Get Super-Fit in 25 Minutes

February 12, 2013 by  
Filed under Mens Health


5e87d 897922601 e1360623783782 Get Super Fit in 25 Minutes

Shorter workout, same fitness benefits. Score!

Head to the gym after work, and you’ll see them—the people dutifully cycling or stepping on the elliptical at a constant clip for 45 minutes.

While we applaud them for doing something—any workout is better than none—we hope they’re reading this. A growing pile of research has shown that steady moderate exercise isn’t the best use of your precious workout time. Truth is, intervals of higher-intensity efforts are just as effective as long endurance workouts at improving health and fitness in people just starting a workout program—and they take a fraction of the time. (Stuck at the gym this winter? Click here to Get the Most Out of Any Cardio Machine.)

For instance, in a pair of new studies just published in the Journal of Physiology, 6 weeks of three 30-minute interval workouts—totaling 1.5 hours a week—produced the same benefits in the way the body uses insulin as about 5 hours per week of steady pedaling. “It is a massive time savings, and you still achieve effects that are totally comparable,” says study author Anton Wagenmakers, Ph.D., of Liverpool John Moores University.

To understand why, it helps to know what happens in your body after any cardio session. Your muscle cells adapt to the challenge over time by forming new mitochondria, powerhouses that generate most of the energy your hamstrings and biceps use to flex and move during aerobic exercise. New blood vessels also form to shuttle fuel—along with the oxygen required to burn it—more efficiently.

As a result of these changes, you can work out harder and longer without getting tired.

“The increase in mitochondria and capillaries are the two main determinants of aerobic exercise capacity,” Wagenmakers says. And aerobic exercise capacity is a better predictor of avoiding an early death than established cardiovascular risk factors like smoking or a family history of heart disease, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Why Intervals Work

When you’re exercising at a steady rate, research shows you need about 5 hours a week to generate these effects. But when you mix in brief bouts of more intensity, these adaptations happen much more quickly—and the new Journal of Physiology studies shed light on exactly how.

In large part, it seems to be because doing intervals recruits more muscles. Intervals recruit both your fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles, while steady-state exercise mainly uses your slow-twitch muscles. While fast-twitch muscles are typically thought of as “power” muscles for explosive exercise, they also can be aerobically trained, which increases their mitochondria count.

In addition, intervals may be just as good as steady endurance workouts for warding off type 2 diabetes. One of the studies found that both types of exercise boosted levels of proteins your body uses to burn triglycerides (blood fats). When triglycerides get out of control, they interfere with your body’s ability to use insulin, which is the hormone that regulates your body’s blood sugar.

As for your blood vessels, the shear stress of blood pushing against vessel stimulates the growth of new veins and arteries. Since sprints get your blood pumping with more force, your body gets the message to sprout new blood vessels more quickly, the other study found.

The Super-Fast Workout Anyone Can Do

So just how hard do you need to go to reap these benefits? Study volunteers did 30-second all-out sprints with 4.5 minutes of rest on specially designed cycles, so it’s not easy to steal their exact workout.

However, Wagenmakers says short bursts of any cardiovascular exercise that gets your heart rate up to 80 percent of your maximum will work, so you don’t have to do an all-out sprint. “A good way to gauge the effort would be for people to be able to talk, but only in very brief phrases, by the end of each interval,” says coauthor Sam Sheperd, Ph.D.

Sheperd’s advice: Three times a week, hop on a bike, treadmill, or rowing machine. After an easy 5- to 10-minute warmup, start with 30 seconds of hard exercise followed by 2 to 4 minutes easy (as long as it takes you to be able to say a full sentence). Start with four sets and work up to six.

Even better: Load up your intervals with the weight of your body or dumbbells, recommends Robert dos Remedios, C.S.C.S., director of speed, strength, and conditioning at College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, California. Resistance-training intervals offer cardio benefits while boosting your afterburn, the calorie-torching metabolism boost that lasts long after your last set.

Try the Calorie Crush Workout by dos Remedios to blast fat, build muscle, and strengthen your heart in only 25 minutes. (When one Men’s Health editor did the workout with a heart rate monitor, he burned 361 calories and recorded an average heart rate of 86 percent of his maximum!) Do each exercise below in order, performing as many reps as you can for 30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds. Repeat the circuit five times. Sign up for Men’s Health Personal Trainer (it’s free for 30 days!) and get Coach Dos’s complete Calorie Crush plan—plus dozens of other workouts to help you reach any goal.

1. Inverted Row

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2. Elevated Plyometric Pushup

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3. Dumbbell Alternating Side Lunge and Press

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4. Split Jump

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5. Mountain Climbers

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