Love Your Exercise (and Don’t Spend Too Much Time On It)

I think there is a lot of misinformation about exercise out there. Many people are led to believe that it either takes too much time (I can’t schedule a three mile run each day) or money (gym memberships are too expensive for my budget) to get into shape and be healthy. Or, they figure that if they can’t look like a supermodel in a short time, they’d might as well not bother.

But all of these are wrong-minded ideas. You don’t need a surplus of time or money in order to get in shape, and not even supermodels look like supermodels without the air-brushing. All you need is commitment and maybe 20 minutes set aside for exercise about three times a week.

There was a time when I had an intensive workout regimen that was very close to what I’d call the “typical exercise plan”. I had a program of running for cardiovascular conditioning, plus additional weight lifting. I was doing about 1-1 ½ hours three to four times a week.

It was beneficial exercise, but just too time consuming. With my busy schedule of running a business, having a family, and extensive travel, I found that I just could not afford the time I was devoting to working out. I’m sure that’s a familiar situation for many people.

But there’s a better way to exercise that gets results and doesn’t weigh down your schedule.

Short-burst exercise: kettlebells

In my search for a shorter but still effective exercise program, I ran across information on kettlebell training. If you’ve never seen a kettlebell, it looks like a cannonball with a handle and weighs anywhere from 5 to 106 pounds. My goal was to give my 400+ muscles, including the most important muscle, my heart, a vigorous workout in the shortest period of time. I kept seeing mention of an exercise program designed by Dr. Al Sears called PACE. A good friend, Dr. Jonathan Wright, also made me aware of it. My routine is similar to the one Dr. Sears advocates, because I could not afford the time to work on individual muscle groups but still wanted to stay reasonably healthy, lean and toned. I started working out on my own with kettlebells. My routine lasted 12-20 minutes, two or three times a week.

Over a course of two years, I was able to stay in very good shape and did not lose the benefits of my prior exercise routine. It was proof that I could stay as fit as before but in a fraction of the time. Everybody can do this routine. You select the type of exercise and the degree of intensity. Combine that with rest in between the exercises and you have the program.

In my 12-20 minute exercise program, I primarily use a series of kettlebell swings and a stationary recumbent bike. I use either a 44# or 53# kettlebell and do a kettlebell swing 30-35 times which takes about 60 seconds and is like running 200 meters as fast as you can.

I then do a two-minute rest (active) following the intense burst of activity. My two minutes of rest is usually at the lowest level on a recumbent bike. I call this active rest. This is to provide continued circulation of the blood and to remove lactic acid from the muscles.

Depending on your level of fitness, you can start with a 5-pound kettlebell or whatever is most suitable. Work your way up to the weight that gives you the best workout.

1.      Kettlebell swings: 60 seconds to full exertion

2.      Active rest: 2 minutes (walking, stationary bike, etc.)

3.      Repeat sequence of exertion and active rest for 12–20 minutes

Even if you can only begin exercising and doing kettlebell swings using a 5-pound weight, that would be a good place to start and progressively increase your intensity. You want to continue doing the swing until you run out of breath and then take a two-minute active rest. Repeat this sequence five or six times or as long as it takes to do in a period of 12–20 minutes. Some people do the kettlebell swing for 30–35 swings, and then for their rest period they jump rope for two minutes. I can’t for the life of me jump rope so I use the recumbent bike as an active rest period. It is never a good idea to sit down for your rest period. You want to continue moving. You can even just walk around or bounce on your feet.

When the kettlebell swing is done correctly and over a sufficient period of time, every muscle in the body is working. (See the resources listed at the end of this article for instructions.) The whole idea is to exercise for 20-30 seconds at your highest level of intensity.

If not kettlebells, choose something that you love

If kettlebells don’t seem like your preferred form of exercise, that’s okay – choose something that you love and stick with it.

Choosing an activity that you enjoy means that you’ll want to stick with it. Consider any of these, or even factor in your time spent gardening, doing yard work, or simply running errands. Keeping track of your daily steps or activities with a popular app or a pedometer can be a fun way of gauging your progress, too. Here are a few ideas – and no matter how fun they are – they all count toward keeping you healthy! In fact, I think that the less you consider exercise to be a “chore” and the more it simply become a part of your life, the more you’ll wonder how you ever got along being sedentary.

·         Walking or hiking

·         Swimming

·         Bicycling

·         Hiking

·         Dancing

·         Playing physical games with friends (basketball, soccer, etc)

·         Yoga or Pilates

But again, pick something that works with your schedule and don’t worry about putting in long hours at the gym.

There’s good solid evidence that short-burst exercise works.

Consider this well-cited study by researchers at Laval University in Quebec. They divided participants into two groups, a long duration exercise group and an interval short term exercise group. The long duration group cycled continuously for up to 45 minutes. The short term group cycled for bursts of 15 to 90 and rested in between sets.

Not surprisingly, the duration group burned twice the calories, so you’d think they’d burn more fat, right? They didn’t. When the researchers recorded body composition measurements between the two groups, the interval group – exercising in small bursts — lost the most fat. Nine times more, in fact, for every calorie burned.

The best thing is that you don’t have to be a trained athlete to see results. Researchers at the University of Guelph found that for untrained active adults, about 18 hours of high-intensity interval exercise over the course of six weeks (one hour, three days a week) increased the ability of their muscles to burn fat and carbohydrates.

High-intensity exercise begets better exercise and better muscle tone and recovery, too. In some cases, just two weeks of high-intensity training was similar to two weeks of endurance training. It has also shown the same benefits for metabolism and cardiovascular health, even though the individuals spent up to 90 percent less time exercising.

If you want to stay in shape, regular exercise is a must. But again, the type of exercise and time you take matters. For example, if you like cycling, go as fast as you can, as far as you can for 12 to 20 minutes. If you like running, sprint in short bursts for 200 meters. Whatever you choose, set the stopwatch or timer on your phone and stick with it. You’ll probably be surprised at how quickly the time passes, and how little time is really required for a great workout.

Aside from the obvious physical benefits, regular exercise exerts a powerful positive effect on your mind. Making it a positive habit will help evaporate your tension and worries, and help you feel better overall. It’s simply one of the best natural medicines in the world.


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Perry CG, Heigenhauser GJ, Bonen A, Spriet LL. High-intensity aerobic interval training increases fat and carbohydrate metabolic capacities in human skeletal muscle. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2008 Dec;33(6):1112-23.

Little JP, Safdar A, Wilkin GP, Tarnopolsky MA, Gibala MJ. A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms. J Physiol. 2010 Mar 15;588(Pt 6):1011-22.

Burgomaster KA, Howarth KR, Phillips SM, et al. Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. J Physiol . 2008;586, 151–160.

Rakobowchuk M, Tanguay S, Burgomaster KA, Howarth KR, Gibala MJ, MacDonald MJ. Sprint interval and traditional endurance training induce similar improvements in peripheral arterial stiffness and flow-mediated dilation in healthy humans. Am J Physiol Regul Integr Comp Physiol. 2008; 295, R236–R242.