A new book out, called The One Minute Workout, claims to have found a way to get fit that is “smarter, faster and shorter.”
The idea of a “one minute workout” might sound completely ridiculous.
But, there is some science behind it.
First off, I should point out that the title of the book is misleading. None of the workouts in there can be done in one minute. If it’s really a one minute workout that you’re after, you’re going to be disappointed.
Rather, the “one minute” refers to 60 seconds of intense exercise that forms part of a longer interval workout.
The author of The One Minute Workout is Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University. Since 2004, Gibala has published numerous studies showing the powerful effects of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), which he talks about in the video below.
The Case for The One Minute Workout
In one of Gibala’s studies, 10 minutes of interval training, done three times a week, delivered many of the same benefits as 150 minutes (50 minutes, three times a week) of traditional cardio .
The interval workout went like this:
After warming up for two minutes, the participants pedaled fast for three 20-second intervals. Each interval was followed by two minutes of slow pedaling. The workout finished with a three-minute cool-down.
From start to finish, the workout lasted 10 minutes. Only 60 seconds of that time was spent working hard (which is where the title of The One Minute Workout comes from).
Gibala asked the study participants to rate how hard they were working on a 20-point scale (where 20 is maximum exertion). They rated it 15 out of 20.
In other words, the intervals were hard. But they weren’t a maximum “all out” sprint.
By the end of the three-month study, subjects in the continuous group had ridden for 27 hours. However, the interval group spent a little over five hours on the bike.
Despite a five-fold lower time commitment, various measures of cardiometabolic health improved to a similar extent in both the HIIT and steady-state groups.
– VO2 peak, a measure of aerobic fitness, increased by 15-20% in both groups.
– Insulin sensitivity, a marker of blood sugar control, improved to a similar extent in both groups.
– Muscle mitochondrial content also increased similarly after HIIT and steady-state exercise.
“Most people cite ‘lack of time’ as the main reason for not being active,” says Gibala. “Our study shows that an interval-based approach can be more efficient. You can get health and fitness benefits comparable to the traditional approach, in less time.”
What About Weight Loss?
The men lost a small amount of fat during the 12-week study. But it wasn’t a lot, averaging around 4.5 pounds (2 kilograms) in both groups.
You can look at that in one of two ways.
You could say that cardio, in the absence of a good diet, doesn’t do much for fat loss. Which is what most other studies on the subject show .
Or, you could say that 10 minutes of interval training is just as effective for fat loss as 45 minutes of traditional cardio.
In general, exercise doesn’t make a big contribution to fat loss. You’re far better off making changes to your diet than trying to burn a lot of calories with exercise.
It’s also worth pointing out that the men taking part in the study were unfit and overweight. This goes some way towards explaining why their VO2 peak improved so quickly.
People will gain more or less from HIIT depending on their starting level of fitness. If you’re already fit and want to get even fitter, you’re not going to see such rapid gains in aerobic conditioning in just three months.
None of this means that you should ditch regular cardio and replace it all with HIIT.
“If you are an elite athlete, then obviously incorporating both endurance and interval training into an overall program maximizes performance,” Gibala told The New York Times.
“But if you are someone, like me, who just wants to boost health and fitness and you don’t have 45 minutes or an hour to work out, our data show that you can get big benefits from even a single minute of intense exercise.”
Nor does it mean that HIIT is “better” than regular cardio. It’s just more time efficient. Think of it as another option on your exercise menu.
HIIT by itself isn’t going to produce radical changes in body composition. For that, you’re going to need to lift some weights and get your diet in order.
But, as far as improving (or even just maintaining) your health and fitness is concerned, 10 minutes of interval training three times a week will get the job done.
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ABOUT THE AUTHORChristian Finn is the nation’s leading authority on science-based, joint-friendly ways to build muscle. A former "trainer to the trainers," he holds a masters degree in exercise science, and has been featured in or contributed to major media on two continents, including the BBC and Sunday Times in the U.K. and Men’s Health and Men’s Fitness in the U.S.