Yet Another Reason You Could Be Wasting Your Time With Long, Slow Fat-Burning Aerobic Workouts

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High-Intensity Interval Training Is Time-Efficient and Effective, Study Suggests

You may have read a post from a few weeks ago about why you could be wasting your time with long, slow fat-burning workouts. Click here if you want to check it out (will open in a new window).

There's more news today. Check out this excerpt from the Science Daily:

“The usual excuse of “lack of time” for not doing enough exercise is blown away by new research published in The Journal of Physiology.

The study, from scientists at Canada's McMaster University, adds to the growing evidence for the benefits of short term high-intensity interval training (HIT) as a time-efficient but safe alternative to traditional types of moderate long term exercise. Astonishingly, it is possible to get more by doing less!

“We have shown that interval training does not have to be ‘all out' in order to be effective,” says Professor Martin Gibala. “Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously.”

HIT means doing a number of short bursts of intense exercise with short recovery breaks in between. The authors have already shown with young healthy college students that this produces the same physical benefits as conventional long duration endurance training despite taking much less time (and amazingly, actually doing less exercise!) However, their previous work used a relatively extreme set-up that involved “all out” pedaling on a specialized laboratory bicycle. The new study used a standard stationary bicycle and a workload which was still above most people's comfort zone -about 95% of maximal heart rate — but only about half of what can be achieved when people sprint at an all-out pace.

This less extreme HIT method may work well for people (the older, less fit, and slightly overweight among us) whose doctors might have worries about them exercising “all-out.” We have known for years that repeated moderate long-term exercise tunes up fuel and oxygen delivery to muscles and aids the removal of waste products. Exercise also improves the way muscles use the oxygen to burn the fuel in mitochondria, the microscopic power station of cells.

Running or cycling for hours a week widens the network of vessels supplying muscle cells and also boosts the numbers of mitochondria in them so that a person can carry out activities of daily living more effectively and without strain, and crucially with less risk of a heart attack, stroke or diabetes.

But the traditional approach to exercise is time consuming. Martin Gibala and his team have shown that the same results can be obtained in far less time with brief spurts of higher-intensity exercise.

To achieve the study's equivalent results by endurance training you'd need to complete over 10 hours of continuous moderate bicycling exercise over a two-week period.

The “secret” to why HIT is so effective is unclear. However, the study by Gibala and co-workers also provides insight into the molecular signals that regulate muscle adaptation to interval training. It appears that HIT stimulates many of the same cellular pathways that are responsible for the beneficial effects we associate with endurance training.

The upside of doing more exercise is well-known, but a big question for most people thinking of getting fit is: “How much time out of my busy life do I need to spend to get the perks?”

Martin Gibala says “no time to exercise” is not an excuse now that HIT can be tailored for the average adult. “While still a demanding form of training,” Gibala adds, “the exercise protocol we used should be possible to do by the general public and you don't need more than an average exercise bike.”

The McMaster team's future research will examine whether HIT can bring health benefits to people who are overweight or who have metabolic diseases like diabetes.

As the evidence for HIT continues to grow, a new frontier in the fitness field emerges.”

Folks, as a fitness, triathlon and fat loss consultant, I finally started seeing big results in my clients and athletes when I began incorporating a high amount of HIT in their programs.

It is the entire philosophy I utilized to design the fat burning book, “Shape21: The Lean Body Manual”, (pictured right) which you can see by clicking here.

It is also the same philosophy I used to design “The Triathlon Dominator”, a complete plan for succeeding at Ironman and Half-Ironman triathlon with half of the normal training time (pictured left), which you can see by clicking here.

That's not all. It is the same philosophy I used to design every beginner, intermediate and advanced Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman Triathlon plan at the Rock Star Triathlete Academy – and is the focus of many of our coach Q&A calls and forum discussions.

As I've said before, long, slow aerobic fat-burning workouts certainly have a time and place. For example, one such time and place is in the morning, for anywhere from 20-60 minutes when you need an extra fat-burning boost IF you can still find the time to do intervals and metabolic resistance training later in the day.

Another use of such workouts would be to train your body for a competition, and gain the mental and physical tolerance to sit in a bicycle saddle for five to eights hours, or to stay on your feet during a marathon for two and a half to five hours.

But don't fool yourself into thinking that you're getting significantly fitter during these long sessions, especially when compared to fast interval training, and only rely on these long sessions as part of an endurance training program that includes intervals, or as part of a fat loss program if you can still find the time to do intervals.

Does that make sense?

Leave your comments below if you're still confused by all this, and I'll be sure to address on the next podcast!


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9 thoughts on “Yet Another Reason You Could Be Wasting Your Time With Long, Slow Fat-Burning Aerobic Workouts

  1. Joy says:

    Hi Ben,

    Do you recommend eating or drinking anything on those early morning aerobic sessions? I have heard so muh about the body ‘burning muscle’ when exercising in a fasted state! I am a 20 year old woman with body fat as low as I need it for competing – building some lean muscular strength is a crucial factor for me in improving my cycling in particular.

    Thanks for your great website and all it’s resources,


    1. Yes, I recommend amino acids, like this: and also coconut oil or MCT oil…

  2. Todd says:

    Thanks Ben! I do run faster, although my main problem is that my long run group is now alot slower that I am, so I have to run alone or slower with them. Not a bad problem to have really…

  3. technically, you should speed up Todd. Your aerobic HR should rise, so you should be moving faster at the same heart rates as before….

    1. John says:

      What would be a good example of a HIT for running?

      1. 10×30 seconds sprints at speed 10.0 and incline 10.0 on a treadmill, with getting off and walking around after each sprint until you're fully recovered.

  4. Todd says:

    You must love McMaster University, Ben – they validate so much of what you prescribe in your training plans!

    As someone who is mid-way through your Triathlon Dominator, I can say without hesitation that the HIT efforts included have contributed enormously to my current fitness. This March, I have the fitness I normally have in late July, and have stuck to the 8-10 hour a week plan. I don’t feel burnt out at all, and am enjoying every workout.

    I do notice that on my long aerobic run (once per week) that my aerobic HR has dropped significantly (over 15 beats) since I began the plan. Is this a nice side-effect of HIT, or is this just due to the aerobic training?

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