Work Smarter Not Harder
This article kicks off our new series – Work Smarter Not Harder. Don’t be a dumbbell, advances in fitness training are driving a whole new way to workout, finally maybe you can have it all!
Let’s face it, our time is valuable. We live in a world where you spend 40 hours (or more) at work each week, commute to and from the office, spend a couple hours meal prepping on the weekend, try to have some semblance of a social life, and still commit to hitting the gym regularly.
To the masses who have always been fed that “more is better,” this definitely wouldn’t feel like enough to make a difference. The research, on the other hand, says differently.
We’re constantly told to “work smarter, not harder” when it comes to developing systems and processes in our professional lives, but what if you could apply that to your workouts as well? The truth is you can work hard for a few hours, or you can work harder for a fraction of the time to get the same results – the choice is yours.
So in the spirit of working smarter, let’s talk cardio. Everyone knows there are different options for getting their sweat on, whether they want to or not. But when it comes to getting noticeable results, more time isn’t always better. Will it be fun? Absolutely not as found by one study 2 – unless you like pushing yourself to the brink in no time flat. Is it worth saving a few minutes? That’s for you to decide.
Hard: Steady State
When the American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes of moderate exercise weekly, they’re referring to steady state cardio activities with a little weight training sprinkled here and there1.
And it can definitely be an integral part of your fitness routine in terms of burning extra calories and improving cardiovascular health, there’s no doubt about that. But if your goal is to avoid spending hours in the gym on a daily basis, steady state is definitely not your friend.
The go-to choice for cardio in the past decade, HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, consists of short bursts of all-out exercise followed by a longer recovery period. The basis for the popularity of this type of training is that it burns more subcutaneous and abdominal fat while increasing insulin sensitivity (at least in the short term) in a shorter amount of time3.
Typical HIIT sessions last about 20 minutes or so, although the rise of boutique fitness studios featuring specialized classes often pushes HIIT-style circuits into the 45-60 minute range. Overall, however, HIIT is generally considered better for fat reduction than steady state cardio.
Hardest: Tabata Training
The term “Tabata training” gets thrown around a lot as a buzzword to get people in the door or asking questions about a new program or regimen, but the typical workout class featuring Tabata-style training is actually a HIIT class with shorter intervals.
True Tabata training lasts just four minutes – 20 seconds of lights-out intense effort followed by just 10 seconds of rest for a total of eight rounds. To the masses who have always been fed that “more is better,” this definitely wouldn’t feel like enough to make a difference. The research, on the other hand, says differently.
When subjects were separated into two groups, one using HIIT and the other using Tabata, the Tabata group nearly completely taxed both aerobic and anaerobic systems completely 5. And when a study was conducted on elite rowers, even they saw improved performance after four weeks of Tabata training 6. If Tabata training can benefit elite athletes, even a casual gym-goer will see results if they perform the protocol correctly while saving some valuable time.
So the verdict is in: unless you enjoy spending hours on endurance exercise each week, stop wasting your time and energy. The best bang for your buck both in terms of results and time is hands-down Tabata training.
American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids1
The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity2
High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise and Fat Loss3
Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max4
Metabolic profile of high intensity intermittent exercises5
The effects of high-intensity interval training in well-trained rowers6