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Can three minutes of exercise a week help make you fit? (bbc.co.uk)
88 points by ColinWright 1217 days ago | 29 comments



My brother was studying for a degree in Sports Science in London a few years ago and asked me to come in to serve as a guinea pig for a project he was working on. He tells me that all I'll have to do is ride a stationary bicycle in bursts of 30 seconds full out 1 minute rest, repeated three or four times. I do basically no exercise, but this sounded like something I could handle and after all I have a filial responsibility.

So I think no problem, head down to his lab, and the first sign that something is going to be rough is that his friends are there (other students/guinea pigs) joking about how likely they are to throw up this time. Apparently it's fairly common to throw up after doing the trial properly, but it just doesn't seem plausible. After all, you are only cycling for a couple minutes. Even for a lazy bastard like me, that seemed doable.

I sit there with growing concern as the guy before me finishes his run and staggers over to one of the tables and crawls upon it. He lays there alternately going bright red and white and trembling like a fish too long out of water. He doesn't speak, and doesn't respond when spoken to.

My turn comes and my brother, laughing, takes me over to the stationary cycle where he tells me it has been set to an incline calibrated against my weight/height to cause maximum stress during the all out segments.

I start peddling slowly until he shouts NOW in my ear and then I grab the handle bars and peddle for all I'm worth, elbows and knees flying everywhere. Meanwhile my brother is shouting at me like a drill sergeant and through a combination of naivety and adrenaline I make it through my first 30 second sprint without too much difficulty. At this point my legs are burning quite a bit and I'm bright red with exertion, but otherwise ok. I coast for another 60 seconds and then the yelling starts again. RIDE YOU BASTARD, RIDE!!! I give it my best, but it's a bit harder this time, my legs haven't recuperated from the previous sprint and I am even more ungainly if possible. Twice more we go through the cycle and by the last time my legs don't even seem to be responding to my brain, they feel hard liked they have been pumped full of oh I don't know, blood and acid, and have barely any power to them. My final sprint is so uncoordinated that my brother has to lean on the cycle to stop it from flopping over. Lance Armstrong's testicle was undoubtedly spinning in its grave. A group of my brothers friends cheer me on, however the guy who went before me is still absent.

Finally, I make the end of the sprint, and stagger off the bike. My legs don't work, I feel like one of those floppy inflatable plastic guys they attach to a fan and use to promote used car lots, alternately staggering around stiff and floppy legged. I don't feel too bad yet, and some sort of manic euphoria has hold of me. You see, I tell my brother, some of us are just built out of tougher stuff. He laughs in my face and tells me to go sit down in a corner. I start to repeat my claims of being fine, but suddenly I feel like the earth has dropped away and I am in free fall. He looks at me again and his smile fades and a look of concern comes into his eyes. Seriously, go sit down. Apparently, I have turned an unholy shade of green. I stagger over to a corner, now feeling like I have reached terminal velocity and sort of flump to the floor. Apparently my body is so full of lactic acid or what have you, that it is overwhelmed, and starts wondering if perhaps a good upchuck would help. At this point my vision narrows to about the size of a penny, filled with dancing patterns and lights. I don't throw up but I assume it's only because my body just can't get it together to do that. I am vaguely aware of people standing over me, concerned, calling my name, but responding to them seems like an Everest of a task so I lay there in my flump, thinking to myself: You see? I was right, exercise is a terrible terrible thing. Even 2 minutes is too much. Never ever again. I begin to vibrate softly as every muscle in my body twitches.

My brother leans down and puts his hand on my head and says: "You'll be ok. If you need to throw up, please use the bucket in the corner. Sometimes people just throw up on themselves and it makes a mess. And hey, at least now you know what it's like so it won't be so bad when you come back next week".

I suppose he must have spotted the sort of mad murderous gleam that popped into my eye, because I doubt my mangled bleat of "whaaabastardfuhnextweekafuhcrazy" through nerveless lips was all that intelligible. He laughed and said, "yeah, I have to get two sample points, a week apart! So you have to come back, didn't I mention that?"

I did go back in the end, but I sure as shit didn't pedal all out. So I'm not sure if the body got better aerobics or insulin whatevers, but the brain, the brain learned its lesson.

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If you get the chance to try it again, don't just stop suddenly when you have finished the exercise, but do a small warm-down phase of very little effort. That may keep the pass-out response at bay.

I'm not sure if this is a vasovagal response or not (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vasovagal_response) but I have this response also. In fact, mentioning it to my doc won me a full cardio work-up from a cardiologist. I get the response from intense weight-lifting and anaerobic cardio exercise (like what you describe) if I suddenly stop. If, however, I keep doing very light exercise, I don't "nearly" pass out (I've never fully passed out from it, only gotten to the dim-vision gray-out/dizziness described here, so I think I was close to passing out but not exactly sure).

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Thanks, that was a gripping read.

Did your brother have any opinion on how that compared to a longer period of less intense exercise? /what were their findings

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That kind of reminds me of when I applied to the RCMP here, they had a psychical test where you ran a course (figure eight, going over stairs, bars, etc...) six times, then had to carry weights over a certain amount of distance all within four minutes. When I applied, I looked at it and thought "piece of cake".

By the time I was done I was similar to yourself. I dont' even remember the last part of the test, just that I somehow did it and ended up in a chair with folks around me having that look that makes you wonder if someone should be dialling 911. They hook you up to a machine after the test to check your blood pressure and what not (I guess to avoid having people pass out afterwards?). I had to wait there for a 1/2 hour because the damn thing kept thinking that I had no pulse, which didn't help everyone's expressions (I was so out of it I thought it was funny)

Thankfully I passed with two seconds remaining, but the ole brain reinforced the idea that maybe doing police work just wasn't in the cards for me

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The generally accepted wisdom in the running community (backed up by a couple of studies, but what isn't these days) is that HIIT is great for making big gains in the short term, but that the gains will peak before a program with proper high volume base training would.

In fact, the way most people are encouraged to train is to build up to some decent mileage (at least 20 miles per week) and then mix in speed work, which varies from simply faster runs, to Fartlek (speed play), to intervals.

Knowing this, it becomes obvious why runners fall in love with speed work: they might do a "traditional" training plan and run slow, high volume for 3 months, and see minimal but steady gains. Then they do 3 weeks of sprints and make huge gains! Awesome! But those gains were a reflection of the base work. Think of it like sharpening an old, abused, rusty knife: you don't go right for the fine grit. First, you grind it down, then successively apply finer grits. The knife won't cut a tomato without the fine grits, but if you skipped straight to them, you'd be at it forever.

The other reason one should be wary of HIIT is the increased risk of injury. Especially in running, if you go from couch to sprinting, you're highly likely to be injured. It is important to run slow and often, so that your tendons, ligaments, and joints (not just your muscles and heart!) are ready for the strenuous demands of running.

Similar concepts are often spoken of in weightlifting, where you are encouraged to start with just the bar and work up.

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This article confuses the term HIT (high intensity training), a strength training protocol) with HIIT (high intensity interval training), a cardio protocol.

Other than that, yes, HIIT is an effective cardio protocol, and much research has shown that intensity matters when it comes to cardio.

What's discounted here is the full picture of fitness and training: cardio alone isn't sufficient, especially as you leave your 20s and 30s and suffer age-related muscle loss (sarcopenia).

The pretty cool thing about effective training programs is that significant gains, and certainly maintenance of a pretty high level of performance, can be attained on fairly minimal training. Three times a week, 10-20 minutes of cardio, and 30-40 minutes of lifting (less if you stick to big compound lifts) can do a huge amount for general fitness. Some abilities take longer to train -- especially skill sports. But the body is amazingly adaptive to constructive stress.

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Perhaps this isn't the correct forum, but quick question.

For 2 months I've been doing 50 minutes of cardio M-F at 6AM before breakfast, before work. So far I've lost about 12 lbs, but most importantly my energy level and focus throughout the working day is vastly improved.

I would like to incorporate strength/weight training into my routine. What would be the best way to go about this? Do I have to stop doing the cardio? Can I do both (as I would prefer to)? Can you point me to some good routines to get started? I posted on /r/fitness but didn't really get any valuable responses.

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Dittos on the fittit faq: http://code.reddit.com/wiki/help/faqs/Fitness

Another good basic primer: http://www.liamrosen.com/fitness

If you're looking for a good solid strength program, buy Mark Rippetoe's Starting Strength and do the program.

A slightly more varied, and less hardcore program is in Schuler & Cosgrove's The New Rules of Lifting. I find the texts complementary. SS has the better (IMO) beginner's program, TNROL has more complete information on overall fitness and diet.

SS is also going to benefit more from access to a proper gym with power cages, chin bars, and bumper plates (ideally). TNROL can be done largely at home with fairly a bit of equipment.

Once you pick a program and start doing it, re-read the FAQs and basics, then post any specific questions you've got to a decent forum (/r/fitness is pretty good).

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This is a great article for people who are unfamiliar with weight training, including 2 plans to get started: http://www.greatist.com/fitness/weight-training-for-beginner...

No need to give up cardio completely, just swap it for a few strength training days.

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Did you read the fittit FAQ? Because that question gets asked a lot.

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I wonder if burpees could be qualified as an intense exercise. 1 minute exercise and 1 minute rest that goes on for 10-20 minutes and it gets me sweating like a pig.

I highly recommended it for people with lack of space or exercise equipment

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Burpees definitely qualify as an intense exercise. No other exercise gets my heart rate up faster. Plus, it works some huge muscle groups (quads, pecs). Great for traveling/hotel room workout or if you don't have time for the gym IMO.

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Bastards, we did when I was at school. Squat-thrust, press-up, star jump, shout "bastard!" and do it again.

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Ah yes, I can remember in school having to do something like that to the point where we were all throwing up. I think that was just the warm up...

Even though I attended a humble Scottish state school, a lot of the time our PE sessions seemed like something from an episode of Ripping Yarns.

Happy days.

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If you are an xfit'er you have probably done the "death by" burpees? "death by" anything is horrible, but burpee's are particularly horrible.

Min 1: 1 burpee... yep, then stand around for 54 seconds. Min 2: 2 burpees. ... Min 14: 14 burpees, you probably only have 8 seconds of rest. Min 17: 17 burpees, no time to rest, keep going! Min 18: 18 burpees, but you never rested after the previous 17 so you just keep going!

And so on and so on. You can do it with pushups, squats, etc. It is a great and super-painful way to break a plateau.

Used to do something similar in weightlifting if we got stuck too long at a certain max of some kind. You start at the lightest weight possible and do 10 reps and move up 5 or 10 lbs each set with no rest between them.

You lift each set to failure (easier on a machine so you aren't dropping weight on your chest or head) and as soon as you fail (no more than 10 reps) you or your partner adds the weight for the next set.

When you can't even do a single rep then you stop and start taking weight off and coming back down to 0 again (or wherever you stared, e.g. just the 45lbs bench bar or something).

You'll want to throw up, but it breaks your muscle down so completely it'll scoot past those barriers.

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I use the tabata protocol http://www.intervaltraining.net/tabata.html a fair bit, either on the rower or doing a squating type excercise with fairly light weight (thrusters work well). It's truely horrible and, for a four minute workout extremely effective!

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The study/science behind the Tabata protocol is pretty fascinating: http://www.bodyrecomposition.com/research-review/effects-of-...

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There are other HIIT techniques, http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/High-intensity_interval_train... and I gather a common problem with the model is that you have to squeeze the real intensity out of each session, which can be hard.

It's also interesting to read about the genetic test for aerobic fitness progress. I wonder will the future allow better tailoring of health care where genetic evidence helps people get far more precise nutritional and exercise profiles? For example, if you are a non-responder you might be hurt by too much exercise, which is non-productive and which makes you hungry.

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If you want to try HIIT I suggest you do it properly, timing your exercises and really giving your all. I haven't stuck to them (have a more comfortable alternative), but when I tried Tabata I was stunned by how much it can take out of you. I actually couldn't finish a full round of exercises - which if you read the description sounds laughable - a mere 4 minutes. And I am reasonably fit btw. It's completely different from other exercises you may consider "high intensity".

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There was also another recent article in the NY Times about HIIT.

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/15/how-1-minute-interv...

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I'm intrigued by the 'non-responder' genetic predisposition: does this mean that no matter what form of exercise he does, and no matter how much, his fitness will NEVER improve?!

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No, they just respond more slowly. That study had people doing four hours of exercise a week. That is not very much. A lot of people would exceed that in one training session (e.g. someone training for an endurance event like a triathlon). Furthermore, there are more facets to fitness than endurance. Strength, flexibility, balance, and so on are all important to fitness, whether you define fitness in terms of quality of life or athletic achievement.

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My experience with HIIT has been jogging/running outdoors. It works fantastic until you injure yourself - and you injure yourself pretty quickly if you don't flat-out sprint that often.

Do they have a 'HIIT mode' on exercise equipment yet? Attempting to do the intervals on stationary bikes or treadmills while mashing the down button after a sprint is difficult.

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I am not a fan of flat out sprinting on treadmills because it seems scary, but all the ones I've used definitely have an option to stop/slow down after a set period of time. Here's an example manual: http://www.bhnorthamerica.com/BHFH/reso/bhf/ownersmanual/Tre...

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Any exercise will make a difference to a sedentary lifestyle. But is anyone training for Marathons with Tabata? Of course not!

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A rare example of a question-headline where the answer isn't "No", but "Maybe."

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It's also not 3 minutes, but 12 or 36 (not entirely clear).

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If you want to try some HIIT training (not running based)check out: http://www.maxcapacitytraining.com/. Pretty simple Web App, but it works. I'm currently on day 5 and enjoying the program.

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According to the article, it's 12 minutes per week.

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