movement, our bodies will adapt to be better at that.
“Our minds are constantly referring to what we did in the past,
to decide what we can do today.”
During activity we interpret internal and external factors, comparing them against similar past experience, in order to regulate how much effort we can produce, and our level of fatigue. Our brains monitor hydration, blood glucose levels, ambient temperature and humidity, and body temperature, and compares them to similar circumstances. So for example, on a hot and humid day, runners will begin a race at a slower pace, then they would on a cool, dry day, even though they have not accumulated any mechanical fatigue yet.
When exercise quantity is fixed, it creates a fixed estimate in our minds.
If we prepare to do 5×5 squats, then anymore than that might be perceived as beyond our capacity, non-safe or threatening.
While if the exercise is open-ended, the body’s stress response changes, and effort level becomes set to being sustainable for as long as necessary.
For example, compare how you would feel if we were told to do weighted reverse lunges, or step-ups at the gym for as long as you could, with being told to see how far you could hike up a beautiful hillside. You might happily spend several hours hiking, but hate the thought of counting 20 reps of lunges or step ups.
An important part of the training process is perceived stress – and there are two kinds of stress reponse: distress and eustress.
- Distress has a negative connotation, can be overwhelming, and breaks us down.
- Eustress is considered positive, it can feel more manageable as it comes in a short dose, and can build resilience.
Our perception of stress largely comes down to predictability and control. Predictability is our brain’s ability to answer the question of what is happening, and whether we have the resources to cope. Control is our perception of the amount of influence we can exert over the situation.
In a distressed state then, our sense of predicatbiliy and control is low, and we interpret the situation as threatening. As a result, our brain is uncertain of our ability to handle the situation, and releases a strong epinephrine (adrenaline) and cortiosl-heavy response.
While in a eustress state, we have a high sense of predictability and control, and our brain interprets the situation as challenging rather than threatening. In turn, our brain signals the release of norepinephrine, and less cortisol. This response matches the mere physiological demands of the situation, rather than the ancestral flight or fight response, there is no anxiety, no elevated heart rate, merely efficiency and a bigger work capacity.
For an example of a eustress-based response, think of someone who spends their day doing heavy farm work, or someone carrying bricks on a construction site, their bodies do the work that needs to get done.
We can translate this same eustress response in our training with trigger sessions.
Such as strengthening a motor pattern by practicing it more frequently, or we could practice a strength skill at regular intervals spaced throughout the day, deliberately not training to failure and staying relaxed. That way, we could pick an exercise such as pushups or pull-ups, and do a few easy sets every hour or so, slowly building up how many reps you can do in each set, while still feeling relaxed.
How to build your own Trigger Workout:
1 – Establish your TRIGGER
This could be anything from a timer to an object in your house. You could leave a kettlebell in your hallway, beside the bathroom or kitchen. Each time you walk past it you do a few sets of swings, thrusters or snatches. Ideally, you’ll be moving around about once per hour, giving you both a bodily and mental break from work.
2 – Choose an EXERCISE
Aim for movements that work bigger muscle groups, and that can be done safely without a warmup, consider exercises like:
- Kettlebell swings or snatches (only if you’ve been well-trained in the technique)
- Goblet squats
- Bodyweight squats
- Lunge variations
- Dumbbell rows
- Ring rows
- Overhead presses
- Band movements like pull-aparts
- Ab movements like planks
Try to choose an even mixture of upper and lower body movements, maybe mix in some mobility drills or stretches, for shoulder health it might be helpful to do twice as many reps of pulling movements, such as rows and pull-aparts as opposed to pressing movements.
3 – Decide on Sets and Reps
Since we are trying to make the movements feel easy, stay at a level where you do not feel a significant burn, and are not near failure. It would be better to multiple sets of lower reps, rather than one long set of lots of reps. Take 5 reps as a starting point.
Simple Banded Trigger Session:
9 am: Mobility Stretches Or Yoga flow
12pm/Lunchtime: Banded exercises: 5 shoulder rotations, 5 pull aparts, 5 flys, 5 front raises, 5 lateral raises, 5 facepulls
x 3 rounds
3pm: repeat another 3 rounds
6pm: repeat another 3 rounds
Eaxmple Trigger Session 2:
8 am: 5 pushups, 5 dead bugs (per side) x 3 rounds
9 am: 5 goblet squats, 5 lunges (per side)
10:30 am: 10 band pull-aparts, 5 pushups x 2-3 rounds
11:30 am: 5 goblet squats, 5 dumbbell rows (per side) x 3 rounds
1:00 pm: 5 Side Plank hip thrusts, 5 pull-aparts, 5 face pulls x 3 rounds
2:30 pm: 10-second side plank (per side), 5 dumbbell reverse lunges (per side) x 3 rounds
3:30 pm: 5 dumbbell rows (per side), 5 single-leg dumbbell deadlifts (per side) x 3 rounds
5:00 pm: 5 dumbbell overhead presses (per side), 10 band pull-aparts x 2 rounds
Of course, you can also just pick one or two exercises, or a single circuit,
and repeat that over the course of the day.
This can be combined with your regular at-home routine, or daily time outside. Trigger sessions work best in combination with strength training, and dynamic, open-ended activities such as cycling or hiking, giving you a greater range of movement variability.
1. References: This blog has been largely taken from Craig Weller’s – “Trigger workouts: The intermittent workout method that could transform the way you exercise” over with our friends at Precision Nutrition.
For a full breakdown of all the reference sources, check out the full article over at the wonderful Precision Nutrition website, who offer an amazing wealth of resources regarding nutrition and training.
If you’d like help with At Home Training
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