A recent New York Times article sheds light on a new practice of minimalist workouts. The basic concept is to exercise at your maximum potential for very brief periods of time, and reap the benefits . . . not to mention be done with your workout in just minutes. The article suggests the following:

In a representative study from 2010, for instance, Canadian researchers showed that 10 one-minute intervals — essentially, 10 minutes of strenuous exercise braided with one-minute rest periods between — led to the same changes within muscle cells as about 90 minutes of moderate bike riding.

Tabata is based on the idea of high-intensity bursts workouts

Tabata is based on the idea of high-intensity bursts workouts

Sounds like a pretty good deal right? 10 minutes of hard workout sure beats 90 minutes of moderate workout. To give you an idea of what the participants did during this research, “After briefly warming up, these volunteers ran on a treadmill at 90 percent of their maximal heart rate — a tiring pace” — Interval sprints!

Basically it was determined that 4 minutes of continuous strenuous activity was enough to improve endurance capacity by about 10% in ten weeks, which is a pretty impressive improvement for such little time investment. Seems like a pretty good idea.

But . . . I don’t like it, for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, this is not the safest way to work out. You are intentionally training at near-maximum heart rate capacity . . . and for people who are looking to cut corners and are most likely not in good shape, this is definitely not a safe way to dive into the exercise world

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Second, for people who are trying to lose weight this is pretty misleading. You will see gains in some aspects like aerobic endurance and other metrics . . . however your calorie expenditure between a four-minute sprint to a 90 minute bike ride are vastly different:

“This is not a weight-loss program,” Dr. Tjonna says. It is, instead, he says, “a suggestion for how people can make a kick-start for better fitness,” or maintain fitness already gained, when other obligations press on your time.

I guess if weight-loss is not a goal, and you’re a healthy individual who regularly goes to a doctor and is cleared for intense activity . . . go for it. But something tells me if both of these two preceding requirements are true, chances are you regularly exercise anyway.

Our society is constantly looking for a quick fix, to minimize time invested and maximize returns gained. Though this research is interesting and could be used as part of a well-rounded training schedule to improve overall aerobic conditioning. I think some high-intensity workouts and intervals are a great way to gain improvements . . . but I think it has to be part of a larger, well-balanced plan that includes longer workout sessions.

Does anyone here take part in these type of sprint workouts? What has been your experience?