Shorter better than longer?


I'm sure you've seen media headlines proclaiming the benefits of short duration exercise.

Some even tout health benefits from 1 minute of exercise, can that be true?

When you include shorter bouts of hard effort in between the moderate activity, you are likely to get a better health effect from a shorter workout.
If you read past the headlines, most of the research completed on short duration exercise, is also of very high intensity. 

And yes, results show that the much shorter, more intense exercise sessions result in the same improvements in health as did much longer sessions.

That is, performing high intensity sprint intervals seems to yield the same health benefits as performing lower intensity, longer duration, traditional ‘cardio exercise’.

Compared to regular cardio exercise, researchers have found similar improvements in oxygen carring capacity (in VO2max), calorie expenditure, insulin sensitivity (blood glucose control) and energy production (skeletal muscle mitochondrial content) from shorter duration, high intensity exercise.

Does this mean that you can substitute your exercise sessions for a 1-minute hard workout?

Probably not.

There are some important details to consider. Often, the shorter duration workouts reported in the media consisted of three, 20 second ALL OUT sprints (performed on a exercise bike) each of which was followed by 2 minutes of slower cycling.

That's all out, maximum effort, feel like I'm going to vomit and die effort. It's not pleasant, and probably not suitable for a lot of people.

Thankfully, we don’t need to make ourselves nauseous to get an efficient workout.

The science underlying the benefits of short-duration, high-intensity workouts reside in the frequent disruption and crossover of energy producing systems during physical activity.

ATP is the energy currency of our bodies and it’s produced for a short time without oxygen (anaerobic) and a longer time with oxygen (aerobic)

That’s why things “hurt” when you include bursts of vigorous exercise - one energy system can’t deliver the oxygen required to produce all the ATP you need, so other systems have to help out.

The end result of this “good stress” is increased fitness and fat burning capacity.

That is, if we do include shorter bouts of hard effort in between the moderate steady state activity, you are likely to get a better health effect from a shorter workout.

Instead of 45 minutes continuous activity, try 30 secs of hard followed by 1 minute of easier for a total of 25 mins.

You’ll burn more calories, and get all the health benefits in less time.


Twelve Weeks of Sprint Interval Training Improves Indices of Cardiometabolic Health Similar to Traditional Endurance Training despite a Five-Fold Lower Exercise Volume and Time Commitment. Gillen JB, Martin BJ, MacInnis MJ, Skelly LE, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ. PLoS One. 2016 Apr 26;11(4)

Sprint interval and moderate-intensity continuous training have equal benefits on aerobic capacity, insulin sensitivity, muscle capillarisation and endothelial eNOS/NAD(P)Hoxidase protein ratio in obese men. Cocks M, Shaw CS, Shepherd SO, Fisher JP, Ranasinghe A, Barker TA, Wagenmakers AJ. J Physiol. 2016 Apr 15;594(8):2307-21.

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