Tyler Robbins Fitness

B.Sc. Biochemistry, Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS), Certified CrossFit Trainer (CCFT/CF-L3), USA Weightlifting Level 1

Why are shorter workouts so effective?

Beachbody has released information about their newest fitness program called Insanity Max :30. This is yet another product in a recent string of fitness programs from Beachbody targeting that 30 minute exercise window. Notable others include: P90X3, Focus T25, 21 Day Fix, etc. So why are workouts becoming shorter and shorter.

Well, as I have discussed in the past, I believe shorter workouts are more appealing to people  wishing to start their fitness journeys. Let's face it, it is much more attractive for folks to think of starting a new workout program that is just 25-30 minutes a day as compared to either 45-60 minute home workout programs or even longer trips to your traditional gym.

Oh, trust me, I know. The video seems quite cheesy. Some people like that kind of "flare." It feels like I am watching a trailer for a Hollywood movie. Let's not forget that this is a fitness product, and products have to be appealing to sell more. As cheesy as this trailer can seem, I will not deny the fact that I am extremely excited about this program and will be purchasing it on day 1 for my wife and I.

I have been through Shaun T's original Insanity program. I have also done Insanity: The Asylum, his more sports-themed, punch-you-in-the-face workout program. I have to admit, however, that I much prefer lifting weights and working on increasing my muscle size and strength, so doing 45+ minute mostly-cardio-based routines is not that appealing to me.

Having said that, cardiovascular exercise is important for brain and cardiovascular health. Sure, it burns calories (more, the more intensity you bring), but the main focus, in my opinion, about doing cardiovascular exercise is to improve your heart and lungs and overall health.

I have tried Focus T25, and it is ok. The workouts are challenging and some are actually quite fun to do, but it just isn't the same as Insanity (let's be honest). So, when I heard about Insanity, but in short 30 minute workouts, my interest in home-based cardio routines suddenly piqued again.

So why shorter workouts? Can they still be as effective? You bet they can, here's why?

Take this study, for example:

"While other low volume HIT protocols have reported non-significant (Burgomaster. 2005, 2006) or small (below 10%) increases in aerobic capacity (Burgomaster. 2008; Hazell. 2010) the current protocol induced rela- tively large increases in both VO2peak (+19%) and an- aerobic performance (+12% - 14%). These findings con- firm the results of Tabata et al.(1996) who reported ele- vated VO2peak at both 3 and 6 wks of training, and demonstrate that increases in VO2peak occur following 2 wks of training. Interestingly, while VO2peak is traditionally believed to be determined by cardiac output, a recent report demonstrated increased VO2peak without an accompanying increase in maximal cardiac output following treadmill sprint interval training (MacPherson. 2011)."

So what does this mean? Well, basically, something that I have stressed time and time again. Short bursts of intense exercise is very effective at keeping you "fit" and improving your VO2Max. VO2Max, basically, is how effective your body is at utilizing oxygen. The more efficient and effective your body is at utilizing oxygen, the harder, faster, and more effective your exercise and everyday activities can become. Not only that, but your body then becomes a far more efficient machine at burning body fat stores as a primary energy source, lowering your body fat percentage.

The study had participants using Tabata-style exercise (similar to what will be used in Insanity Max :30), which is a form of HIIT (high intensity interval training). The study subjects completed 4 workouts per week, each consisting of 4 minutes of exercise (8, 20 second intervals, 10 second break between. Total time = 4 minutes). Yes, you read that correctly. In just 16 mins of exercise every week, these individuals improved their VO2Max, but maybe more importantly for many of you, they also had an increase in mitochondrial protein.

If you remember back to your high school biology days, mitochondria are considered the "power plants" of your cells. They have a number of functions, but the function that is most important to those exercising, is the production of energy through aerobic means.

So, with intense exercise, your body becomes more efficient at burning body fat as a primary energy source, leading you to be more effective at everything else you do throughout your day, burning more body fat during every other activity that you are doing.

So, we know that short, intense intervals are great for improving aerobic conditioning. But what about burning calories and dropping body fat?

A study done by McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada found that men who performed sprint intervaltraining for a total of 2.5 hours (including recovery) over the course of 2weeks has the same results as the group who performed endurance training for atotal of 10.5 hours over the same time period.

Yes, its alright to go back and read that again. 1/5th of the time for the same results! Another study following a group of 15 women found that high-intensity exercise (40 to 45 minutes approximately four times weekly at a mean HR of 163 bpm) reduced body fat by about 5 percent over the course of 15 weeks versus a virtually unchanged percentage in the group that performed exercise at a lower heart rate (132 beats per minute).

Long-duration cardio sessions have a place in your training block if you are training for something specific like a marathon in which you wish to improve your overall time. However, when it comes to aerobic conditioning, calorie burn, and overall health, about 30 minutes of intense exercise is really all you need!