Tag Archives: HIIT

Get fit in just minutes per day!

We are cautioned to be skeptical of claims that you can lose weight while eating everything you want or that you can get in shape without spending hours at the gym. For good reason, too. These claims are essentially the equivalent of a get rich quick scheme, with the same expected results.

But there are some popular exercise programs that aim to increase your endurance, build muscle, and improve your health in less than 10 minutes per day. One is a popular seven minute workout that was published in a fitness journal and received much media attention. There is even an app for your phone that will guide you through the workout. If seven minutes seems like too much, there is even a four minute version! But is less than 10 minutes of exercise per day enough? This is the topic of my Health & Fitness column in the Aiken Standard this week.

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Current guidelines call for all adults to participate in moderate intensity physical activity for 2 hours and 30 minutes per week or vigorous activity for 1 hour and 15 minutes per week. You can meet this recommendation by going for a brisk walk for 30 minutes on 5 days each week, running for 25 minutes on 3 days per week, or some combination of the two. In addition, you should do strengthening and flexibility exercise at least two days of the week.

For many people, these recommendations seem daunting. In order to make it easier to meet these goals, the exercise time can be divided into shorter sessions. For example, three 10 minute walks are a substitute for walking 30 minutes at once. But some people may still find doing enough exercise to get in shape a challenge, which is why the seven minute exercise program became so popular. And for many, an effective way to improve their fitness.

The effect of exercise on health and fitness is determined by the dose—the combination of intensity and duration. Improvements in aerobic fitness and strength are more related to the intensity of the exercise. As little as a few minutes per day of high-intensity training can be enough to improve fitness, which is why these programs include a combination of vigorous aerobic and strength exercises. In fact, bouts as short as one minute of very intense exercise can improve strength and aerobic fitness better than lower intensity exercise done for a longer time.

Because these programs tend to be intense means that you have to be fit to even get started. A very short program may not be a good choice for people who are not already in shape or who are new to exercise. There may be a greater risk of injury in people who are unfit and start exercising at a high intensity. At the very least, muscle soreness is likely and may impact your ability—and motivation—to repeat that exercise the next day. It is smart to start slowly and gradually increase exercise duration and intensity as your fitness improves.

If you are interested in starting a 10 minute per day routine you may want to start with an app or video that leads you through daily workouts. These may involve using your own body weight for resistance or may require using minimal equipment like dumbbells or resistance bands. If you are more of an expert, you could create your own routine using exercises you are familiar with. You should also warm up before and cool down after each session, something that may not be included in the 10 minute program.

While a 10 minute exercise program can improve your fitness, it shouldn’t be the only physical activity you get. Optimal health and fitness benefits are realized by combining daily physical activity with regular exercise. The best advice is to be as active as possible every day by limiting the time you spend sitting and looking for opportunities to move. Walking instead of driving, using the stairs, and taking the dog for a walk are good ways to increase your activity. You should also dedicate time for exercise to improve your strength and aerobic fitness at least 2–3 days per week. A very short exercise routine may make it easier for you to meet this goal.


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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.


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What to expect when you join a gym

One of the most common New Year’s resolutions is to start an exercise program. One good way to do this is to join a gym. The equipment, exercise classes, access to fitness professionals, and the accountability of paying for a membership at a gym can help you meet your exercise goals.

But many people are intimidated by the gym experience or recall a time when exercise meant running, lifting weights, and a “no pain, no gain” mentality. The reality is the modern fitness facilities are constantly changing what they offer to meet the needs of people who are new to exercise as well as those with more experience who are looking for a new challenge.

Since 2007, the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) has surveyed health and fitness professionals to identify exercise trends for the upcoming year. The report for 2015 was published in ACSM’s Health and Fitness Journal in November. Here is a summary of the top ten fitness trends to look for in 2015.

The biggest fitness trend for 2015 is body weight training. Popular for building strength and endurance with minimal equipment, body weight training goes far beyond the push-ups and pull-ups you may remember doing in PE class. This type of training can be done almost anywhere, which is good news for people who are on a budget or want to train at home.

Next is high-intensity interval training (HIIT). This type of training uses repeated cycles of short, maximal or near-maximal exercise alternated with short rest periods. These HIIT sessions last less than 30 minutes but lead to fitness improvements that exceed those of traditional longer-duration training. Beginning exercisers should note that HIIT training is intense, so starting slow is recommended.

These first two trends are relevant even in you don’t join a gym. A good example of a high-intensity, body-weight workout that you can do at home with minimal equipment was published in the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal in 2013. Because of it’s simplicity and effectiveness, it received much attention in the media and is the foundation of at least one fitness app.

Third on the list is educated and experienced fitness professionals. You should look for a facility that requires the staff to have fitness certifications that involve both education and experience. Some of the most respected certifications are through professional organizations including ACSM, National Strength and Conditioning Association (NSCA), and American Council on Exercise (ACE).

This may include personal training, both individually and in groups. Personal trainers are excellent resources for people just starting out to learn proper techniques, set goals, and track progress. Experienced exercisers can get a motivation boost and learn new ways to enhance their training. Group personal training adds a team dynamic and can be more economical than one-on-one training. Again, finding a trainer who has experience working with people like you is essential, so ask for recommendations and references to get the best match.

Other trends on the list include strength training and yoga. Aerobic exercise, including walking, running, cycling, and swimming, are among the most common forms of exercise. But there are additional benefits to including strength and flexibility training in an exercise program. Building strength can make everyday activities easier, help maintain bone mass, and boost your metabolic rate. Activities like yoga can improve flexibility, which can help reduce the risk of muscle and joint injuries. Yoga can also help with stress management and promote feelings of wellbeing.

While this list does not include every popular or “trendy” type of exercise, it does capture the components of most types of training. CrossFit, for example, is a combination of body weight, strength, and functional training involving high-intensity intervals in a group setting.

Even if you don’t plan to join a gym or aren’t interested in the latest fitness trends, keep in mind that even something as untrendy as walking for 30 minutes each day can have substantial health and fitness benefits. And if you haven’t been exercising, this can be a great way to get started on a happy and healthy New Year!

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.