Getting fit on six minutes a week


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Last summer, I wrote about a series of interesting studies coming out of Martin Gibala’s lab at McMaster University. The gist: you can reap a surprising range of exercise dividends in a very short period of time — if you’re willing to work very hard. The latest article in Gretchen Reynolds’ New York Times column tackles that same research, with the alluring title “Can you get fit in six minutes a week?

Surprisingly, the answer [SPOILER ALERT!] seems to be yes — at least to a certain extent, and with one key catch. As I wrote last summer:

There is a catch – the disclaimer at the end of the infomercial, if you will. To cram the benefits of an hour-long workout into a few short minutes, you also have to compress the effort you would have spent.

“That’s the trade-off,” Dr. Gibala says. “Going all out is uncomfortable. It hurts.” But at least with this approach it’s over quickly.

For most people, the smart approach is some sort of middle ground. Don’t aim for an absolutely minimal five-minute workout — but do throw in some high-intensity surges to maximize the time-efficiency of your exercise.

2 Replies to “Getting fit on six minutes a week”

  1. Really? How fit can you get? I mean, if I run a 1mile time trial once a week, it will not be enough for me to be “running” fit, but is that enough to stay healthy? I’m thinking more of friends who want to be healthy but can’t be consistent in doing regular jogs or cycles.

  2. Yeah, that research was surprising to me too, John. But it’s now been replicated by a number of different groups. When I spoke to Marty Gibala, he emphasized that he wasn’t proclaiming “HIT” (high-intensity interval training) as the optimal regime — just as a realistic option for time-pressed people that turns out to have WAYYY more benefits than you’d expect.

    There are some details, though. A one-mile time trial once a week wouldn’t work because you simply wouldn’t be able to go hard enough. You’d need to break it up into, say, three sessions of 4x200m absolutely as hard as you can, with someone yelling at you to go harder, etc. The intensity needed is immense, which is why they actually recommend slightly lower intensity (and consequently longer duration) as a practical alternative — say a few workouts of 10 times 1 minute.

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