Are Short Workouts Really Effective?

Monday November 11, 2013

By: Neva Avery, NW Cary Personal Trainer

Well, let’s begin with this…any physical activity you engage in is more effective than none at all! Even if time is limited, you want to squeeze in any activity you can. If you don’t have the typical hour to devote, consider increasing the intensity of the workout to get the most out of those precious minutes. The new trend in fitness is short, intense interval based workouts. This type of workout is typically called High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for short. The idea is to work at a very high intensity for a short duration followed by a specified rest interval.  A specific example of HIIT would be the Tabata Protocol created by Japanese Sports Science researcher Dr. Izumi Tabata. It consists of alternating 20 second bouts of intense work with 10 seconds rest and repeating that pattern for a total of 8 rounds per exercise (4 minutes total per circuit). Complete 6-8 Tabata intervals with different exercises and you have a highly effective workout in 30-40 minutes. Michele Olson, PhD from Auburn University Montgomery has completed a study that showed a two fold increase in caloric expenditure above resting expenditure for 30 minutes after a 4-minute Tabata cycle using bodyweight squat jumps.  These workouts have also been shown to be very effective in improving one’s aerobic fitness, anaerobic fitness, power output and muscular strength and endurance.  They have a great fat-burning effect as well. Keep in mind, to get the maximum benefit of these workouts the work intervals are intended to be all out effort. This, however, does not mean that all benefit is lost if you don’t max it out! Be sure to progress at an appropriate pace for you.  Safety is most important!

If you’d like to give these workouts a try but want some guidance and support to get started, consider trying one of the following group fitness classes:  High Intensity Interval, Boot Camp, Cardio Challenge, Cardio Blast, H.I.T. and/or HEAT. For more individualized coaching consider working with a personal trainer or signing up for upcoming small group training programs.

Here are a few other tips:

Develop a good fitness base before starting these types of workouts.  It’s recommended to be able to exercise aerobically for 30 continuous minutes at a moderate intensity.

Warm-up prior to the workout & cool down after.  Brisk walk, light jog, cycling, march with high knees, jumping jacks…5-10 minutes of one or a combination of these activities are a good way to prep. At the end of the workout, take the time to cool down for heart rate recovery and be sure to stretch all major muscle groups.

Master the base moves first. Before doing jump squats you need to be able to squat properly. Before doing a plank with any leg or arm movements, you need to be able to hold a plank with a strong stable core.

Challenge yourself within reason. First and foremost you want to be able to complete the exercises with good form and technique. Think about scaling back your intensity the first time through. It’s better to make it harder down the road than to deal with injury or burnout. Increase recovery time if needed.

Balance your routine. To avoid injury or getting run down, these types of workouts should only be included 1-3 days per week. It’s still important to do moderate intensity, continuous aerobic activity as well so you are training all of your energy systems.  If your HIIT workouts combine cardio and strength training, be sure to allow one day rest between any strength based workout.

There’s an app for that! There are Tabata timer apps that track the 8 rounds of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest intervals.  If you would like to choose the length of your intervals, try “The Interval Timer” app by Ryan Newsome.  It’s very user friendly and you can choose any interval length from 5 seconds to 5 minutes.