Fitness Contrarian Principal # 4: Hard Workouts Should Be Short in Duration
I’ve written a number of articles on long and hard workouts and have been telling my personal training clients for years that “when you workout hard it should be short and when you workout long it should be easy”. Yet this is a common sense concept that most fitness enthusiasts can’t accept. One of the biggest mistakes you can make with your exercise program is to have the mind set that more or harder is always better.
The whole purpose of exercise is to build a stronger healthier body. To achieve this, you want to spend your time wisely by building yourself up and not chronically breaking yourself down. You reach a point of diminishing returns very quickly with exercise and when you over do it, it can adversely affect your health. Research will back me up on this.
There are numerous studies that show the benefits of short hard interval workouts for maximally increasing your Vo2max or aerobic capacity. There’s a famous study by Dr. Izumi Tabata and his colleagues at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. This study shows how 4 minutes of high intensity interval training improved aerobic capacity by 14% and anaerobic capacity by 28%, in six weeks. Research has shown that there is no need to run 60 minutes or more as hard as you can to be in the best possible aerobic condition. You can achieve it just as well with short hard workouts without overly breaking down your body. Keep in mind I’m not talking about someone who wants to run a marathon as fast as possible. That would require long hard workouts to get the body and mind ready to run such a long race. At the same time, they would be breaking their body down; however, and could not maintain that grueling routine for too long without some ill effects. In contrast to a marathon runner, someone who is aerobically training for good health can be just as aerobically fit as a marathoner by doing short hard runs without overtraining the body. Even more and more world-class athletes are working-out less and getting better results. I recommend you keep your hard interval training sessions to 20 minutes or less.
This subject comes back to my first Fitness Contrarian principal: don’t control your weight with exercise. Don’t do long hard workouts to burn calories. Eat properly to control your weight and exercise to improve your fitness level.
Research will back me up when it comes to resistance training, as well. Short hard workouts are the way to go. Most studies have shown that all you need is one hard work set of each exercise for maximum results. Doing more then one hard set does not produce any more strength gains. There is some great research from the Human Performance Laboratory of Adelphi University conducted by professors Carpinelli and Otto which compared single versus multiple set strength training. Evidence suggests that for training durations of 4 to 25 weeks there is no significant difference in the increase in strength or hypertrophy as a result of training with single versus multiple sets. They concluded that single set low volume training is the way to go. I actually took some undergraduate courses with Professor Otto and found him be a very knowledgeable guy.
Even those all natural, full body functional hard workouts should be kept short for maximum results without overtraining. Explosive movement should be kept to a minimal duration, as well. As soon as you start getting overly tired during these athletic movements is when the trouble starts and you can get hurt. I recommend you keep your full body resistance work-out under 45 minutes with warm-up and cool-down. Keep in mind, you can create a response and get a great workout in 10 minutes, if you know what you are doing.
Don’t think if you’re not killing yourself with long hard workouts you’re not getting the job done. As long as you’re eating well, getting enough sleep and fitting in a couple of short hard workouts per week along with a few hours of long easy exercise on top of an active lifestyle, you will achieve an ultimate level of fitness and appearance, without breaking your body down.
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Best – Mike Cola