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article imageLong slow workouts, or short fierce bursts? The debate returns

By Paul Wallis     Jun 25, 2009 in Health
The merits of long training sessions and short, hard workouts have never been settled, but some rats in Japan have reopened the argument with a vengeance. A very high contrast experiment has come out in favor of the short workout.
The physiology of this issue is very complex, and most doctors will tell people that exercise regimes have to be tailored to them. The fundamental issue, however, has been getting a lot of traction in the sports and fitness industries, because of the tough regimes workouts impose. Hence the big interest in this particular result from the Japanese experiment.
In a controlled experiment, two groups of rats were exposed to extreme contrasts in exercise regimes. One group swam steadily for roughly six hours, in two sessions. The other group was required to swim frantically, including using weights, with timed breaks, for a total of four and a half minutes. The marathon swimmers did show indications of increased endurance, which is what is supposed to happen. The other rats, however, showed the same results.
This may sound like a simple matter of relative expenditure of energy, even if the time contrast is rather extreme. But it makes a big difference to the economics of exercise. The endurance and training times equation, in particular, is a long established standard practice. To get the same results in so much less time is a revelation with major ramifications for health and exercise programs.
The New York Times:
Each of the two groups exercised three times a week. After two weeks, both groups showed almost identical increases in their endurance (as measured in a stationary bicycle time trial), even though the one group had exercised for six to nine minutes per week, and the other about five hours. Additionally, molecular changes that signal increased fitness were evident equally in both groups. “The number and size of the mitochondria within the muscles” of the students had increased significantly, Gibala (Martin Gibala, PhD, chairman of the Department of Kinesiology at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada) says, a change that, before this work, had been associated almost exclusively with prolonged endurance training. Since mitochondria enable muscle cells to use oxygen to create energy, “changes in the volume of the mitochondria can have a big impact on endurance performance.”
This is major news for physiology. Apparently there’s a cost for the sprint approach to workouts, though. It hurts. It seems that to get the same effect from the same work, you do something very like the same amount of work, in terms of physical effects, in that much shorter a period.
The big breakthrough for people trying to get fit is that this is looking like the beginning of a new methodology where you can do that, without literally living in the gym. It should help both sports medicine and the fitness industries considerably, if people can fit their exercises into their lives more easily.
Important: Readers should note that although there are also believed to be weight loss and cardio health benefits from intense exercise, there are real risks involved with over exercise, including sometimes serious cardio issues. High energy exercise routines should be approached realistically. Get professional advice, before trying any of the current high energy routines.
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