Ad-break exercises

Television ad breaks can certainly be a real nuisance. But have you ever considered using them to improve your health?

Indeed, these program interruptions offer frequent opportunities for short bursts of exercise in front of the TV. After the brief exertion, a comfortable position on the couch can be resumed.  

But is this too good to be true? 

When less is more

The duration of TV ad breaks varies, but they’re generally shorter than the minimum 10-minute bouts of aerobic activity recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Nevertheless, exercising for much briefer periods has gained a cult following. 

Consider, for example, the Tabata method. It’s a popular form of interval training that involves 20 seconds of high-intensity activity followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. The workout lasts just four minutes.  

An early study co-authored by the method’s namesake, Izumi Tabata, found it “may improve both anaerobic and aerobic energy-supplying systems significantly”. (The anaerobic system works without oxygen and is used in short, high-intensity activity whereas the aerobic system requires oxygen and is used in low-intensity activity.) The study was published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise in 1996.

So could TV ads, in fact, be long enough for meaningful exercise?

“With TV commercial breaks lasting in the vicinity of two minutes, the real answer to this question is ‘no’,” says Tallan Ames, Training Team Captain, Western Australia, for the Australian Institute of Fitness.    

“The best way to achieve any of your health and fitness goals, is to block out times in your week to do a proper workout,” he says

“By scheduling two to three, 30- to 60-minute times in your week to devote to physical activity … you’ll be at less risk of injury because you won’t cool down between ad breaks and you’ll get more out of your workout because your workout will be your primary focus.

“Plus, you won’t need to re-motivate yourself four to five times in a half-hour show to get up off the couch.”

But Mr Ames adds that “at the end of the day, if exercising during TV ad breaks is the only time in your week that you believe you can set aside for exercise” it’s worth considering ways to “maximise these two-minute blocks”.

How? Mr Ames suggests choosing exercises that:

  • require minimal space, equipment or set-up time
  • you’re familiar with
  • are at an intensity you can maintain for the entire ad break.

Top ad-break exercises

So what are the best exercises to perform during TV ads? Here are Mr Ames top four, each with a different focus:

1. Cardiovascular exercise: Running with knees high on the spot – “Run on the spot on the balls of your feet (heels off the ground), making sure your knees rise to become parallel with the ground,” Mr Ames explains.

“Swing your arms by your side to maintain the stability of your gait. Ensure that you land each foot with soft knees to prevent high-impact forces through the legs. 

“Continue for the entire length of the ad break.”

2. Upper-body strength exercise: Pushups – “Assume a face-down position on the floor, on hands and knees or toes [depending on] ability,” Mr Ames says. 

“Hands are positioned slightly wider than shoulder width (approximately 1.5 times) and in line with the mid-sternum [mid-breastbone]; look down at the floor. 

“Lower the body towards the floor as low as good form allows, maintaining a stable body and neutral spine with abs activated. 

“Lift the body, keeping the elbows soft on extension. 

“Complete as many repetitions as you can whilst maintaining perfect form.”

3. Lower-body strength exercise: Static lunge – While standing, step one foot forward and lift the heel of your back foot off the ground, Mr Ames says, adding ensure that “weight is supported on the front foot and ball of the back foot”.

“Bend the hips and knees simultaneously to ‘lunge’ and lower the body – the front knee will be over the front foot and the back knee will bend towards the ground. Keep the feet in line with knees and hips; look forwards. 

“Push through both feet and lift your body to return to [the] start. Complete as many repetitions as you can whilst maintaining perfect form [and] alternating each leg.”

4. Abdominal exercise: Plank – “Assume a face-down position on the floor, but propped up on the elbows with the trunk slightly hyperextended, elbows under shoulders, hands on floor and toes on floor,” Mr Ames explains. 

“Slowly lift the hips and thighs off the [floor] so that only the toes and forearms are grounded and the body resembles a ‘plank’ of wood – keep body in neutral alignment, activate the abs and other stabilisers. 

“Hold this position for as long as you can whilst maintaining neutral alignment. Look down and breathe rhythmically.

“Once form fails, lower the body to the starting position to finish. 

“This can be repeated as many times as needed within the … ad break.”

The next time you’re watching commercial TV, why not consider using the ad breaks to reduce your sedentary behaviour?

Remember, the information provided in this article is aimed at a general audience. Consult an appropriate health professional for individual advice, especially if pregnant, experiencing a medical condition or injury, or new to physical activity.

By Vanessa Ilicic, HealthLogix Reporter. Copyright HealthLogix