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Less is More

by Dan Staton, MS, PES

3/26/2009


Before yet another ugly fitness trend takes hold, I hereby command everyone performing long mundane bouts of cardio on workout machines to stop!  Maybe you've heard health care providers or trainers say that adding duration to your exercise will foster better results ... I say prove it!  Duration has a time and place, however, for most of us busy folks in the hunting and archery world, we need the most bang for our buck. I’m advocating that less is more when it comes to exercise, and the following is my proof.

The best athletes on this planet are fit. They can perform a wide variety of tasks very well across broad time and modal domain.  There is up-to-date research suggesting that training in short bouts of intense activity (60 seconds or less to target heart rate), combined with short rest (back to routine heart rate), works both the active and passive phases of exercise, and achieves many of the cardiovascular health benefits once associated exclusively with much longer - and less intense - workouts. This is great news for an extremely busy population that wants to live a long, healthy life, but at the same time is bogged down by the day-to-day chores we call living. Rest assured: Less can mean more!

Our need for cardiovascular fitness is very clear - not only as a means to burn fat, but to protect against the ravages of heart disease. We all are becoming keenly aware of how important heart health can be to a long and healthy life. Specifically, the need for a high level of heart rate variability (HRV).  The more flexibility your heart rate exhibits between beats, known as HRV, the healthier you are. HRV is the measure of change in the heart's beat-to-beat rate. The more monotonous, or constant, the heart rate, the lower the HRV.  The Framingham Heart Study (1994), has previously identified HRV as the only common factor associated with all healthy individuals.  Maintaining a certain degree of HRV is obviously vital to overall health.  Here’s a brief overview of the study:


•    Location: Harvard University, Columbia University
•    Title: Implementation of a Novel Cyclic Exercise Protocol  
•    Participants: 11 individuals ages 32 to 58
•    Exercise: Short bursts of intense effort followed by short recovery
•    Schedule: Cycles (1 active, 1 recovery) of 4 to 7 sets, 3 times per week for 8 weeks

Findings
Short burst (60 seconds or less) of intense aerobic activity, followed by complete recovery has a positive impact on health. This is the first evidence that an exercise program designed to train activity and recovery phases of exercise may improve health and fitness.  So how should you handle this new information?  Less is more and a few intense sets done with the right amount of rest can make a big difference in our overall health and appearance.

Improvements can still be seen in:
•    Cardiovascular Fitness
•    Strength
•    Fat Loss
•    Heart Rate Variability
•    Mood
•    Immune System Function
•    Blood Pressure

If less duration and more intensity is really going to work, then we must include strategies to propel the intensity dial.  Intensity relates to the degree of the inroads - or amount of fatigue - you've made into your muscle at any given instant.  Intensity is increased by:
•    Amplification of mental effort - getting "psyched"
•    Increasing repetitions
•    Increasing load
•    Decreasing rest between reps
•    Decreasing rest between sets
•    Increasing the number of exercises
•    Increasing the speed of movement
•    Increasing the amount of work done at the anaerobic threshold (maximum pain tolerance)

A supposed scientific nugget of accepted “wisdom” that the best way to lose fat is to work at a moderate intensity for more than 30 minutes has been challenged.  When you work out more intensely, you need more energy and hence you will burn more calories and use more oxygen during the workout.  More fat and more calories are burned during higher intensity exercise over a given time period. Therefore, if you have limited time it is best to exercise as hard as safely possible in the time available.  It really is simple logic. If you have 30 to 60 minutes to exercise, does it make sense that working out at a lower intensity than you are safely capable of would cause you to lose more fat? To believe this is to believe that expending less energy is going to help you lose more fat. Not on this planet.  Less is more.


Suggested Workouts

Sample Workouts for the "Less Is More" approach:

#1 - Overhead squat with barbell: 25 reps, 20 yard Plate Push, and 25 Plate Sit-ups, 3 rounds for time

#2 - "Cindy" 20 minutes: Perform as many rounds as possible of 5 pull-ups, 10 push-ups, and 15 squats.

#3 - For 10 minutes, perform as many reps as possible of jump rope Double Unders (two rotations of the rope per one jump).

These short workouts are intense, require lots of effort, and conserve time so you can get on with your day.  Get Serious, Get Fit!


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