A little pain for a lot of gain...?

I went to a lecture once where the speaker made the suggestion that in general, people either don’t exercise long enough OR don’t exercise hard enough to see “results” (i.e. weight loss, muscle growth, etc).

I typically agree.

However, given that the speaker's proposal was 90 minutes dedicated to exercise each day,  the overwhelming response in the room (even filled with people obsessed with exercise) was, “Well, honestly, who has that kind of time to spend in the gym, or the killer instinct to push yourself to exhaustion during each workout?”.

I think this is a pretty typical feeling by everyone - exercisers and non.

Exercise takes time.  (Sigh...)

But, without a certain level of intensity, it is incredibly difficult to see (or maintain) the results exercisers seek - health-wise or vanity induced.  But, again, who in their right mind wants to spend 90 minutes on an elliptical machine every day?

Seriously.  No one.

Oh, ok.  Maybe this guy.


But, there is true hope emerging from the exercise labs around the globe (it's about time...)!  A technique that is not really new to the fitness industry, but fairly new to the researchers in exercise science labs, is proving to be bang-on for all “results” aerobic.  

The answer?  Interval training.  (Low volume high intensity training, to be exact).

Interval training looks something like this:  Rather than spending 45 minutes jogging along on the treadmill, you spend 20 minutes (what??!!).  BUT, instead of just cruising at a comfortable pace, you RAMP IT UP to your ABSOLUTE MAX for 30s-1min, and then bring it down to about 50% for 2-3mins.  Repeat.


You can play around with the intervals, but the idea is to GO REALLY HARD for a short amount of time, recover, and GO REALLY HARD again.

Some ideas of how to do this yourself are: to make up a 1:00on/3:00off protocol on your favorite cardio machine OR jog outside lightly for 2 minutes and SPRINT for three telephone pole lengths OR swim two full laps easy and SPRINT one length OR pedal comfortably on a bike for 2 minutes and GEAR UP AND SPRINT for 45 seconds (best if it’s in the saddle so you can’t cheat with your body weight).  

Repeat for 20-30 minutes.  Done.

Benefits?  More calories burned in less time is probably the best one.  But there are also quite a few new little gems in store for your extra effort.

First, (for those exercise geeks out there), studies show that low volume, high intensity training increases mitochondrial biogenesis (via PGC-1a, a gene transcription regulator that works with your DNA) and, thus, increased maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max).  This effect has been shown in both regular people and highly trained athletes.

Second, your body seems to continue to burn more calories (~40kcals) in the 3 hours after interval training when compared to endurance exercise (~20kcals).  Bonus!

Third,  while this type of training may seem a bit scary, it's actually very safe!  Even for people with heart problems, high-intensity interval training has actually been shown to increase cardiorespiratory fitness in a range of afflicted populations, including those with coronary artery disease, congestive heart failure, middle aged adults with metabolic syndrome, and obese adults.  In many cases, the increase in cardiorespiratory fitness after interval training was greater than for those engaging in continuous moderate-intensity (a.k.a boring) exercise!  It’s important to note that exercise capacity has been shown to be the best predictor of survival, both in healthy individuals and in subjects with cardiovascular disease.

Last, it has also been shown that this type of training is not only more enjoyable to exercisers, but that they were more likely to actually stick to their fitness plans in the long term!  (Remember those damn New Years Resolutions….?)

You may not have 90 minutes (who does?).  But you probably have 20 or 30 minutes 3-4 times/week.  So get training.  Interval training.

Remember, this is not a "quick fix".  These types of workouts are intense.  But the oh-so-good, out of breath, chest-a-screamin' burn is worth the effort!

WORK HARD during the interval, recover, and then WORK HARD again.  

20 minutes. No excuses.