July 31, 2013

The Rise of the Minimalist Workout

Experts used to talk about how many workouts we needed to get our required exercise. Now they are talking about how little exercise we really need. The thought currently is that we don’t need very much. Yeah! But it will probably be unpleasant. Hmmm.

This was a hot topic at a recent annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine. Experts and researchers who have been studying the minimal workout presented their findings. They have found that a few minutes of any strenuous exercise is sufficient to improve various measures of health and fitness.

“Everyone was talking” about those findings, said Linda S. Pescatello, a professor of kinesiology at the University of Connecticut, Storrs, who attended the conference, in Indianapolis. “It’s very appealing, obviously, the idea that you can get fit in a very short period of time.”

We are still left with a lot of unanswered questions. In the past the formal recommendation was 150 minutes of exercise per week (the equivalent of five 30-minute work outs) or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise, such as jogging. This recommendation was based on science that showed this amount was association with longer life, reduced risk of diabetes, heart disease and other illnesses. However, despite the basis in scientific research, this recommendation has not been successful since 80% of Americans don’t do it.

So now the quest is on to find a small amount of exercise that will produce results without being intimidating to the average person.

In 2006 Marin Gibala, a physiologist at McMaster University in Ontario and his colleagues published a study in the Journal of Physiology. Participants in that study did a three minute sequence on an electronic stationary bike with 130 second intervals of punishing all-out pedaling, a brief rest and then repeated 5-6 times. They found that this routine did the same muscle-cell adaptation as 90-120 minutes of prolonged bike riding. Since then, Dr. Gibala and others have been trying to determine what happens to the body when it works hard for short periods. What dosage is effective and tolerable for most people?

What is still unclear is the effect of a minimalist workout on weight management and muscle-building. If these are your goals, it might be best to stick with a more traditional workout. But if you want to try this now, first check with your doctor. Then simply push yourself very hard during your next workout, whatever that might be.

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