Work Long or Work Hard?


According to Martin Gibala of McMaster University, “six minutes of pure, hard exercise three times a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity.” 

In a study he conducted, he found that changes that were thought to require hours per week were achieved with just 4 to 7, 30 s bursts of all-out (250%VO2max) stationary biking with 4 minutes of recovery time in between bursts.  In his study, this was performed 3 times a week for just 2 weeks, therefore total on bike time for the two weeks being a mere 15 mintues.  For the “sprint” group (those doing the 30s bursts), endurance capacity almost doubled, from 26 to 51 minutes.  In addition, test subjects leg muscles showed a significant 38% increase of citrate synthase (CS), a desirable endurance enzyme.  Meanwhile, the control group, which was active (jogging, cycling, or aerobics) showed no changes. 

Almost seems too good to be true, right?

So the study was repeated. This time, Gibala used an 18.6 mile cycling test for evaluation both before and after the 2 week period.  For the duration of the 2 weeks, the sprint group followed the same 30s burst protocol, while the control group performed more traditional moderate-intensity cycling for 60-90 minutes at 60% VO2max.  Again, both groups worked out 3 times a week…

Results:  Improvements were almost identical, as were the increases in muscle oxidative capacity (the ability of your muscles to use oxygen).

I found the results of this research to be very fasicating, as I’m sure you probably do as well.  To hear that 6 minutes of pure, hard exercise three times a week could be just as effective as an hour of daily moderate activity sounds very applealing.  Now I’m not sitting here and suggesting that you just go to the gym, workout as hard as you can for 6 minutes then head out and call it a day.  

1.  It’s not too easy pushing yourself at 250% your VO2max, nor would most people be able to measure this.

2. Everyone has some type of muscular imbalances going on, & time and focus should be paid attention to corrective exercises as well in a training program so that you don’t end up injuring yourself while you go for an “all out” sprint.  6 minutes doesn’t really give you enough time for this.

 Rather, I would just like for you to recognize that working long in the gym (those that hang out there for an hour and a half or 2 hours) may not get you exactly where you want to be, goal wise (goal dependant as well).  You would be better off cutting your workouts much shorter and up-ing the intensity (obviously not the best idea for someone brand new to exercise or someone considered high-risk). 

Even your top marathoners and ultra marathoners have programs geared towards VERY MINIMAL long runs and more high intensity runs (whether it be repeated 400m, 800m, 1600m runs) to help increase endurance capacity…

So the choice is yours, work long or work hard? I think I’ll chose to work hard.


*Study found in The 4-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss


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