Does a 20-Minute, Once-a-Week Workout Really Work?

Discover exactly what that style of movement is, and find out how to get the most bang for your exercise buck in just 20 minutes.

Ben Greenfield,
Episode #307

I recently read an article in Inc. Magazine entitled “Why This 20-Minute, Once-a-Week Workout Is the Best Thing Ever for Office Workers.” With one eyebrow raised at the hyperbole, I nonetheless delved into the article and discovered that it explains the science and practice of a specific type of exercise training that I personally implement and have indeed found to be quite time efficient. Here, you’re going to discover exactly what that style of movement is, and find out how to get the most bang for your exercise buck in just 20 minutes.

In the article, the author describes her growing frustration over being strapped to a chair all day at the office unable to adequately exercise, and then her amazement upon speaking to her 50-something year old fit hair stylist who goes to a place where she's strapped into special exercise machines, wears her regular clothes, doesn't break a sweat, and performs a full-body workout in 20 minutes.

She then goes on to describe something called “high-intensity, slow-motion strength training,” in which you would do something like, say, a machine leg press, but you’d only do one single set, and you would take a very long, drawn out, all-the-muscles-in-my-body-burning time to perform that set (e.g. nine reps over three minutes), You’d then hit every other major muscle group, from upper body to core, with just one single, hard, teeth-gritting super slow set and…voila. Within 20 minutes, you’re done.

And better yet, according to a study in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, “Comparison of once‐weekly and twice‐weekly strength training in older adults,” this style of training may actually work—at least for older adults who need to maintain strength. In the study, a group of subjects aged 65–79 years were randomly assigned to two groups who each performed one set of exercises to muscular fatigue. Group 1 trained 1 day a week and group 2 trained 2 days a week using three lower and three upper body exercises for a total of 9 weeks. Using this style of training, researchers noted no difference in strength changes between training once a week versus twice a week.

Let’s face it: this style of one single, hard weekly super slow training routine probably isn’t going to break any Olympic records, but it appears to be a viable strategy for staying fit when time is limited. Perhaps better yet, as the author notes in the article, you don’t have to hunt down fancy exercise machines to do this style of training, and using your own body weight, a kettlebell or a set of dumbbells along with moves such as squat, lunge, pushup, overhead press, pull-up or row, you can easily perform 4-6 different  superslow exercises for each body section in your home, backyard, basement, or office.


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