Tag Archives: high-intensity interval training

A one minute workout?

You have probably heard of people who do very short workouts—sometimes just a few minutes—but still get the same benefits as you do going for a long run or sweating through an hour on the elliptical machine. This type of exercise is called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves short bouts of very intense exercise separated by periods of rest or light activity. I have written about this type of training previously (and before that, too), but a new study that has been in the news this past week makes revisiting this topic worthwhile.

Cycling class


Previous research has shown that shorter exercise sessions can be as effective as the typical 20-60 minutes of continuous exercise people commonly do to lose weight or get in shape. The catch is that these shorter bouts of exercise must be done at a very high intensity to promote improvements in maximal exercise capacity (called VO2max) and endurance by enhancing heart function and causing changes in the muscle itself. These adaptations can lead to improved fitness, performance, and health.

For example, in one study the intervals were as short as 30 seconds of all-out, maximal exercise separated by rest periods, for a total of just six minutes of exercise per day. Other studies employ slightly less intense intervals for a total of 20 minutes of exercise per session. Another study found that a single 4-minute bout of vigorous exercise was effective. Taken together, these studies show that HIIT leads to adaptations in the heart and muscle and improvements in VO2max and endurance that are greater than that of more traditional, lower intensity exercise.

A new study published last week ( excellent low-sci description here) showed that sessions of one minute—yes, 60 seconds—of intense exercise can match the fitness and health benefits of more traditional workouts. Subjects in the study completed three, 20-second bouts of all-out, near maximal exercise separated by two minutes of light cycling on a stationary bike. After doing this three times per week for 12 weeks the changes in heart rate, muscle function, and blood glucose regulation were the same as those experienced by subjects who did the same number of 45 minute workouts, but at a lower intensity.

Before you get too excited about only needing to exercise for a minute at a time, there are a few points to keep in mind. First, this type of exercise is very intense and may not be right for everyone. At the very least, it is likely to be uncomfortable. Second, exercising at a high intensity may not be a good idea if you are not already in good shape or have other health problems, like high blood pressure. Third, HIIT may not be the best way for you to meet your exercise goals. If you are trying to build endurance for a marathon or long distance bike ride, you really do need to focus on longer duration exercise at least some of the time.

Finally, if you add up the total exercise time, including the warm-up, time between intervals, and recovery, the “one minute” workout is more like 10 minutes of exercise. This is still shorter than what you would probably do anyway, but certainly not a true 60 second workout. And this type of training doesn’t do much to help you meet other fitness goals including improving strength and flexibility, so you will still need to spend additional time in the gym. The bottom line is that HIIT should be part of your exercise regimen, not the whole program.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

How to avoid doing too much too soon when you start an exercise program

Regular exercise is one of the most important things you can do for your health. For many people, this means walking on the treadmill for an hour, doing a circuit on the weight machines, or going through the same aerobics class again all in the name of losing weight and getting fit. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

The current trend of high-intensity exercise workouts (CrossFit is one example) that emphasize shorter bouts of vigorous aerobic and strength exercise can hardly be described as boring and can produce even greater results than traditional exercise regimens. Some of these programs claim that you can “transform your body” or lose 10–20 pounds by participating in a three-week fitness challenge. Or maybe you are interested in trying high-intensity interval training (HIIT) to get the benefits of exercise in as little as 10 minutes per session.

It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. In order to get the fitness and weight loss benefits, the exercise must be done at a very high intensity, which may not be right for everyone. This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

Boot camp workout


To be sure, these types of fitness programs can be safe and effective for burning calories and improving fitness. But because they are intense means that you need to be fit to even get started, so they may not be a good choice for people who are not already in shape or who are new to exercise. There is a greater risk of injury and even heart attacks in people who are unfit and start exercising at a very high intensity. At the very least, muscle soreness is likely and may impact your ability—and motivation—to repeat that exercise the next day.

Ideally, an exercise program would begin with a health and fitness assessment by a certified exercise professional to determine potential health risks. These results would be used to create an exercise prescription. For participants who have risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes, those variables would be monitored to make sure the exercise sessions were safe and effective.

In the real world, many people who have these conditions simply show up at a gym to begin an exercise program, often with little or no review of health history or assessment of fitness. In most cases this is safe, but without some form of monitoring participants who have high blood pressure or diabetes may have problems. This is especially concerning since many people don’t know they have these conditions, which is why seeing a physician is often recommended before undergoing fitness testing or starting an exercise program, especially if you are over 40 years of age or have other health problems.

A good personal trainer or exercise leader should ask about your health history and perform some type of assessment to gauge your current fitness and use this information to start you at an appropriate level. Even the most intense exercise programs, classes, or videos are scalable to all fitness levels, but you need to know where you are starting from. Additionally, a qualified personal trainer or group exercise leader can help you learn proper techniques to reduce the risk of injury and improve your progress.

Once you begin, resist the temptation to do too much, too soon by going at your own pace. This is especially important in group exercise programs where you may feel pressure to keep up with other, fitter participants. Listen to your body, too. Feeling some level of fatigue and soreness is normal, but severe shortness of breath, chest discomfort, or muscle and joint pain, especially if it comes on suddenly, is a good reason to slow down or stop. Make sure you communicate how you are doing to trainer or exercise leader, too.

Maybe you will find that the intensity and variety of these exercise programs keeps you motivated to meet your goals.  But don’t forget that even if you aren’t pushing yourself, any exercise you do will have significant health and fitness benefits.


Nutrition, exercise, and health information can be confusing. 
But it doesn't have to be that way.
What can I help you with?
 drbrianparr@gmail.com | http://twitter.com/drbrianparr

HIIT me, again!

The next time you are at the gym sweating through an hour on the elliptical machine or going for a long run to improve your fitness, think about this: you may be able to get the same benefits with just a few minutes of exercise. It’s not as easy as it sounds, though. The exercise has to done at a very high intensity, often in short intervals.

This type of exercise is called high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which involves multiple bouts of very intense exercise separated by periods of rest or light exercise. I have written about this type of training previously, but new research and the popularity of HIIT training programs warrant revisiting this topic in my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week. And although high-intensity training is effective for improving fitness and burning calories, it may not be right for you.

Exercise to improve cardiorespiratory fitness typically involves 20–60 minutes of moderate to vigorous exercise done 3–5 days per week. This type of exercise is common for people who are training for an event like a 10k run since it leads to improvements in maximal exercise capacity (called VO2max) and endurance by increasing heart function and promoting changes in the muscle. This type of training is also followed by most people who are interested in losing weight or getting in shape, even if they don’t plan to compete in a race.

Research and practical experience have shown that shorter HIIT sessions can be effective, too. The length and intensity of the intervals vary both in the research and in practice. For example, in one study these intervals were as short as 30 seconds of all-out, maximal exercise separated by rest periods, for a total of just six minutes of exercise per day. Other studies employ slightly less intense (still 90% of maximal heart rate) intervals for a total of 20 minutes of exercise per session. The results show that HIIT leads to adaptations in the muscle and improvements in VO2max that are greater than that of more traditional, lower intensity exercise.

A study published last month showed that even one bout of high-intensity exercise can promote changes in the muscle that lead to improved endurance. This study compared the effect of four 30-second bursts of very intense exercise separated by four minutes of recovery with a single 4-minute bout of vigorous exercise. Both promoted a similar effect on blood and muscle markers that lead to improvements in fitness. This suggests that both sustained and interval exercise can be effective, as long as the intensity is high enough.

Does this mean that high-intensity training is right for you? It depends on several factors. First, the risk of injury during intense exercise is greater than during more moderate exercise. At the very least, exercise of this intensity is likely to be uncomfortable. Second, exercising at a high intensity may not be a good idea if you are not already in good shape or have other health problems like diabetes or high blood pressure. Third, HIIT may not be the best way for you to meet your exercise goals. If you exercise to lose weight your emphasis should be on duration, not intensity, to burn calories. If you are trying to build endurance for a marathon or long distance bike ride, you really do need to focus on longer duration exercise.

For most people, there is little harm in trying some higher-intensity exercise, even just one day per week. In fact, many group exercise classes are designed to be a high-intensity workout, so this might be a good way to add more intense training sessions to your exercise routine.