Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week
When I saw Glenn Reynolds‘ post “Can you get fit in six minutes a week?” I was sure I had a candidate for an Asked and Answered post: No.
But, dutifully clicking the link, I found a NYT health blog from Gretchen Reynolds (presumably, no relation) with the same title.
There was a time when the scientific literature suggested that the only way to achieve endurance was through endurance-type activities,” such as long runs or bike rides or, perhaps, six-hour swims, says Martin Gibala, PhD, chairman of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. But ongoing research from Gibala’s lab is turning that idea on its head. In one of the group’s recent studies, Gibala and his colleagues had a group of college students, who were healthy but not athletes, ride a stationary bike at a sustainable pace for between 90 and 120 minutes. Another set of students grunted through a series of short, strenuous intervals: 20 to 30 seconds of cycling at the highest intensity the riders could stand. After resting for four minutes, the students pedaled hard again for another 20 to 30 seconds, repeating the cycle four to six times (depending on how much each person could stand), “for a total of two to three minutes of very intense exercise per training session,” Gibala says.
Each of the two groups exercised three times a week. After two weeks, both groups showed almost identical increases in their endurance (as measured in a stationary bicycle time trial), even though the one group had exercised for six to nine minutes per week, and the other about five hours. Additionally, molecular changes that signal increased fitness were evident equally in both groups. “The number and size of the mitochondria within the muscles” of the students had increased significantly, Gibala says, a change that, before this work, had been associated almost exclusively with prolonged endurance training.
Weight loss was similar, too.
Now, I’d quibble that the “six minutes a week” claim is misleading. 20 to 30 seconds plus four minutes of rest repeated four to six times three times a week is a hell of a lot more than six minutes of time devoted to exercise. Six minutes of exercising, sure, but the rest time is still time being devoted to a fitness routine that has to come out of one’s schedule.
Really, though, that’s not the hard part.
There’s a catch, though. Those six minutes, if they’re to be effective, must hurt. “We describe it as an ‘all-out’ effort,” Gibala says. You’ll be straying “well out of your comfort zone.” That level of discomfort makes some activities better-suited to intense training than others. “We haven’t studied runners,” Gibala says. The pounding involved in repeated sprinting could lead to injuries, depending on a runner’s experience and stride mechanics. But cycling and swimming work well. “I’m a terrible swimmer,” Gibala says, “so every session for me is intense, just because my technique is so awful.”
In those halcyon days of yore, when I had the self-discipline to run several times a week, I far preferred logging, say, three miles at a decent pace than interval training. Sprints are brutal. Even more so if you do them on a hill. Or up stairs.
Sadly, there are no fast, pain-free ways to get or stay in shape. Which, oddly enough, is why so many of us don’t do it.
Which brings us back to the title question: Can you get fit in six minutes a week? It depends on who “you” are. For most of us, though, the answer is No. We’re just not going to go through that much pain to do it with any regularity. And, frankly, if we were willing to do that, we’d likely already be fit and exercising a lot more than six minutes a week.
Photo: Precision Nutrition