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There is something new I’d like to share. Cutting-edge research has shown that fat loss can occur as well as an increase in aerobic fitness levels by actually doing less aerobic activity. Let me explain. One fundamental paradigm of athletes has been the unspoken thought that to be stronger, faster, and to have more endurance, the athlete needs to do MORE repetitions and more sets to stimulate the body’s growth mechanisms. Researchers say not so. Clarence Bass, a 66 year-old man who maintains a body fat of 5% says he attained a 2.4% body fat rating while only doing one hard aerobics exercise routine a week. In Physiology of Sport & Exercise written by Professors Jack Wilmore and David Costill, they say, “Low-intensity aerobic activity does not necessarily lead to a greater expenditure of calories from fat. more importantly the total caloric expenditure for a given period of time is much less when compared with high-intensity activity.” Furthermore, they say the need to stay in the Fat-Burn Zone is misleading and just plain not accurate. About six years ago, there were two studies done, one in Canada, the other in Japan. The study in Japan showed the effectiveness of high-intensity aerobics for general fitness. The Japanese researchers discovered that short yet demanding aerobic exercise produced tremendous results compared to moderate aerobic activities. The Canadian study illustrated that high-intensity aerobics effects on fat loss. I won’t go through all the test data for that’s irrelevant, but it is helpful. First the Japanese study. Two groups were organized for the test: those who performed moderate-intensity aerobics on stationary bikes and the second group performed the high-intensity protocol. Before I give the specifics, you need to know a few relevant, presupposed terms.
- VO2max is aerobic capacity
- Anaerobic — this means “without oxygen.” Anaerobic metabolism is non-aerobic activity It’s intense physical activities like doing a 60 yard dash, weight training, moving a heavy piece of furniture, etc. Characterized by short bursts of energy.
- Aerobic — literally means “requiring oxygen” or “with oxygen.” Sustained activity such as running three miles or biking three miles.
Okay, now the routines that were researched. The Japanese researcher, Dr. Izumi Tabata, had the moderate-intensity group on the stationary bike do their exercise routine five days a week for six consecutive weeks at 70% of their VO2max for aerobic sessions an hour long. The high-intensity group, however, did something completely different. They too performed their routines five days a week, but that’s where the tests part company. After a brief warm-up, the high-intensity group performed seven to eight sets of 20 seconds at 170% of VO2max, with a 10 second rest period between each set. The total routine was four minutes long–you read that right four minutes long. A 60-minute routine and a four minute routine–quite a disparity wouldn’t you say? Guess which one was more effective? What were the results? The 60-minute, moderate-intensity protocol showed an increase in VO2max of 10% with no impact on anaerobic capacity, Dr. Tabata reported. The four-minute program, however, showed a VO2max improvement of 14% AND a anaerobic capacity improvement of 28%! The briefer program was more effective in every way. The test subjects were, by the way, all athletes, not sedentary middle-aged individuals. the athletes were swimmers, baseball players, tennis players, basketball players, soccer players, and speed skaters, etc.
What about the Canadian study? I’ll give you just the facts without all the technical elements. The Canadian researchers had two groups: both were inactive adults. One was labeled the “endurance training group” (ET) and the other the “high-intensity interval training” (HIIT) group. The routine for the ET group was uninterrupted cycling for 30 to 45 minutes, four or five times a week for 20 consecutive weeks. The aerobics or fitness intensity was to be from 60% to 85% maximum as measured individually for VO2max, or heart rate reserve. The HIIT fitness group did a 15 week program, starting out with an identical program at the ET group as they too were out-of-shape adults. They soon progressed, however, to the core HIIT routines. That routine was 10 to 15 short bursts of 15 seconds to 30 seconds or four to five long intervals comprised of 60 seconds gradually progressing to 90 seconds. The rest intervals were long enough to allow the heart rate to drop to 120 to 130 beats per minute. In other words, the initial interval was fixed at 60% of each test subject’s maximum aerobic capacity (as tested previous to the test) for 10 seconds. It gradually went up from 60% to 90% over a period of every three weeks. The results? Even though the ET group burned twice as many calories as the HIIT group, the HIIT group lost more fat. The fat loss was “nine-fold greater in the HIIT group than in the ET program.”
“Okay, I’m convinced but what about the routines?” It’s simple. If you’re really out of shape with your aerobics fitness level, stop at two minutes. If not, the entry routine is four minutes. You want to work up to 15 minutes.
Step One: Take five minutes to warm up by stretching, breathing deep, etc.
Week One: Sprint or run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds–30 seconds; then… Sprint or run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds–that’s 1 minute; then… Sprint or run as fast as you can for 20 seconds jog for 10 seconds—that’s 1 minute, 30 seconds. Sprint or run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds—that’s 2 minutes. Sprint or run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds—that’s 2 minutes, 30 seconds. Sprint or run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds—that’s 3 minutes. Sprint or run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds—that’s 3 minutes, 30 seconds. Run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds—that’s 4 minutes.
Week Two: Run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds; follow it through for 5 minutes.
Week Three: Run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds; follow it through for 6 minutes.
Week Four: Run as fast as you can for 20 seconds, jog for 10 seconds; follow it through for 7 minutes.
Work your way up to 15 minutes. If you can do this routine for 15 minutes, you are a real champ and will have developed significant aerobic capacity not to mention turned your body into a thermogenic (fat-burning) machine (something dearly desired in bodybuilding). Some fitness tips in following this routine:
- Running is the most intensive implementation of this fitness or aerobics program — keep that is mind if you choose to do the running.
- For variety’s sake, alternate if you feel so inclined, doing running one week, a stationary bike the next week, rowing one week, etc.
- In order for the Tabata Protocol, aka High-Intensity-Interval-Training (HIIT) to be effective, you have to exert full force on the sprints or on the machine choice for the 20 second interval.
- The “rest phase” that is the 10 seconds should not be done so easily as to run in place or to just “go through the motions.” Jog lightly or pedal lightly but keep moving
- Make sure you stretch appropriately before you start
- The first two to three minutes are usually the most difficult as if you’re really sprinting or pedaling, if you’re using a bike, it’s quite a shock to the system. By knowing this, you’re more mentally prepared for it. As you began doing six to minutes or more, you’ll find your body really begins adapting to the stress of it and it will not be as shocking to the system.
Alternative Options A good way to alternate this aerobics fitness option to keep it fresh is to go 4 complete routines X 30 seconds. In other words, substitute the 20 second intensity phase with 30 seconds or even 60 to 90 seconds. I wouldn’t do this for sprinting unless you’re really in shape with a high-degree of fitness. You won’t be able to handle it. Doing 60 to 90 second intervals, followed by 60 to 90 seconds of rest respectively is best done on a machine, such as a stationary bike or on a bike itself as opposed to open sprinting. I’ve done 30 second intervals with some degree of success but again I remind you — it’s extremely taxing to the system. It’s not for the faint of heart –literally and figuratively. Again, be warned–it’s more difficult than you might think.
How often should you do this routine? At a maximum twice a week at a minimum of once a week. As this is so strenuous, especially the running exercise option, your body needs the recovery time. If you’re young say 15 to 25, you might get away with three times but I wouldn’t recommend it past that.