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Get Fit in Just a Few Minutes a Week

Is it possible to get and stay fit by exercising just a few minutes per week? Get-Fit Guy reports on groundbreaking new research on how you can improve your fitness and health with high intensity interval training. Plus, learn 2 different ways to get fit with HIIT.

By
Ben Greenfield,
March 24, 2014
Episode #178

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The fitness world has recently been taken by storm with the news that high intensity interval training sessions get you maximum fitness with minimum time.

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But high intensity interval training isn’t exactly a complete newsflash. After all, two years ago, I published Get-Fit Guy Episode #56 How to Do High Intensity Interval Training, followed by Episode #130 the next year What’s the Minimum Amount of Exercise You Can Do? -- both of which discuss the benefits of HIIT.

However, two recent studies have shed new light on high intensity interval training, renewing public interest in getting maximum results with minimal time. The Journal of Experimental Physiology published a study entitled “Intermittent and continuous high-intensity exercise induce similar acute but different chronic muscle training adaptations” and just a few weeks, the journal published another study called "Effect of 24 sessions of high-intensity aerobic interval training carried out at either high or moderate frequency, a randomized trial.

In today’s episode, you’ll find out what makes this new research groundbreaking, and you’ll discover whether you can really get fit with just a few short bouts of high intensity exercise each week. Plus, we'll learn 2 different ways to get fit with HIIT.

Should You Mix Up Your HIIT?

The first study I mentioned looked into whether you should mix up your interval training, or if it’s OK to just do the same type of interval training sessions each week.

In the study, researchers took one group of exercisers and had them complete 6 weeks of a high intensity interval training (HIIT) that consisted of four 30-second all-out cycling bouts, with four minutes of recovery between each 30-second effort. On a separate day, this same group completed one long effort of four minutes – an effort that burned the same number of calories as the stop-and-go session. In other words, this group mixed up the intensity and time length of their intervals. Then, after 6 weeks, the researchers measured improvements in athletic performance by having the exercisers ride as hard as possible for a specified period of time, and also measured blood and tissue samples.

Then the researchers measured the same type of fitness response, but this time, rather than using stop-and-go intervals mixed with steady continuous four-minute workouts, they only used the steady continuous four-minute workouts.

Although the researchers were careful to make sure that the four-minute workouts burned the same number of calories and expended the same energy as the stop-and-go workouts (meaning that both groups did the same amount of work), it turns out that mixing the stop-and-go efforts with the continuous efforts resulted in greater fitness gains and a slower loss of fitness compared with just doing the continuous efforts. The researchers summed this up by saying: “Despite similar acute signalling responses to the CONT (four minute) and INT (four minute mixed with stop-and-go) protocols, training with CONT did not increase the maximal activity or protein content of a range of mitochondrial markers.”

So what’s the takeaway message from this first study?

If you’re going to do HIIT training, you’ll get better results if you mix things up, and do different time lengths and intensities of HIIT.

For example, if you’re doing cardio workouts three times per week, you can do 4-8 short 30-second bursts on Day 1, 2-4 longer 4-minute continuous sessions on Day 2, and perhaps one long 10-20 minute effort on Day 3.

How Many HIIT Sessions Can You Do Per Week?

In the second study, published in PLOS One by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, researchers had a group of exercisers perform a total of 24 HIIT workouts over either 3 or 8 weeks. This means that some of the exercisers worked out 3 times per week, but the other group worked out almost every day (and sometimes twice on the same day).

What were their results?

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