Are short workouts effective?
Workouts used to be something that took an hour. In school, gym classes lasted an hour. Exercise TV shows ran an hour. Workout tapes were an hour long. Personal trainers booked and billed sessions in one hour increments.
Then things started to change. As people got more pressed for time, ways to cut that hour down started to emerge. High intensity intervals reduced cardio workouts by 50%, without a significant change in results. Foam rolling and full body exercises allowed strength training workouts to be compressed as well. What used to take an hour, if you're disciplined and push yourself, could now be done in 30 minutes.
Researchers in Denmark found that the benefits of intense 30 minute workouts extended beyond the immediate changes in physical appearance. In something called the Copenhagen City Heart Study, scientists looked at 10,136 men and women between the ages of 21 and 98 years old. Everyone in the study had an initial examination between 1991 and 1994. The subjects were then re-examined 10 years later.
The researchers discovered that people who exercised as little as 30 minutes a day, could reduce their risk for things like diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, by up to 50 percent. The key was exercising hard enough to really start to sweat. People who took a casual approach to exercise, such as the ones who just walked at a regular pace for an hour, didn't see much benefit.
That trend to get more done in less time has continued. Today you can try the 20 Minute Body, The 19 Minute Workout for Increased Stamina and Core Strength or the18 Minute Execises to get a Six Pack. Workouts are being promoted that take 10 minutes, 9 minutes, 8 minutes and less, all the way down to something called, 4-Minute Fit: The Metabolism Accelerator for the Time Crunched, Deskbound, and Stressed-Out.
Whatever time you have, there's a workout for it. Problem is, there's been little scientific research to figure out if anything less than 30 minutes is really effective. But now there is. Researchers have found you can make, “Marked increases in strength and endurance... with just three, 13-minute weekly sessions over an 8-week period.”
You read that right. It's referred to as “Express Weight Training” and you can get results from a workout that lasts just fifteen minutes, three times a week. The key to making it work? You've got to really push yourself, HARD. Ideally you would do eight to twelve repetitions during a set, with the goal of exhausting your muscles. At the end of the set, you shouldn't be able to finish another rep. Most workouts have you pushing your body to the point of failure.
Researchers figured this out by testing men assigned to one of three experiental groups. There was a low-volume group that did one set per exercise; A moderate-volume group that did three sets per exercise during each training session; and a high-volume group that did five sets per exercise during each training session.
Every group exercised three times a week, over eight weeks total. Then researchers evaluated muscular strength, upper-body muscle endurance and muscle hypertrophy (the muscle size).
All three groups showed significant increases in strength and endurance, with no significant differences in those two areas between the three groups. However, the group that did the most sets, the high-volume group, did see a “significant increase” in muscle size.
What that tells us about traditional workouts is this. Longer workouts, with more sets (higher volume) are great for building big muscles. Want to look like a bodybuilder? You'll need to workout for a minimum of an hour a day. But if you're just looking to increase strength and endurance, while adding a few years to your life, shorter workouts can still be very effective. When you're pressed for time, setting aside just fifteen minutes, three times a week for an intense workout can be enough.
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