Tip: Short Burst Training for Life Gains

Here's how to use exercise snacks to live longer, eat more without getting fat, and look better with your pants off.

I Can Eat More Now. Weird.

I once lived in a downtown apartment on the third floor of a 12-story building. It left me with a conundrum: Do I wait on the slow-as-a-sloth elevator just to ride up to the third floor? Or do I called it "exercise" and take the stairs several times per day... even after coming home from a brutal leg day?

I chose to take the stairs most of the time (admittedly, mostly because of impatience). After a year, I noticed something: I could eat more without gaining fat. Nice.

We've known for a while that NEPA (non-exercise physical activity) – the amount of movement you get outside of the gym – plays a big role in fitness, health, and caloric expenditure. But what happens when you crank up this non-gym activity?

Well, in the case of a new study, you go from regular NEPA to something called "SIT"... and it really improves your overall health markers.

SIT stands for sprint interval training: short bursts of vigorous exercise, like hauling your butt up a flight of stairs.

Previous studies on stair climbing have shown that it quickly improves cardiorespiratory fitness, reduces arterial stiffness and blood pressure, and even increases leg strength. One study even showed that just living in a two-story house helps the average person to live longer.

Much of the previous research involved actual stair-climbing workouts, but a new study focused instead on "exercise snacking" – brief busts of activity separated by an hour or more. You know, like taking the stairs as often as possible over the course of your daily grind.

The researchers recruited a bunch of sedentary young adults and instructed them to climb a three-flight stairwell 3 times per day. Each climb up the stairs was separated by 1-4 hours to replicate what taking the stairs would look like for someone working in an office building or living in an apartment building, except the subjects only had to do this three times per week for six weeks.

As you'd expect, VO2peak improved as did their overall fitness level. They were also stronger and were able to generate more power during a maximal cycling test.


It's no surprise the sedentary folks in this study improved their cardiorespiratory fitness. Going from doing nothing to doing something is magical that way, and taking the stairs was enough to push them out of the sedentary category.

But what about the already-active T Nation reader? Well, for some lifters, it's easy to let conditioning slide. Low reps of heavy weights with long rest periods doesn't exactly improve your ticker health or lung capacity.

I suggest a quick test: The next time you get the chance, sprint up three flights of stairs.

  • Is your heart beating so fast that it's hard to carry on a conversation?
  • Does it take a while for your heart to chill out?
  • Are you turning a lovely shade of magenta?

Then you're out of shape from a overall health perspective. Yes, even if you can bench press a lot.

This study reminds us to simply seek movement. Skip the short rides on elevators. Walk up escalators. Swiffer up the dog hair on the hardwoods as fast as you can. Whatever. These exercise snacks add up to a longer life.

  1. Jenkins EM et al. Do Stair Climbing Exercise "Snacks" Improve Cardiorespiratory Fitness? Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2019 Jun;44(6):681-684. PubMed.
Chris Shugart is T Nation's Chief Content Officer and the creator of the Velocity Diet. As part of his investigative journalism for T Nation, Chris was featured on HBO’s "Real Sports with Bryant Gumble." Follow on Instagram