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You Don't Need to Exercise for Hours a Week to Look and Feel Better (inc.com)
83 points by theBashShell 33 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 69 comments

This feels like pseudoscience dressed up as the real thing.

"Getting stronger only takes 13 minutes three times a week" starts off with a reference to a recently published paper that looks promising, but the second paragraph is about the author's personal belief that high intensity/slow motion workouts are the best for you. There's no real connection between these two paragraphs except that they both prescribe shorter weigh lifting sessions.

"You can improve your body's function and alleviate anxiety in two minutes a day" again lists someone's personal take on dealing with anxiety and stress. While deep breathing is certainly helpful they don't site any peer reviewed papers or clinical studies that say 2-4 minutes of deep breathing a day will impact your heart rate/blood pressure/anxiety much less do it via increasing alpha waves.

"Cutting out sugar..." is similarly good intentioned (almost everyone should eat less sugar than they do, myself included) but again cites nothing meaningful.

Also this damn site somehow popped up two autoplaying audio/video ads, one of which I could not see or get rid of. Rage inducing.

I am no expert but I tend to read a lot of studies and interviews/talks with Phd's regarding fitness, and the consensus is that the most important predictor for muscle growth is volume (time under tension). That is, the longer your muscle fights the load, the more you grow, provided you have sufficient nutrition and rest.

Everything else (time of the day when you work out, number of repetitions / series, specific exercises, etc) is secondary and seems to only matter insofar as it allows you to stay more time under tension...

So I'd be VERY sceptical of anyone who claims you can have great results in X minutes a day.

With that said, it takes very little time under tension for a newbie to stimulate growth. But that effect doesn't last for long.

The cited study specifically says that muscle growth (hypertrophy) does improve with volume, from 1 to 3 to 5 sets, but that strength gain doesn't differ significantly. There's a lot of conflation between hypertrophy and strength. You can be strong without being big (up to a point) and vice versa.

This reinforces what strength athletes have said for a long time. The point was that in this short study, strength came from intensity (weight lifted) and size came from volume. (Hence a powerlifting program might have 3 sets of 3 to 5 of 5, whereas bodybuilding programs have much higher volume at lower weight.)

This isn’t surprising; strength gains are substantially neurological. Over time, though, you still need more muscle to move heavier weight.

I know a some powerlifters, and their personal size varies with their volume (and whether or not they want size). Some are deceptively small for the weight they can move. That being said, you can’t deadlift 500 pounds without putting on some significant mass, either.

True, in general amount of strength is correlated more with the amount of weight lifted, while ability to exercise for longer shows a more positive correlation with longer, smaller weight sets - and hypertrophy sees similar results with both methods given equal time under tension.

But the title specifically states "to look and feel better", and strength alone won't do much in regards to a persons' appearance.

I'd also like to know the starting point of the study's subjects. Although the study does mention "healthy resistance trained men", I'd guess that they were starting from a state that was low enough to achieve strength gains with relatively low exposure to weightlifting.

You are correct IMHO. We've already done this fad in the 70s when it was called HIT. It was junk science in the 70s, and it still is today. however, any training is better than no training.

It's not pseudoscience, but misinterpretation.

Unfortunately, the author cherry picks the studies (eg. [0][1]) to get the narrative she wants, even though the research groups were small to begin with (n=34 and n=18 respectively) and were quite different (trained men[0] vs just older individuals[1]), etc. etc. etc.

[0] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/30153194

[1] https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2465144/

I didn't think to begin with that in order to look better and feel better I needed to exercise for hours.

How about eating healthy foods? Getting enough sleep?

For me its about what my motivations and intentions are and if your article provides a measurable result to compare.

That bloody autoplay video at the bottom of the page got me too

And all you have to do is try it yourself to have your answer.

The last third of this short article is about cutting sugar out of your diet.


For the last two and a bit weeks I've stopped adding sugar to anything, and stopped having any dessert or pointless snacks that are primarily sugar.

One week in and people asked if I'd lost weight. For most of last year I was hanging around 86 kilograms and probably tending slowly upwards. I weighed in mid last week at 83.

No other habits have changed.

Don't know if I "feel" any different, other than being hungry more often and physically feeling the void of the drug-like high of sugar intake to the point that I need to pursue an activity in order to distract myself from it. Two weeks isn't very far in though.

Most likely just water loss...

Every bodybuilder knows: when they start 'cutting', the first few kgs, in the first couple weeks are almost water loss and glycogen, so you always discount it (i.e. don't count it as fat loss).

Eating carbs (carbo-hydrades) makes your body retain more water. Less ingested carbs means your body will shed that extra water out.

After the first week or so, if you keep losing weight, then it means that it is actual fat loss.

500 calories a day corresponds to about 500 grams of fat in a week. That's surprisingly easy to do by skipping dessert and pointless snacks. 1 kg a week of weight loss is pretty aggressive and if you aren't doing anything else, I'll guess that some of that is just normal weight variation. If I'm trying to lose weight, I'll track it every day, but only note the average amount over 1 month for that reason.

Some other pretty quick wins are drinks -- soft drinks, juice, milk, beer... doesn't really matter what, but it's about 200 calories per 500 ml. If I want to shed a kg just drinking water for a week or two often does the trick (too much beer :-P ). Things with pointless fat are often really high in calories too: salad dressing, butter on toast, muffins/cakes/cookies (a single muffin can often weigh in at between 500-1000 calories!), potato chips. Peanuts are crazy too: 570 calories for 100 grams of peanuts!

Although it is currently an unpopular view, I've found that many people are completely unaware of how many calories they are actually taking in. It's not hard to push your daily intake up to 3000 calories without really realising it. Getting it down to 2000 again is often not that difficult from a "what should I eat" perspective. People frequently have other issues with food, though, and I don't want to minimise the difficulty that some people have losing weight.

Those hunger pangs are temporary. Your body will adjust in some time. Fruits like watermelon or vegetables like raw cucumber help. They make you feel full without costing calories.

Most of that weight is water though - simple carbs tend to bind quite a lot of it.

I've started to feel better after severly cutting back on added sugar,but it does take a while to get used to

When I found myself weighing in 84 Kg naked, I also stopped eating sugars. No change in other eating habits or exercise, only stopped snacking between meals and stopped eating baked desserts.

I was down to 73 Kg within a few months, which is the upper limit for my BFI at 170 cm. I've somehow since stabilized at 75-77 Kg, but that is a huge difference from the scary 84.

High intensity single set training can absolutely work to build strength, if that's what you want. But muscular endurance takes longer to develop. And be careful trying to lift too heavy too soon; your muscles may be fine but you can really damage your tendons if you don't build them up gradually.

If you click through to the study, they say they tested endurance too (at 50% 1RM). It may be that one set is insufficient to build endurance at higher loads (say 80% 1RM), but not clear. The biggest difference between 1, 3 and 5 sets was muscle hypertrophy (which increased with the number of sets). A lot of "strength" training has hypertrophy as an unstated goal, which makes sense if you're training for the football team, but less so if you're just training for life.

Eat meat. Do calisthenics[1]. Practice prolonged fasting every month. There is no money to be made in any of these activities (hence you won't see it as part of everyday propaganda).

[1] https://www.amazon.com/gp/customer-reviews/R2G0WUH73YBFYE/

Scientists: #########################################

"Yeah, let's get 34 males that did not regularly workout and then prove that they can get stronger even with 13 minutes of a good workout routine!

All we need to do is get non-lifters and put the 70 minute group with a shitty lazy routine. That ensures the "year one effect" where everyone gains a lot of strength in the beginning and gives a good advantage to the 13 minutes group!

In the end we'll prove that for a beginner a good yet short workout routine is superior to the lazy yet long one!"

Journalist: #########################################

"That's not going to get any clicks! I'll just say that 'we don't need to exercise for hours a week to look and feel better' based on a research that doesn't even mention 'look and feel better'.

And now we pretend that this also applies to experienced lifters, that's important!"

That's science journalism for you.

My daily exercise routine is to walk for an hour (8000 - 10000 feet) in the evening and then do pushup and situps as much as I can. I am currently at 30 pushups and 20 situps. I have started the pushups and situps only recently but I have been walking for a while now. Is this healthy?

Certainly healthier than not doing it! "Healthy" in the context you've used is not a binary state. "If I do X it is healthy, therefore I will do X and I don't have to do anything else". Unfortunately it doesn't work like that.

It's more like a curve and it's not just one thing. So you can be super fit training for marathons, but honestly you need some excess muscle mass because you're going to start losing it when you are 50-60 years old. You need to make sure that you are flexible because when you get older, if you aren't flexible you won't be able to balance and walk, etc. It's best to start training early so that it's easier to maintain that flexibility. Even if you are running marathons and staying trim, if you eat junk you can die of lots of different conditions. So endurance training, strength training, flexibility training, and diet all work together to help your health.

At the same time, there are lots of ranges of activity where you will be just fine as you age and there are ranges of activity at both ends (sedentary and over training) where you won't be fine (although it's a heck of a lot harder to over train that to be sedentary ;-) ). Finally, there is something to be said for not overdoing things at a start. So while you might want to have this amazing training regimen someday, it would be a bad idea to start out tomorrow and do it -- you want to slowly work your way up to it.

So the answer you are probably looking for is "No, it's probably not sufficient to keep you fit and healthy for your whole life". But it's certainly a great start -- especially if it gets you doing other things that you might not have tried before. And it doesn't have to be training -- it can be playing soccer with a local league, or cycling with your friends or any number of social and pleasant activities.

How much is enough? Try to keep your weight, muscle mass, endurance and flexibility a fair bit more than what you actually need so that you can afford to lose some. Eat a diet that makes you feel good and consult with doctors when you have health problems. It's hard to say exactly what that will entail, because it is different for everybody.

Thanks. This is a great piece of advice. I loved playing soccer and cycling when I was growing up. I should start again with that :)

Of course it's going to be healthy but the more important question is sustainability. Some can keep up these sort of regimes, but for most that's a purely new years resolution style plan.

By contrast very simple things like mostly cutting sugar out of your diet, intermittent fasting, etc can have huge results and are very sustainable since they take practically 0 effort. It's important to do what you can realistically see yourself doing for the rest of your life.

Situps work the abs by flexing them along with the spine. Stuart McGill (who's the guy on spine health) would say that's a bad idea and probably recommend something like planks instead.

Push ups aren't bad, but training your pecs and anterior delts only is a bad idea to do, especially for someone who sits at a computer all day. Get a band and at least do some pull aparts with it, 200 or so every week.

It's healthy, in that it's miles better than doing nothing. In really simple terms, anything that increases your heart rate that you can stick to 3+ times a week, every week will keep you physically fit. The limiting factor for most people is boredom. If walking, pushups, and sit ups is interesting enough for you then keep going. If you get bored, try running or adding some more exercises from /r/bodyweightfitness.

Makes sense. I usually listen to podcasts while walking so it's something that I really enjoy. Pushups and situps not so much. I will move to something else If I can't do the pushups and situps anymore.

Switch those situps with leg raises lying down without touching the floor. Better for your back.

"one set to failure is all you need!" is one of those ideas that seems to come up every fifteen years or so, and gets really popular for a while before people discover that it doesn't really work all that well. Mike Mentzer was an advocate in the 80s, it was popular when I was just starting out in 2003 or so, and I guess it's coming around again.

Is it possible to turn off the irritating music on this page. Sorry, but I like to choose my own.

As little as a one ~maxreps set of pushups every day before showering will have you looking like a soldier after a couple years, assuming you're not starting out obese and are eating reasonably.

This seems like a bad idea. Building muscles using one exercise like that without developing the opposite muscle groups will lead to imbalance that could cause pain or bad posture. Also I expect doing as many pushups as possible every day could cause wrist or shoulder problems. You are likely to cause tendon injuries if you start trying to reach your max reps every day without building up much more gradually.

> will lead to imbalance that could cause pain or bad posture

Citation needed.

It is a controversial suggestion that doing only one exercise as much as possible is not a good idea? Maybe these are relevant:



Regular pushups cease being a strength-training exercise pretty quickly. You're being ridiculous. Once you're doing 40 in a set it's well into endurance territory, and you're not making muscles any bigger. It's like going for a run every morning, and slowly increasing distance as you progress, but for your upper body and in a lot less time commitment. We're not increasing the weight, probably decreasing it actually.

It's just at the start you're doing strength-training if you've never done upper body exercises, because your upper body is atrophied.

Also note I said ~maxreps, the tilde was intentional, it was meant to communicate "around your maximum" to express the importance of increasing it as your endurance improves.

But your muscles don't have to become very strong to get imbalances. You can get rounded shoulders just from sitting with a hunch at a desk all day. Imbalances in your pecs and back can cause shoulder impingement which is a common injury. Tendonitis is also easy to get when starting running, especially if you go for your 'max distance' based only on what you feel you can do.

Strength training is often advised to prevent running injuries, eg. https://www.runnersworld.com/health-injuries/a20788889/fix-m... which is particularly related

So, what's a quick way to develop the opposite muscle group from push-ups?

You'd want to do a rowing movement, which is maybe a bit harder to do without equipment but you could do it with a rubber resistance band.

If you have a sturdy table or similar you can do inverted pull ups from underneath the table

This is really poor advice that will lead to all kinds of imbalances and issues.

Bodyweight training on the other hand, is a great option for people who want to train at home with little-to-no equipment. Bodyweight training includes but is not limited to push-ups, pull-ups, and other similar movements that rely mostly on your own bodyweight (as the name implies).

Doing only pushups is a pretty bad idea if you care about your overall fitness.

>one ~maxreps set of pushups every day before showering will have you looking like a soldier...

This statement definitely needs to be qualified with "depends on genetics".

I'd argue depends on diet is more applicable.

Possibly. But, I was replying to the OP's comment which held that constant.

Obviously though, the body's response to diet is in no small measure a function of genetic factors as well.

>the body's response to diet is in no small measure a function of genetic factors as well.

Honestly I think this is way over stated in relation to weight loss. It applies more accurately to what variation of macro and micro nutrients constitute a healthy diet for a given individual.

Only insofar as some actual soldiers never attain some kind of soldier-like physique.

Generally speaking, a consistent daily, and increasing pushup regime gets you most of the way towards the most visible differentiating feature of a soldier vs. random person.

There are exceptions, it's not really worth fixating on. You, the reader, are by definition probably not an exception.

Keep in mind that only doing pushing exercises can lead to muscular imbalances.

You can create a more balanced body by doing pulling exercises like pullups or body rows in the same quantity as your pushups.

Too many people overlook this! I suggest alternating between push and pull days.

And don’t forget the cardio.

After a couple years of daily pushups, the maxreps should be over 100 and it much more closely resembles a quick cardio burst than anything resembling strength-training.

I do > 160 in a regular set after over a decade of daily pushups, it's not really an issue.

Eventually I ended up adding handstand pushups to my daily routine to bring back something strenuous.


Both of my wrists have been broken in the past. When I started this regimen it wasn't even possible to do 20 pushups without agonizing wrist pain. Those pains are a distant memory, they vanished completely around the one year mark. Thank you daily pushups.

When you say "soldier-like physique" it evokes a level of fitness that is a good bit more than "above-average"; converging on elite.

And, a single exercise is not likely to produce that outcome in the average person. Genetic factors greatly influence specifics like fat-distribution and leg musculature (or lack thereof), hormone levels, etc.

So, the effects of one-set-to-failure will vary wildly among people, even when considering solely the targeted muscles. But, if you're lucky enough to benefit from it, it's still reasonably likely that you'll wind up looking decidedly unsoldier-like from the nipples down.

I didn't say Rambo.

All soldiers go through basic training. Basic training achieves pretty much just "above-average" fitness.

Sure, the military has PT studs, but so does your local gym. Those aren't really representative of the average soldier.

The point is you can make your general appearance comparable to the average soldier's with a very minimal investment of time and effort, and zero additional equipment. A developed upper body and solid core does wonders for a man's posture and overall appearance.

I'm confident that prospect appeals to a significant portion of the male keyboard jockey population.

I live in a military town, most soldiers just look like guys forced to do pushups every day wearing well-fitting clothes. And I'm regularly mistaken for one, even though I spend all my time at a computer.

>most soldiers just look like guys forced to do pushups every day wearing well-fitting clothes.

So, your statement was actually "most soldiers look like guys who do a bunch of push-ups, so do a bunch of push-ups and you'll look like a soldier"? Hmm.

Sure, I get that most soldiers don't technically look like Rambo, but if you weren't using that phrase as a figure of speech to convey "extremely fit", then it's kind of meaningless right? Like saying a "professional boxer's physique", then saying you were thinking of Butterbean.

So, yes, if we lower the bar to say "slightly above average", then your point is "more valid" though a good bit less revelatory. You're essentially saying "exercise will help you", which I think we can all agree on.

But, the broader point you're now making that doing anything is much better than doing nothing is certainly valid and worth emphasizing--especially for us in the HN crowd.

The point was to suggest that everyone has time to do pushups every day before hitting the shower, to substantial effect. That you don't need to join the military to access the core of what makes them more fit than the average person: a disciplined daily physical activity, regardless of its brevity.

I'm operating under the assumption that this is of value to the average young sedentary male computer geek I presume the HN crowd is largely composed of. Most people seem to be under the impression it requires hours of workouts and access to special equipment to see any results. The law of diminishing returns applies very strongly here, meaning you can see a significant portion of what's on the table with very little investment.

Using a soldier as reference was more intended to illustrate that doing the thing consistently every day is the important part, and is a major component of what the military forces onto its soldiers. You don't need a gym membership, you need a barrier to getting on with your day that shouts in your face "get down and give me $number", every, single, day, indefinitely.

> Only insofar as some actual soldiers never attain some kind of soldier-like physique.

Doesn’t this qualification end up nullifying your original comment?

He means that there are exceptions but that that comment is true in general.

Which specific genotype is a factor?

The reality for most people is that genetics have only a tiny impact on fitness and body composition. Unless you're trying to compete at an elite level it just doesn't matter.

If you have very narrow shoulders you're probably not going to look like action man any time soon.

What does "one ~maxreps" mean?

One means one set of pushups, no rests.

Maxreps means do pushups until you can't do another, despite digging really deep.

It was just shorthand to say "in the ballpark of what the maximum you can do in one set is" (note the tilde).

I'm not suggesting you destroy yourself every day. Just that you continuously increase the number as your endurance improves over time. It levels off at some point, in my experience this never becomes a session taking more than three minutes. You can add more sets if you feel like it, or you can add other exercises, this doesn't exclude any other activities you wish to add.

It's just an excellent minimum hygiene-level of physical activity to maintain every day. The more burdensome you make your routine, the more likely you are to say fuck it.

In this context, maxreps means to do as many push-ups as you can in a single set (until your arms give out).

The other commenters haven't said this yet: it's short for "maximum repetitions".

I'd have a look at what Dr. John Jaquish is doing with the X3 Bar.


Why would you travel with (or even use) this when a pull-up bar you can jam into a doorway, and body weight exercises suffice? Also, resistance bands don't provide consistent resistance. Are you promoting the product?

- The science behind muscle growth has evolved - His PhD bone density research being a big contribution - Insight: 1) 4.2 x body weight is required to trigger new bone growth - Insight: 2) people are 7 x stronger at their max compared to weakest range. - TL;DR he's developed a safer, faster way to grow muscle, trigger a massive HGH hormonal response and reduced training time.

"Also, resistance bands don't provide consistent resistance."

Right, and if that's how you train you're doing it wrong.

Consistent resistance is the worst idea based on the science.

You actually want a much higher weight in your strongest range and lower in the weakest. Much better gains and safer.

This feels a lot like an ad.

Yeah but I mean look what he’s doing with the X3 bar.

You must be new to the fitness industry :) Pretty much everything looks or is an ad.

¯\_(ツ)_/¯ wasn't meant to be.

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