Kim Williams, a trainer at Baylor Tom Landry Fitness Center in Dallas, demonstrates her boxing technique on July 26.
DALLAS — In the futuristic world of winsome dreams, cheeseburgers have single-digit calories; workouts, single-digit minutes.
Well, hold tight to your jet pack. The magic wand has been waved — not for cheeseburgers, but it seems so for workouts.
Cases in point:
Research published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal touts the effectiveness of a strength-training workout using only body weight and lasting merely seven — albeit very uncomfortable — minutes.
A Norwegian study found that four minutes of high-intensity activity — heart rate at 90 percent of maximum capacity — shares similar benefits to four such efforts separated by three minutes of downtime.
The benefits of high-intensity training have been known for a while, specialists tell us. But in our busy lives, new research on shorter and shorter workouts continues to tantalize, especially when compared with the 150 weekly minutes of exercise recommended by the ACSM.
Three months after “The Scientific 7-Minute Workout” story appeared in The New York Times magazine and its Well blog (wellblog.nytimes.com), it’s still among the top five viewed stories on the newspaper’s health website. Don’t let the numbers fool you, analysts caution. Caveats abound.
“What’s important to remember is that there’s no magic in any of this,” says Allen Jackson, chairman of the department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation at the University of North Texas.
The point, he says, “is getting active, the muscle groups you’re working, the specificity of training.”
It’s also the level of intensity, which, in order to make the exercises effective, has to be extreme. Four minutes at 90 percent of maximum heart rate is hardly casual.
“That’s the highest range of intensity that the American College of Sports Medicine recommends,” he says. “The highest! The highest! That’s Michael Phelps!”
Benjamin Levine, medical director of the Institute of Exercise and Environmental Medicine at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, puts it this way:
“Here’s the deal. We talk about exercise as medicine. Like any drug, exercise has a dose and a frequency. You can take a baby aspirin once a night or two to four times a day and get different effects.
“Exercise is the same way. Different types of exercise probably affect different systems in different ways.”
n Here are some tips for incorporating single-digit workouts into your own regimen:
n Go slowly. If you’re just starting out, do each segment slower. As you build strength and confidence, pick up the speed.
n Use it on a time-strapped day.
n Build in intensity. That’s the principle of interval training, Allen Jackson, chairman of the department of Kinesiology, Health Promotion and Recreation at the University of Texas says. “Swim two lengths easy, one hard.” Or go at a normal pace on the elliptical trainer and then “for a few minutes now and then, go after it.”
n Try the four-minute-intervals-four-times workout. For the four-minute segments, you go all-out. Between each, go slower — heart rate at 50 or 60 percent of maximum — for three minutes.