The Power of 5-Minute Practice Snacks

No time to train? Take small, frequent breaks and before you know it you'll be practicing ninety minutes a day.

One of the most common obstacles to training is a lack of time to practice, play, move, or whatever you want to call it. In various stages of my life, I’ve had the same problem, or at least the same perception of not having time to train. Being the obsessive type, I’ve figured out some interesting ways to get practice in, and today I would like to share one of my favorites.

I used to work in a stockroom at a shoe store. We were busy, so I was hustling the whole time to get the shoes put away and log in the new arrivals. When I wasn’t there, I spent every moment training martial arts and hanging out with my girlfriend (now my wife). I knew martial arts was what I wanted to do with my life, so I practiced obsessively every moment I could. When I wasn’t practicing, I was thinking about practicing. But I never felt like I had enough time, and I was always thirsty for more.

So I started practicing at work.

The Five-Minute Practice Snack

I would sneak in thirty seconds, a few minutes, or sometimes even longer practice breaks between rounds of shoe stocking. If there was someone working in the stock room with me, I took frequent bathroom breaks to practice. When I walked to work, I made pit stops on small, secluded side streets or in playgrounds and parks to practice for five-minute blocks of time. Accumulated over the course of a day, I was getting an extra 60-90 minutes of practice time. I squeezed the hell out of every possible chance I could get.

I teach Brazilian jiu jitsu full time now, so the practice paid off. I am fortunate to be able to teach and train all day, pretty much every day. The trade off is I don’t devote as much time to practice the other things I love. The running, jumping, climbing, and other skills of MovNat need the same practice time to sharpen and maintain as my martial arts skills. So now, I apply the five-minute break strategy to my MovNat practice. Here’s what a session might look like:

On my way into the gym, I take five-minute pit stops in the same parks and playgrounds where I used to practice martial arts. Now I practice my jumping, crawling, climbing and other skills in between jiu jitsu lessons. Or sometimes between rounds of sparring, I will fit in a mini session of lifting and carrying. The point is, I can always find a scrap of time here and a scrap of time there. When you add them up over the course of a day, a week, or a month, it amounts to a lot of training time.

6 Tips for Success

The idea is pretty simple, but there are some points I should mention to facilitate things:

1. Pack a Costume Change

I always wear clothes and shoes I can easily move in. To be honest, according to my wife (and everyone else with eyes) I have a distinct lack of fashion sense, so my choices in attire are determined by its comfort and ability to endure repetitive scraping on tree bark and concrete. If you wear nicer clothing for work, a simple solution is to wear board shorts and a tee shirt underneath so that, just like Superman, you can change in an instant for a quick session. For me, jeans, a tee shirt, and minimalist shoes/sneakers work just fine.

2. Set a Timer

I always leave early for work so I have at least five minutes to play. When I make my pit stops, I set a timer and get going.

3. Bring Clean-up Supplies

Carry wet wipes with you, or whatever they are called. You know what I’m talking about – those little wipes you get at buffets and barbeque restaurants. I carry these because if I’m on the way somewhere and I climb some trees or a playground set, my hands get all kinds of stuff on them, dirt being the least gross. It’s helpful to be able to clean yourself up a little if you’re on the way to work or somewhere to eat.

4. Plan Ahead

Have a rough idea of what you want to do beforehand. You can make more out of a five-minute session if you know you are going to sequence running, jumping, and climbing. If your goal is more light-hearted play, then a plan isn’t quite as important, but it still helps to set a rough guideline (for example, to keep moving nonstop for the duration of the session).

5. Segment the Movements

If you aren’t sure what to practice or you don’t have much space (like a small bathroom,for example), you can always practice segments of a movement. You don’t have to have a full tree-climbing practice to move naturally. You can practice some of the components of a climb, like reaching high or practicing the shoulder range of motion you would use if you were brachiating. Or you could practice lifting your leg for reps at a specific angle that mimics a climbing movement. Practicing components of larger movements is a great way to work on technical skills or and develop your weak links.

6. Have Fun

The role of play cannot be emphasized enough. I’m all for serious practice, but I think making time for five-minute light hearted “play snacks” is especially valuable in a civilization that is riddled with never-ending mental stress. Make a game out of movement skills. See how many times you can hacky sack bounce a wadded up paper towel, or just goof around and dance for five minutes. There’s something relieving about being a kid again.

This opportunistic, scavenger-like approach to practice will advance your skills and also help you blow off steam during a stressful day. While I use this approach for natural movement practices, it can be applied to circus arts, martial arts, or other movement practices just as easily. My only caveat would be to think twice before practicing hand balancing in a public bathroom.

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