Twelve Minutes of Exercise

Reduces Your Risk of Heart Disease More Effectively than Running a Marathon

I have worked out off and on almost all my life. At one time in my teens and early 20’s, at 5’7” tall, my weight ballooned to over 250 pounds. When I was in the Marine Corps, I was encouraged to work out. Maybe forced is a better word, since the obstacle course and a regimen of 10-mile runs started my days. During that time, a captain in the Marine Corps mentored me in weight lifting and physical exercise and introduced me to my first health food store in Oceanside, California. The lifestyle I adopted then eventually brought me to where I am today—healthy, at an appropriate weight (170 pounds), and with a better understanding about health and nutrition. It changed my whole life. Now I hope I can help you change yours.

My primary focus when I first started a workout program was on lifting in order to get stronger. Most of my exercises were heavy squats, dead lifts, bench presses and cheating curls. But it didn’t necessarily make me healthier. Later, I added running for cardiovascular conditioning along with additional weight lifting. I was doing about 1-1 ½ hours of exercise three to four times a week. While I received good benefits from this form of exercise, it was just too time consuming. With my busy schedule of running a business, having a family, and traveling extensively, I found that I just could not afford the time I was devoting to working out. I began searching for some form of exercise that could give me a full body workout, and cardiovascular conditioning, in a limited amount of time.

The Switch to Kettlebell Training

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, not because I’m so smart, but 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 the 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.

The Research Behind High Intensity Interval Training

Dr. Sears documented that a short workout routine with emphasis on high intensity activity and ample rest in between could accomplish more than a long, slow-paced form of exercise. Researchers at Laval University in Quebec divided participants into two groups, a long-duration exercise group and a short-term interval exercise group. They had the long-duration group cycle up to 45 minutes without interruption. The short-term interval group cycled in numerous short bursts of 15-90 seconds while resting in between. The long duration group burned twice as many calories, so you would assume they would burn more fat. However, when the researchers recorded their body composition measurements, the interval group showed they lost the most fat. In fact, the interval group lost nine times more fat than the endurance group for every calorie burned.

In another research study from the large Harvard Health Professionals Study, researchers followed over 7,000 people. They found that the key to exercise is not length or endurance. It’s intensity. The more energy a person exerted, the lower their risk of heart disease. High intensity exercise can also help you live longer. Another Harvard Study compared vigorous and light exercise. Those who performed exercise that was more vigorous had a lower risk of death than those who performed less vigorous exercise.

Short interval exercise maximizes fat “after burn.” Developed in the 1960’s by Dr. Per Asrand, the term fatrtlek, meaning “speed play,” described the exercise used by the Swedes.

The major benefits of interval training, or in other words short burst training or “SBT,” raises levels of human growth hormone, burns more calories, taps the strength of large muscle fibers and develops more muscle and strength and greater fitness in less time. Animals who are strong and powerful do not run long distances but maintain their power and strength by using short bursts of energy to capture their next meal, or to use that burst of energy to escape from being some other animal’s next meal.

Scientific studies back short burst exercise versus long endurance exercise. Running a marathon creates an inflammatory storm in the body that is identical to the early symptoms of heart disease. In the research of Dr. Sears, he notes one study in particular, which found that 35% of marathoners had significant levels of arterial plaque compared to just 22% of non-marathon runners. That’s an increased risk of over 50%. Dr. Sears also points to the Harvard Health Professionals Study, which found the key to lowering heart disease risk is the intensity of the exercise—not repetition, endurance, and duration.

My Plan

I have personally experienced the benefits of intense, short burst exercise. 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. Women will find the 5- or 10-pound kettlebell more than enough. Men may want to do 20 or 30 pounds for a good exercise regimen.

  1. Kettlebell swings: 60 seconds to full exertion
  2. Active rest: 2 minutes
  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 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.

Watch Terry's Kettlebell Video

A Workout For Everyone

I think everyone can find 12-20 minutes two or three times a week. In one of Dr. Sears’ most severe cases, he worked with a lady who started off walking for 45 seconds and then rested two minutes and walked an additional 45 seconds and continued this process. Altogether, she lost over 60 pounds with nice muscle tone and was in much better health.

Remember, you are only competing against yourself, so work as hard as you can at some form of exercise for 20-30 seconds. For me it’s the kettlebells. For others it may be sprinting or swimming 100 yards as fast as you can with a two-minute rest. Repeat until you have your 12-20 minutes in. I believe everyone can do this. I challenge you to use my menu plan and this exercise program for a minimum of six months and watch the unbelievable results you’ll achieve.


Here are a few websites you should explore so you can learn more about high intensity interval training and kettlebell workouts.

Download Terry's Stay Fit Plan