I started working with a new client a month ago, I’ll call him Jim. Jim, in his late 40’s, wanted to lose fat, increase his work capacity, and gain some muscle, the usual requests. While going through his exercise history, he said that he walked on the treadmill or did the Stairmaster for 30 minutes, at least four times per week. He also mixed in 15-20 minutes of strength work with weights and physioballs, so that after showering, he’d spend approximately 90 minutes at the gym. He was frustrated; he wasn’t losing weight, he didn’t feel much stronger, and he was spending a lot of time doing it. I drastically changed his program, and he’s seeing and feeling the benefits.

As I’ve been talking about for  a couple of years, interval training is extremely potent. Many athletes mix in a couple of interval training sessions along with their endurance work. That’s been the training dogma for as long as I can remember. But more and more research is showing that it appears humans can increase endurance and strength with just a few minutes of exercise each week. Of course, the catch is that the exercise must be strenuous enough to elicit this response (it has to hurt), but for the host of non-exercisers who “can’t find the time” may not have that excuse to use anymore.

In a recent study at the exercise lab at McMaster University in Ontario Canada, Dr. Martin Gibala and colleagues had a group of college students who were healthy but not athletes ride a stationary bike at a sustainable pace for 90 to 120 minutes. They had another group grunt through a series of 20 to 30 second strenuous intervals, at the highest intensity they could handle. This group rested for four minutes, then repeated the cycle four to six times.

Each group exercised three times a week. After two weeks, both groups showed identical increases in their endurance, even though one group had exercised for six to  nine minutes while the other group exercised for five hours. Intramuscular changes in mitochondria (structures that enable muscle cells to use oxygen) increased  identically in both groups. The short, intense bouts also aided in weight loss. Other researchers have shown that these brief, intense sessions also improve cardiac health, even in those with cardiac disease.

Back to Jim. I shortened his time on the Stairmaster to eight 15 second hard intervals, followed by 90 seconds of rest(total time ~15 minutes), added 10 minutes of 30:10 second exercises and Jim is in the locker room in a half-hour. He’s also upped his intensity level on the stairs and had lost three pounds! So lets see, exercising 4 x/week = , two hours, he’s more fit and has lost fat.

Seriously folks, this new type of training is rewriting Exercise Physiology texts as we speak. Maybe it’s time for you to get on board.

Stay well, John R Blilie, M.S.