What if I told you that Science has proven that every muscle needs at most 90 seconds per week under appropriate resistance conditions to reach its maximum positive effects? By this is understood that a workout of approximately 20 minutes per week is enough to optimize both the physiological and muscular effects. This looks strange because normally we believe that the more you train the better you perform. At the same time we engage in the commonly called “aerobic” activities that last long in order to lose fat. Unfortunately, long distance activities are not so effective in weight loss and at the same time they do not seem to necessarily have the cardiovascular benefits we believed they had. There exist, in general, several myths that will be explained later. Also, it is going to be clear why this kind of training definitely makes sense!
It’s a workout with the least time needs but it requires full focus and maximum performance.
There are 5 exercises recommended that are performed once (1 set to maximum) however it is not obligatory to follow them and you can pick others. The use of machines instead of free weights is, also, recommended because the chances of injury are less and it is easier to concentrate in the activity.
What must ALWAYS be followed is the below mentality:
- Every repetition should last at least 10 seconds. The rule of thumb is to move the weights as slowly as possible but not until you reach the point of sequences of start and stop. The important thing is all the time to be focused and in control of the weights.
- Every exercise-set should end after you have been trying for more than 5 seconds to move the weights but hadn’t succeeded. They are stuck. This means that you have, for sure, used all your energy sources. These last five seconds are crucial! So don’t just throw the weights. Of course, previously, you should have been motivated by your personal trainer or your gym-mate. The presence of another person is important because when you reach high intensity resistance your brain starts to create feelings of stress or even panic. That you are not able to lift it. Don’t ever forget how important is to reach the point of failure.
- Every exercise-set should last between 60-90 seconds. Which means around 6-9 repetitions. This is how we achieve the optimal muscle recruitment. You need to find the equivalent weight so that you will need neither more nor less time than this to reach the point of failure. In the first day you have to experiment in order to find the weight that suits you. If you perform the exercise and you have more to give increase the pounds by 20% and perform again. The opposite if you run out of energy before the first 60-70 seconds.
- The exercises should be performed sequentially with half up to a minute break between them.
The 5 recommended exercises that are not obligatory are the following:
- Seated Row
- Chest Press
- Overhead Press
- Leg Press
(I have included pictures of the exercises throughout the article)
If you prefer the free weights you can do these:
- Bent over Barbell Row
- Standing Overhead Press
- Dead Lift
- Bench Press
You can see the author of the Body by Science book, Doug McGuff, MD performing one set to maximum:
The Science Behind High Intensity Excercise
First of all, we should define exercise as the minimum amount of physical activity that works as a positive enhancement to the body towards optimal health and fitness. Humans throughout our evolutionary past had to maintain a balance between two states, catabolic (the state which results in the breaking down of the organism) and anabolic (the state of the building up of the organism). This balance together with the absence of any pathology and disease is the definition of health, whereas fitness is the body’s ability to withstand, recover from, and adapt to environmental threats in the form of stress-producing agents that act upon the organism, as Dougg McGuff explains. The problem is that not all the types of exercise benefit you in both aspects. There are many statistical profiles of athletes with fantastic fitness abilities but their health is not in a similar level. There exist exercises that do not stimulate enough the mechanical and metabolism mechanisms for fitness increase when others undermine health through repeated movement. An example of the latter case is extreme long distance running or swimming where specific muscle fibres are recruited repetitively. By being in a long term catabolic state there is not enough anabolic time left for them to recover resulting in serious injuries and body incapabilities after decades of performing this activity. Knee or lower-back problems are very commonly observed.
Together with the above goes the rule of the Minimum Effective Dose (MED) or Minimum Effective Load. In the beginning of 70’s a genius scientist called Arthur Jones first defined it as the smallest dose that will produce a desired outcome. Other scientists like Ellington Darden, and Matt Brzycki followed in the later years. They meant that, in example, water is boiled in 100 degrees of Celsius and more heat will not boil it more. If you need 15 minutes of sun tan to stimulate your body melanin then this is your MED and staying longer below the sun will not make you darker and possibly you ‘ll get burnt. Everything above the MED is useless and there is a great chance it will freeze growth. This is how your body, also, is stimulated by exercise. You need to build yourself up and not beat yourself up, as exercise trainer and rehab expert Fred Hahn wisely mentioned. Fred Hahn is co-author, with Dr. Michael Eades and Dr. Mary Dan Eades of the book The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution: The Slow-Motion Exercise That Will Change Your Body in 30 Minutes A Week. You have to take into account the benefits of resting. So the more you exercise by no means is linked to increased health. Adequate resting will result in the appropriate muscle fibres’ rebuilding, mitochondria increase et c. This way will be achieved the balance between the breaking down and the building up of the organism, the anabolic and catabolic states.
Training, then, must be intense enough but not too much, Hahn mentioned. Health will improve but only up until it rises to a normal physiological baseline, McGuff says. Each muscle’s Minimum Effective Dose is 60-90 seconds per week is science’s finding. There can be individual differences but the main rule is around there. It is the equivalent of staying 15 minutes below the sun, as Tim Ferriss had used as an example. Things are simpler than our minds make them. This amount of time is enough to stimulate the hormonal cascade of local muscle growth mechanism and everything above is a road that may lead to injury. If you prefer to do 5 sets of 10 repetitions without reaching the maximum then this is the equivalent of staying one hour below the sun. This once again came from Ferriss. If in 80 seconds, by using the appropriate weights, you managed to reach your limits and cannot move the weights by no means, then that’s it. This state is called Momentary Muscular Success or Point of Deep Fatigue.
Two Important Studies on High Intensity Training
In 2005 the study Six sessions of sprint interval training increases muscle oxidative potential and cycle endurance capacity in humans by the McMaster University was published in the Journal of Applied Physiology. More or less they found out that “six minutes of pure, hard exercise once a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity.” Changes in skeletal muscle and endurance capacity that were believed to require long training hours were proven to be able to come as a result of very intense exercise.
The same year the same group with Martin Gibala on the lead entered the lab once again (Effect of short-term sprint interval training on human skeletal muscle carbohydrate metabolism during exercise and time-trial performance) and measured the differences in muscular endurance and the molecular and cellular adaptations in skeletal muscle of two groups, one that was performing high intensity exercise and one with a more conventional endurance exercise. Even though the first group spent 97.5% time less, both groups improved the same at all levels.
Both of these studies indicate that 6-9 minutes of up to failure training can produce the same muscle enzymes as a moderate workout of 4.5-6 hours per week.
Cardiovascular System and High Intensity Exercise
It has to be stated that the heart and the lungs don’t understand where the mechanical movement comes from, in order to provide with oxygen. The lungs aren’t aware if you are running and you are using mostly the legs or if you are training the biceps. Therefore high intensity is high intensity for them whichever their origins are. They just need to provide the appropriate requirements. Later studies showed that a significant improvement to the cardiovascular system could come from intensity and not from the amount
of time you spend in the exercise. In other words, a 2 km run in 9 minutes has greater effects than a 2 km run in 14 and so on. On the one side of the spectrum imagine doing chest for a certain amount of time and just stop when this time has passed. You can understand that the muscular and cardiovascular stimulus is too low. On the other side, extreme distance running may be intense but is has this moving repetition that doesn’t leave enough time for the muscle fibres to recover resulting in health implications. With the right choice of the type and time of exercise you can achieve enough positive health and fitness effects whereas the breaking down of the body through exercise will not be enough to undermine both.
After the above you can understand that the cardiovascular improvement cannot be differentiated from the high-intensity training (as we said every muscle activity has oxygen needs from the lungs and the heart, what counts is how much it needs every time, how intense the movement is). There existed a mistaken belief
that the commonly called aerobic activity could be isolated from the other parts of metabolism and be trained by itself. The truth is that after observing several processes inside the cells, we can see that by pushing the cycle of glycolysis as much as possible (through high intensity anaerobic exercise) you can increase the Krebs Cycle (aerobic cycle). With low intensity training, the aerobic cycle remains unaffected.
Weight Loss Effects of High Intensity Training
Another myth was that high intensity training doesn’t burn fat. However, through severe muscle exertion the hormones adrenaline and glucagon stimulate a process of more effective use of fatty acids. At the same time high intensity exercise also favours the efficient mobilization of glycogen for its use as energy provider to the muscles. The body gets in an emergency state resulting in emptying the glycogen stores of the liver
and skeletal muscle. This process is an amplification cascade and also releases the fat to the mitochondria for energy use. The whole amplification cascade decreases the insulin sensitivity and makes body fat more difficult to be stored due to the absence of glycogen from the muscles. This, by the way, is a general rule if you want to lose fat. Decrease the carbohydrate (that will become glycogen) consumption. Also, full glycogen stores combined with carbohydrate consumption stimulate the production of fatty acids, a condition that drives up the creation of very low density lipoprotein (LDL), also known as “bad cholesterol.” However, most people believe that the problems with cardiac disease come from meats although no serious scientific evidence exists in favour of this.
Muscle Fiber Types and their Uses
Human body’s muscle fibres can be put in four categories. The three of them are the fast-twitching ones that lack endurance but have much power and the last is the slow twitch that have much endurance but not power. The latter ones are typically used mostly from endurance athletes.
When we engage in an activity the motor cortex of the brain follows the so called “orderly recruitment“. The brain recruits the appropriate muscle fibres not according to how quickly we want to perform the activity but by how much is the resistance felt by the muscle. This is an efficiency mechanism of the brain because the different fibre categories use different amounts of energy. So if for instance we want to lift a weight, first are recruited the slow twitch fibres that are the less costly in energy but have the least power of all. If the resistance is more the brain recruits the first fast twitch fibres that need more energy and have more mass and thus power. If the resistance is even more the intermediate fast twitch fibres that are even stronger are recruited and later we may recruit the highest order fibres.
The slow twitch fibres are fatiguing slower and as we go to faster twitch ones they fatigue quicker even though they can resist more force. At the same time, the more quickly the fibre fatigues the slower it recovers.
And this is where the component of time takes part. If you lift a heavy weight immediately then you are going to recruit only the very fast twitch fibres which are going to fatigue quickly, release lactic acid and maybe result in an injury. If you lift only light weights or do jogging you are recruiting only the slow twitch fibres leaving the others full of glycogen, untrained and at the same time you hyper-fatigue the slow-twitch fibres due to many repetitions.
However, if over a certain period of time with moderately heavy load you recruit the slower units, fatigue them and gradually move to higher order fibres you provide with the body with the normal stimulus. This is exactly how the program is made. You are using the exact time for the slow twitch fibres to fatigue and to progress to the next higher order fibres but not enough time for the slow twitch units to recover and come again to use and thus block the sequential recruitment.
As for the recruitment of the fibres, even though the slow twitch motor units need 90 seconds to recover, the fastest twitch ones need from 4-10 days. This means that if you go to the gym 3 days after this workout, your performance will be dropped. It, as well, means that you have to be careful with your recovery period. If you provide the body with more stimulus than it can afford (the muscle fibres haven’t recovered) then you affect the breaking down/building up balance and thus your health. The workout creates inflammatory effects and damages that result in the resistance of the fibres. More than two times per week is totally unacceptable as long as you perform the one set to failure right. A study from Utah’s Strength laboratory found statistically similar effects in an experiment participants that were doing leg press once per week with the ones that were doing it twice.
Try it correctly and you will notice the benefits from the very first time!