I must admit to being somewhat skeptical anytime I hear people tout “Get fit fast” systems. Seems I am always reminded of Ben Stiller’s interaction with the hitchhiker in “There’s Something About Mary” when the topic comes up. How low can you go? Can’t get abs in 6 minutes, has to be 7 minutes. 7minute abs. Thus I chuckled out loud last week when I saw the latest issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal. Front and center, the 7 minute workout. I followed the conversation on Twitter and read Gretchen Reynold’s piece in the New York Times’ Magazine this past weekend. Maybe they’re onto something.
Let me give you some background. When the ACSM says something, I tend to listen. Having been a member for over 20 years, this organization is the gold standard in fitness and exercise. As a group they don’t cry wolf. At last year’s national conference there were several symposia on this high idea of short, intense workouts. They made me think. However, my habits refused to let me change my own routine. How could shorter workouts replace my longer ones. No way. What fun is it to say that I worked out for 20 minutes today?
We’ve known for years that to improve aerobic fitness one must engage in interval training, that is, short, intense bouts interspersed with more moderate bouts. Think repeats during a track workout. (Something I never do). However, the latest data shows that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is not only beneficial for fitness, but has been shown to help with weight control, appetite, blood flow to the heart, and even cardiac arrhythmias.
What last week’s article in the ACSM Health and Fitness Journal demonstrates is something called high intensity circuit training (HICT), in this case using only bodyweight, a chair, and a wall. Through 12 exercises lasting 30 seconds each, interspersed with 10 seconds of rest between, the researchers have demonstrated “many of the fitness benefits of prolonged endurance training but in much less time.” The authors state that the intense nature of the activity causes changes at the molecular level of the muscle that mimic those seen in activity of longer duration.
Always being willing to try something before I completely rule it out, I asked my early morning workout buddy if he’d like to give it whirl. So this morning we wrapped up our cardio session and began. However, I had to do some pullups before starting, because I like to do pullups. Routine. Over the course of 7 minutes we did jumping jacks (first time in years for me), ran in place, did some push ups, step ups, lunges, and planks. The wall sits made us wince. Then it was done. We were both a bit tired, but in some way, refreshed. My friend said it was the right amount, not too much, not too little. I enjoyed it as well.
There may have been a pulled hamstring or two along the way, but that’s just age reminding us of our limitations. Will I stop doing my longer bouts of exercise? Not yet. Habits are too hard to break and for years I have been told to engage in 60 minutes per day. I am still skeptical of how these workouts will impact my bodyweight, but nonetheless, it was something new and I enjoyed it. I’ll think more about challenging my habits, my routines.
The other thing I don’t understand is that if there are 12 exercises, 30 seconds each, with 10 seconds of rest in between, how do they get 7 minutes? Seems more like 8 to me. Nobody said physiologists were good at math. But we should be.