Short ‘trigger’ workouts can help you get fit without spending hours in the gym, according to a trainer

A woman in a sports bra and headphones swinging a kettlebell weight in the living room.
Trigger workouts can be an easy way to get quick exercise into a busy schedule from the comfort of your living room. CentralITAlliance/Getty Images
  • ‘Trigger’ workouts are short exercise sessions added throughout the day to break up sedentary habits. 
  • Use an object or timer to remind yourself to work out for 1 to 5 minutes in bursts instead of a full gym routine. 
  • You can customize the workouts for goals like building muscle or improving mobility.  

You don’t have to slog through long gym sessions to get in shape. So-called ‘trigger’ workouts incorporate a few minutes of  exercise in short, frequent sets throughout the day.

Trigger workouts can be a great way to carve out space for exercise if your schedule is chaotic, according to Jess Kleinhammer, a personal trainer at Kinetix 585 in Webster, New York. It’s a great option for busy parents, or people who work from home and want to offset the side effects of a sedentary routine

“Instead of going to the gym for an hour and then coming home and sitting for the rest of the day, it’s changing the approach to moving frequently throughout the day to add up to that hour,” Kleinhammer told Insider. 

While you can incorporate weights, trigger workouts don’t require equipment, and can help everyone from fitness newbies to experienced athletes stay active and work towards building strength, mobility, or overall well-being. 

How to do a trigger workouts

Adding trigger workouts to your daily routine takes a little bit of planning up front. To get started, follow these steps:

  • Establish your workout trigger: First you need to pick the object or cue that signals it’s time for a workout. Kleinhammer said a piece of workout equipment like a kettlebell or resistance band works well. Put it where you’ll see it regularly, such as on the way to the kitchen or bathroom. A pull-up bar attached to a door frame also works well, reminding you to exercise as you pass under. You can also just set a timer on your phone for every hour or so during the work day. 
  • Pick your exercise(s): Choose what you’ll do for each session. Kleinhammer recommends full-body movements such as kettlebell swings, squats, push-ups, or pull-ups
  • Decide a number of reps, sets, or time: Set up an amount of exercise you can easily complete in one to five minutes. It can be a set number of repetitions (Kleinhammer recommends 10 to start) or an AMRAP (as much as you can do in a given time period). 

Once you’ve set up your trigger workout, give it a try, and don’t be afraid to adjust as needed, according to Kleinhammer. 

“It shouldn’t feel like a huge commitment, and it shouldn’t feel like a chore,” she said. “Make it easy, make it fun, and make it obvious.”

Short, frequent exercise can benefit a variety of fitness goals

Trigger workouts can fit your routine whether you’re a beginner or seasoned athlete. 

“Moving everyday is something that everyone benefits from,” Kleinhammer said. “I think it’s something everyone can be doing, whether you’re new to fitness or experienced because you decide what the movement is.”

For fitness newbies, it helps build good exercise habits and basic strength. Start with the same exercise every day and as you progress, consider adding a workout split by changing up the movement on different days, Kleinhammer said. 

For example, you might work a lower body exercise like lunges on Mondays, and switch to an upper body exercise like push-ups on Tuesday. 

If you already work out, you can use trigger workouts to add non-strenuous movement, such as mobility exercise or active recovery, Kleinhammer said.  

There’s evidence that incorporating movement throughout the day can have benefits beyond fitness, too. A recent study found that a mid-day workout can improve focus without adding exhaustion. 

“We’re not looking for significant burn or working out to failure because you’re doing multiple sessions through the day,” Kleinhammer said. “It’s a great way to break up your day into short manageable workout sets.”