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Adam: Dr. Gibala, you have this book with an eye raising title called the One Minute Workout, and the argument if I may is this. That what you’re saying is the benefits we gain from traditional two and a half hours of recommended a week exercise with moderately intense exercise, also known as steady state exercise, can also be obtained with just one minute of extremely intense exercise. Now for many this sounds too good to be true, and I’ll allow you to explain how these exercise benefits can be obtained in just one minute. Now before you do that, maybe we should start with what are the benefits of exercise that we’re looking for?
Dr. Gibala: We’re mainly interested in three primary outcomes, one being cardiorespiratory
fitness so of course that’s the cardio health that everybody normally thinks about. The ability of the heart, lungs, blood vessels to deliver oxygen to muscle. We know that’s a really important measure for athletes, but it’s equally important for health. We also look at skeletal muscle health, so we’ll take biopsies and look at the capacities of muscles to use the oxygen to produce energy, so we like to think of that as a measure of muscle health, and we’ll also measure health related parameters like insulin sensitivity, as well as things like blood pressure. So we’re looking at a range of physiological markers that translate into improved health outcomes, and we know that any type of exercise is beneficial for all of those parameters. We’re of course interested in time efficient versions to produce those benefits.
Adam: Exactly. So speaking of those time efficient ways, you have termed it high intensity interval training and would you agree with that? That’s the official term for the protocol?
Dr. Gibala: Absolutely. Why I just raised my eyebrows a little bit, it’s been around of course since the turn of the century so high intensity interval training is rediscovered every decade or so and that was my only reason for doing that.
Adam: Got you, you’re right. So how can these benefits be obtained in one minute, using the sensory old protocol?
Dr. Gibala: So where the title of the book comes from is work in our lab where we’ve had people do as little as three twenty second hard bursts of exercise, so that’s the quote unquote, one minute workout. Now typically that’s set within a timeframe of about ten minutes, so you have a little bit of warmups, cool downs, and recovery in between, but as you alluded to in your intro, we’ve shown that that type of training program so one minute of workout done three times a week can confer at least over several months, many of the benefits that we associate with the more traditional approach to fitness. So in our recent study where we directly compared that type of protocol to the hundred and fifty minutes a week of moderate intensity training, the improvement in cardiorespiratory fitness was the same over three months of training. The improvement in markers of muscle health was the same, and the improvement of insulin sensitivity was the same as well. So in our lab when we made these head to head comparisons, we have some pretty compelling evidence I think at last over a couple of months, you can reap the benefits that we associate with a more traditional approach with these short, intense workouts.
Adam: Let’s talk a little bit more about these intense workouts. I’d like you if you will to take us back to turn of the century, 2004, when you were brainstorming with your grad students. Can you please tell us about that first experiment, and what did those muscle biopsies show? Since your first study, as a follow up, have the results been repeated in similar studies and with other independent labs as well?
Dr. Gibala: Yeah, so I guess our work at the turn of this century was influenced by work from a hundred years prior and part of my interest in this topic was I teach a course in the integrated physiology of human performance, and my students are always interested in the training regimes of elite athletes. They would wonder why do these elite endurance athletes, world champions, Olympic distance medal winners, train using these short, hard sprints. So in short, how can short, hard sprints confer endurance capacity. So that really influenced our thinking, and we wanted to ask the question well how quickly can you get these benefits, and how low can you go? We’ve subsequently gone lower, but at the time, there was a very common test and physiology known as the Wingate test, I’m sure you’re familiar with it. It’s a test that involves thirty seconds of all out exercise on a cycler odometer, and we knew that Wingate training was effective from some other studies, but we said okay, let’s have people do just six training sessions over a period of two weeks. So we argued back and forth about the number of Wingates, and how long we would have the training program last, but we settled on this very simple design; a two week study with six sessions of interval training over the two weeks, and our primary outcomes were endurance capacity, so basically how long subjects could ride a bike until they fatigued, and muscle biopsies to look at those measures of muscle health. Lo and behold after just two weeks of training, we found a doubling of endurance capacity in the recreationally trained students, and so it was a very dramatic illustration of the potency of these short, hard workouts, to confer endurance like benefits. Since then, we’ve continued to push the envelope I guess in terms of how low can you go, and our work has extended out to less healthy individuals, so we’ve done work on people with type two diabetes, and of course have been very pleased to see other laboratories around the world replicating and extending these findings as well.
Adam: We’re going to get to that, what you’re referring to now, with Catarina Myers work for example, that you mentioned in later chapters. What I wanted to ask you was when you said, what I want to point out right now, what you said is that you’re seeing these incredible improvements and you said that study lasted two weeks. That is mind blowing. Two weeks to have those changes occur? So first of all I want to point out number one that that is mind blowing, secondly have you done other studies where you would do it for longer than two weeks and have those changes gotten better even after two weeks, or do they just basically stabilize at just being fantastically endurance but you’re not seeing it continually — like a straight line, maybe it’s more of — obviously it plateaus a little bit eventually, but anyway what do you think?
Dr. Gibala: Our longest studies have gone out to a couple of months, so I think you continue to see improvements but the rate of improvement starts to decline. So in some ways it’s a microcosm of what happens with any training program, the longer you do it, there’s points of diminishing returns and of course that can be very frustrating to people and it leads to periodization and all these techniques that we use. In short, you get a lot of benefit early on, so there’s a tremendous boost of fitness early on, and like I said, a point of diminishing returns after that so it’s not a continuous straight line. I think that’s one of the benefits of interval training is you can get a boost in fitness very very quickly, and in some ways that helps with lots of other sports and events that you might want to take on after that, but you get this rapid boost in a very short period of time.
Adam: Great, so now let’s get to who I just mentioned a little bit earlier, Catarina Myers. The German cardiovascular physiologist who did some important research trying to answer this question: what sort of exercise can substantially slow and possibly even reverse the age related loss of our cardiovascular function?
Dr. Gibala: Catarina Myer, and actually the history there is fascinating because some of her training dates back to other classic German researchers. The Germans have had an interest in this since at least the late 1950s. Catarina Myers worked in the late 80s and early 90s — what was particularly unique about her work is she was applying interval training to patients with cardiovascular disease. So in a cardiac rehabilitation setting, these individuals who had had a heart attack and what was the best way to train these individuals to improve their function, improve their heart capacity. So it was quite revolutionary at the time because it’ll go back 30 or 40 years, if an individual had a heart attack, they were basically told to take it easy, right? Lie on the couch, don’t challenge past your system because you were worried about subsequent adverse events, and so Myers’ work, she had cardiac patients exercise at about 90% of their maximum heart rate for typically about one minute at a time, with a minute of recovery, and she showed very profound improvements in their health outcomes and cardiovascular parameters. So she was a real pioneer I think in applying interval training to disease populations, and in particular individuals who have cardiovascular disease, and since then, her work has expanded. In Norway for example, there’s another large research center that’s doing a lot of this work. It’s quite common to incorporate interval training in cardiac rehabilitation settings now.
Adam: It’s breaking major paradigms there, to think that you could apply high intensity exercise to somebody that just had a heart attack. It’s fantastic. I’m familiar with Dr. Myers work actually. One of her papers in particular was this paper that she published in 1997. This paper was showing that of three groups, only the group that performed very intense exercise at 80% of their max were able to improve their cardiovascular function. So she had another group at 60% of their max and the control group didn’t do anything, and neither one of them showed the kind of the improvements. These kinds of improvements I’m talking about is increased venus return, decreased systemic vascular resistance, an increase in cardiac index, and an increase in stroke vine. Now these are consistent with her other research that you were talking about because she did a lot of these, and what struck me about this particular one is that these cardiovascular improvements in function were done on a leg press. They weren’t done on a bicycle, they were done on a leg press, so my question is do you think high intensity resistance training can also be used to change our physiology? That it can improve our endurance, our VO2 max, and citrate synthase for example, if you were to do a muscle biopsy. The same way as say a bicycle or a treadmill.
Dr. Gibala: I don’t think you get the same effects, but it’s going to depend on the protocol there. I think without question, high intensity resistance exercise can be applied in an interval training manner, especially if you keep recovery durations short, and you can see some aerobic improvement. There’s research to show that interval style resistance training can improve cardiorespiratory fitness, can boost some mitochondrial enzymes, can improve other health related indices as you alluded to. My personal opinion is that a varied approach to fitness is always going to be best, and I don’t think you’re going to see the same cardiovascular fitness improvement with interval based cycling as you might see with high intensity resistance exercise, but of course, the gains in strength or hypertrophy that you might see with the bike protocol are going to be markedly lower as well. So I think high intensity resistance training applied in an interval based manner can sort of provide multiple benefits. You can get a cardiovascular boost and obviously get muscular strengthening, and some hypertrophy benefits as well.
Adam: So you think the high intensity strength training protocol is really a separate and distinct program?
Dr. Gibala: I do. I think the resistance exercise element is different there, and so the stimulus for adaptation is not going to be exactly the same.
Adam: Has that been tested? Have you compared let’s say a Wingate type of protocol with say somebody doing a high intensity strength training program where you’re doing one set to failure with major compound movements. You’re going from machine to machine with the heart rate staying elevated, and each rate is going to at least 20 seconds of what you would probably consider an interval. Like a twenty second sprint, those last twenty seconds on the leg press for example are pretty darn intense as well. Do you think it would be worthy of comparing those two types of protocols to see if you get the same benefits and improvements in citrate synthase that way, VO2 max, etc?
Dr. Gibala: Yeah, I think without question it would be. Of course we can come up with all of these comparisons that we would like and there are only so many ways that you can do it in the laboratory. When you do a Wingate test for example, we know that there’s no stimulation of growth pathways, so if we look at [Inaudible: 00:13:35] signaling and some of these pathways that we know lead to skeletal muscle hypertrophy, even though Wingate test is perceived as very demanding, the relative resistance on the leg, or the relative stress on the leg is quite low as compared to heavy resistance exercise. So with most forms of cardio based, high intensity interval training, you’re not seeing growth of muscle fibers because the stimulus is just not sufficient to provide the hypertrophy stimulus. Now when you do high intensity resistance training, as you alluded to, especially with short recovery periods, you maintain the heart rate so it’s elevated, you can see improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness in edition to the strengthening and hypertrophy elements as well.
Adam: I’m with you on that. I think you’re right. What would you think for example, we don’t know everything yet about how low we can go and the style, what tools we use for these things. I’m wondering, knowing what we know at this point, what would you think would be the perfect — for somebody who is pressed for time and doesn’t have the time to put the recommended 150 minutes a week into it. What do you think would be perfect, do you think maybe two interval training workout sessions a week with some high intensity strength training? Like what are you doing, what do you recommend to a relative of yours that just wants to get it all, and what do I need to do?
Dr. Gibala: Obviously an open ended question and it depends a lot on the specific goals of the individual, but I’ll sort of take the question at —
Adam: Not an elite athlete. I know you work with a lot of elite athletes, we also have the population that Myers works with. Your typical person, your middle aged —
Mike: Busy professional who just wants to be in shape and have the markers that you were talking about before.
Dr. Gibala: If they want the time efficiency aspect — you alluded earlier, what do I do. I’m someone who trains typically every day, rarely are my workouts more than thirty minutes, and I typically go back and forth between cardio style interval training, my go to exercise is a bike. I can’t run anymore because of osteoarthritis in my knee, so typically three days a week I’m doing cardio cycling. As the weather starts to get nicer it’s outside, but typically in long Canadian winters, it’s down in my basement. 20-25 minutes of interval based work for primary cardiovascular conditioning. The other days are largely body weight style interval training, I sort of have the classic garage set up in the basement. I’ve got a weight rack, I do large compound movements to failure, pushups, pull-ups, and so that’s typically the other three days of the week. Usually a rest day a week, or I’ll play some ice hockey as well. That’s something that works really well for me, so I think for individuals, I would recommend that style of approach. If you’re someone that can mentally tolerate the demanding nature of intervals, because let’s be realistic here, there’s no free lunch at the end of the day, but if you want that time efficiency, high quality workout, then I would recommend that alternating pattern of some sort of cardio style interval training with some sort of full body resistance style training. If you’re really pressed for time and you have maybe three sessions a week, then using all interval based — maybe two resistance sessions and one cardio or vice versa. Obviously a lot of the work that you advocate is showing tremendous benefits with even one session a week, and maybe even two sessions a week in terms of that quality of style training.
Adam: The search continues. Like you said, it depends on a lot of things, goals, and body types, genetics, response to exercise, and even somebody’s neurological efficiency. So I get that, and the question always is when we work with thousands of individuals on a monthly basis, do you mix intervals with their strength training, how much of it, balancing all of this with their schedules, with their schedule, with their lifestyle. Are they stressed out, max type A people, do they get enough sleep. So that’s why it’s so valuable to talk to you, you’re on the cutting edge of doing a lot of this stuff and trying to incorporate research into somebody’s every day life is the art and trick to all of this I think. Until we keep learning more and more.
Dr. Gibala: Absolutely, and sometimes the most fundamental questions science still doesn’t have the answers to which is quite ironic, but you’re right. The book was written really as an effort to translate the science around time efficient exercise. As you all know, the number on cited reason for why people don’t exercise is lack of time. Nothing wrong with the public health guidelines, based on really good science, but 80% of us aren’t listening and the number one barrier is time. So if we can find time efficient options so that people can implement this style of training into their every day life, we think that’s a good thing. The more menu choices, the better. The more exercise options the better, because then ideally, people can find something that works for them, and there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach.
Adam: That brings me exactly to the next thing that I wanted to talk about. It’s this idea that we’re being told we need 150 minutes. That’s two and a half hours a week to work out, and you make a very interesting point in chapter five of the One Minute Workout. You say despite knowing that exercise has all these near magical qualities, approximately 80% of the people from America, Canada, and the United Kingdom don’t get the recommended 150 minutes that they need, and you say that’s a problem. You point out something very interesting, I didn’t know this, it’s very cool. You point out that lifespan has jumped ahead of our health span, and I’d love for you to tell us what the difference is between lifespan and health span and what that means.
Dr. Gibala: Yeah sure. So lifespan is just that, how long you’re going to live, but health span encompasses — I call it how close to the ceiling you can work. So basically you want to live a long life, but ideally you want a long, healthy life as well so you can think of it as functional capacity in addition to longevity. I think most of us, you want to live as long as you can and as my grandmother would say, you sort of fall off the perch right at the very end. In a high standard of living, a high quality of living, so that you can do all the things that you like as long as possible and so exercise I think is a tremendous way to do that. You bring up a good point, that as we age, perhaps there’s a little shift there. Obviously strength is important and cardiorespiratory fitness is important, but especially as we start to get older, functional strength is really important. If you look at what’s going to keep people out of assisted living, it’s basically can you squat down and go the toilet and get up from that.
Mike: It’s getting off the floor, exactly.
Dr. Gibala: So functional training to maintain lower body strength, that’s what we’re talking about in terms of health span. You may be living a long time but if you need all this assistance in order to get by, that’s not necessarily a high standard or quality of living. So that’s what we’re really talking about here and improving both of them.
Adam: So think about this. Despite knowing how important it is to put those 150 minutes in because you’re going to have this life of misery and your health span is going to be horrible, people don’t do it. You quote this guy Allen Batterham from Teesside University in the United Kingdom, who says that we have, I’m quoting him — actually quoting you quoting him, that we have this perverse relationship with exercise. So here we are, we know what we have to do but we don’t, and this is where high intensity training is so cool because — well first of all, why do we have this perverse relationship with exercise?
Dr. Gibala: There’s a multifaceted answer. I think Allen made the observation that we have hunger pains to get us to eat, so there’s that innate biological drive. For reproduction, there’s a sex drive, but there’s not necessarily this innate biological drive to be physically active and that was the perversity that Allen was making the point, that even though it’s so good for us.
Obviously you can take the evolutionary perspective and for the vast majority of human civilization, we had to be physically active to survive. We had to either sprint and hunt down an animal and kill it and eat it, or you had to spend a long time gathering food. Especially over the last hundred years or so, we’ve done a great job of engineering physical activity out of our lives through the ways we designed cities and — so now we basically have to make time to be doing this activity that’s so good for us, and ironically we seemingly don’t have time to do it. Clearly an excuse for a lot of people, you just look at time spent on social media, but a lot of lead very busy, time pressed lives so we’re looking for more efficient options to be able to fit all of that other stuff into our day, and I think this is where intervals can play a really big role.
Adam: Exactly, it’s fascinating. So keeping this exercise avoidance issue mind, what has your friend and exercise psychologist, Mary — how does she pronounce her last name — Jung, I’m assuming there’s no relationship to the psychiatrist Carl Jung. What did she discover and what was her advice, because you talk about that she has these five tips for starting an exercise program.
Dr. Gibala: Sure, and I’m not a psychologist — what I tried to do in the book was consult with some other experts, and there’s a real rift right now, as we make the point in the book, around the potential application of high intensity interval training for public health, there’s sort of two schools of thought. The traditional school of thought would be that people aren’t going to do this because if exercise is intense, they find it uncomfortable, they’re unlikely to do it and stick with it, but there’s a whole new school of thought and Mary epitomizes this. We’re saying wait a minute, continuous vigorous exercise is very different from vigorous exercise where we give people breaks, and especially if they don’t have to do very much of it. So Mary is very interested in issues of motivation, mood, adherence; what keeps people to stick with healthy behaviors, and her research is showing that a large number of people actually rate the enjoyment of interval exercise higher, and they would prefer this type of training and they’re more than willing to make this type of trade-off between volume and intensity. So if they have to do less total work, they’re more willing to work hard for short periods of time. We get this habit, Mary makes the point that if people can’t do 30-45 minutes of continuous exercise, they consider themselves a failure, they might beat themselves up a little bit. She’s like wait a minute, even if you can do a few minutes of exercise, take a break, do it again, let’s celebrate that. So rather than beat yourself up, view it as I’m an interval training, I’m doing this type of training that elite athletes have used for a long time. It’s sort of turning a negative into a great message.
Mike: For us, failure is the only option.
Adam: When you were talking about this in your book and talking about her work, I was screaming amen because for twenty years that I’ve been in the high intensity business myself, I’m seeing the same thing. So many people would much rather do this, in a much briefer time and get it over with than drag it out all week long. I remember when I told my mom twenty years ago that I was going to do this for a living, and she knew that I was a little nutty when it came to high intensity work and she said Adam, people are not going to workout that hard, you’re nuts. I would never workout the way you workout. Granted I was doing crazy like Crossfit stuff, high force, dangerous stuff. I’ve created a more gentler, kinder way of doing that but nonetheless, it was really intense but much shorter. I said mom, I don’t know, I think if someone thinks they’re going to be — number one safe, and getting it over with even though it’s more intense, I think they’re going to do it. I said wish me look, because I’m going for it, and by the way I’m moving back into the house because I have no money. Anyway I moved out a year later. I didn’t know about Mary Jung’s work, and I was reading in your chapter I was like see mom, I told you there’s proof now.
Dr. Gibala: In some ways science plays catch up a little bit. You alluded to the fact that you’ve been doing it for twenty years, so people are seeing this in real life and again the book was really just an effort to say there’s some gaps in the science, but here’s science to hopefully validate what a number of individuals are already doing, but they can point to this and say see it is backed up by science. So it was really an effort to translate that science into a message, that hopefully people can find in an accessible read, and hopefully in a compelling manner as well.
Adam: So without getting into every single work that you describe because you get into a whole different number of variations, maybe you can just give us two typical ones that you would recommend for someone who really has never done intervals before, and how would you get them started?
Dr. Gibala: As crazy as it sounds, we have a workout that’s called the beginner which is just. So if we have people who are completely new to interval training, we’ll just say just get out of your comfort zone. Don’t try to go from zero to a hundred overnight, but just push the pace a little bit and back off. It’s based on research that shows that even interval walking is better for people at improving their blood sugar, improving their fitness, improving their body composition, as compared to steady state walking. So that’s about as simple as it gets, interval based walking, but it can really effective. One of my favorites is the 10×1 which is workouts based on Katarina
Myers’ work, so it’s twenty minutes start to finish. Not super time efficient but it’s not a 45 minute jog either, and I like that workout — so this workout involves ten one minute efforts at about 85 or 90% of your maximum heart rate, so you’re pushing it pretty good but you’re not going all out, and that workout has been applied to cardiovascular patients, diabetics, highly trained athletes as well, so it’s a type of workout that can be scaled seemingly to almost any starting level of fitness. It’s also then I think the type of workout that can be scaled to other approaches as well, so if you want to bring in resistance type exercise, it’s a little more suited to that type of protocol as well, and then of course I love the one minute workout as well because it’s so effective and so efficient. We’ve had people do the one minute workout on stairs now, just three twenty second bursts of stair climbing. Again, you can do it anywhere, in your apartment, in your office complex, showing that you get a big boost in fitness with that type of workout as well. So those lower volume workouts I think, they’re in your wheelhouse I’m sure and really resonate with some of the stuff that you’ve been applying for a long time now.
Adam: Yes, and I’m so glad that your research has been making me realize that my life decision twenty years ago, my instincts weren’t so off, so thank you so much.
Dr. Gibal: To go back to this idea that the public health guidelines, only 20% are listening. For those folks who say people won’t do this, I would point at the ACSM, worldwide fitness trends for the last couple of years. Interval training and body weight style training, on the top, two or three many years running now, so I think there is a lot of interest in this type of training, if only to provide people with more options number one, and on those days when they are time pressed and might otherwise blow off their workout, no. Even if you’ve got fifteen minutes, you can get in a quality training session.
Mike: Everybody sees the trends, the New York Times with the seven minute workouts, the bootcamps, you can see all the chatter. Fitting Room is one of the things that they have in New York City, I don’t know if it’s beyond New York City but what we’re trying to present is a safe option for creating that exact same stimulus in the same time.
Adam: Especially when the safety is around weight training. So all the weight training injuries, so it becomes even more important when you have weights attached to your body to make that intensity safer.
Dr. Gibala: Absolutely and you’re spot on there. I think maybe it’s a little bit easier for some people to apply these cardio style workouts on their own, but getting qualified instruction from people who know what they’re doing is really important, especially when it comes to the resistance based stuff.
Adam: So now, you end your book with a nutrition chapter and I don’t know, weight loss. I’ve never really put too much credence in exercise for weight loss, it’s generally a diet thing, but there’s definitely a synergy if you will, an approach. If weight loss is part of your goal, and I always joke around, only half joking around because there is truth to this, that a lot of people that do these high intensity workouts and workout in general, they always that I’m concerned about my cardiorespiratory health, but if I told them that it doesn’t help your cardiorespiratory health — or actually if I told them that it doesn’t help them lose weight, they just wouldn’t do it. They say they care about their heart, but really if they found out that they’re not going to lose any weight doing this, they walk out the door. So let’s face it, we all care about losing weight and what is the contribution of high intensity interval training to weight loss and is there a one two punch with high intensity interval training and diet. And sorry if the sirens in New York City are overpowering me.
Dr. Gibala: It’s fine, and I agree with you, whether it’s 90/10, whether it’s 80/20, clearly the energy inside of the equation is much more important. Controlling body size, body composition through diet is the primary driver there. Exercise can play a role with weight loss maintenance I think over time. High intensity interval training just like it’s a time efficient way to boost fitness, it’s a time efficient way to burn calories, but the primary driver is still going to be nutrition, and so we’ve shown in our lab that a twenty minute session of intervals can result in the same calorie burn as a 55 minute of continuous exercise, so again, if you’re looking for time efficient ways to burn calories, intervals can be a good strategy there. Personal trainers talk about the after burn effect, this idea of a heightened rate of metabolism in recovery. It’s often overstated but it’s real, we’ve measured it and demonstrated it in the lab, but again, they’re small. As you all know, the key controlling variable there is the nutrition side and you use the exercise side to help maintain that over time, and it’s mainly important about cardiorespiratory fitness but you’re right, the people are still interested with how they look in the mirror, absolutely, all of us are.
Adam: I’m sorry, it’s not going to be in your exercise camp. Exercise does a lot for us, but we put too many attributes on exercise’s shoulders if you will. Let’s leave that one off please. It does enough, you don’t have to also ask it to lose thirty pounds.
Dr. Gibala: People think you exercise to lose weight and that’s what confers all the fitness benefits. We like to just remind them, there’s that straight line between exercise and fitness, regardless of the number on the scale, and if you want to attack that number on the scale, you’ve got to make changes on the diet side.
Adam: I appreciate all your time, and I’ve been monopolizing the whole conversation. I’m just curious if Tim or Sheila or Mike had any other questions or comments they’d like to make before we wrap this up?
Tim: Sure. If you don’t mind Dr. Gibala, one of the questions that I had was for somebody middle aged to pick up this high intensity interval training, HIIT, what are some of the risks involved for somebody that says look, I haven’t worked out in years, I want to get started. You mentioned earlier a beginner program but what are some of the risks you’d be looking out for?
Dr. Gibala: The first one is our standard advice is always that if you’re thinking about starting or changing your exercise routine, you want to check with your physician. We’re doing a study right now with interval training in people with type two diabetes, and most of these individuals are fifty, sixty years old, many of them are overweight. So the first thing is they go through a full, exercise stress test cardiac screening. Now that’s obviously in a research setting, but I think checking with your doctor is always good advice on the individual level, because that’s going to potentially catch something, or maybe there’s an underling reason that you might not be cleared to engage in vigorous exercise so let’s get that out of the way. That being said, interval training has been applied broadly, in many different ways, to all of these people that we were talking about. Cardiovascular disease, type two diabetes, metabolic syndrome, elderly individuals, and so I think there’s a type of program interval training that’s suitable for just about anyone. I go back to my earlier comments, you want to start out easier, so don’t go from being on the couch to the one minute workout of sprinting up stairs as hard as you can. Progress to that beginner workout or maybe the 10×1 or some of these other workouts that we star in the book. Again, it sounds like common sense and it is. Start out slow, build, progress from there. So the risks, exercise carries a transient risk. Let’s be realistic about that and so when you’re engaged in exercise, your risk of having a cardiac event is slightly higher, but the other 23 and a half hours of the day when you’re not exercising, your risk is markedly lower. So if the choice is even a single weekly bout of high intensity exercise or nothing, you’re much better off doing the exercise. Here in Canada, you read the high profile reports of the ice hockey player skates on a Friday night in a beer league with his buddies, and occasionally there’s these one off tragic events were someone has a heart attack and dies on the ice. Very tragic for this individual and people get scared of exercise and it’s like no on the big picture level, if you look at the epidemiological studies they will tell you that single weekly bout of exercise is protective in terms of reducing your risk of dying, but again, at the individual level, you want to make sure that you’re probably screened and cleared to begin with.
Adam: That was a point you made in your book and I thought it was great.
Dr. Gibala: We talk to some of these people who write the exercise guidelines, who deal every day — we talked to Paul Thompson, who is an expert exercise cardiologist and that’s the point that he made. He said that if your choices are remaining sedentary or doing HIIT, do HIIT. If you’re an older individual with some risk factors who is not time pressed, then maybe consider the moderate approach, but that message doesn’t resonate with a lot of individuals so I think as an individual, get checked by your physician, but people don’t need to be afraid of interval training. It comes in lots of different flavors, and there’s a flavor in my mind that’s suitable for just about anyone.
Mike: Right. Are there any known cardiac conditions where you have to be concerned about it that we know about? Valve or something?
Dr. Gibala: I’m not a cardiologist but certainly some schemas, some unstable anginas, things like this where those are really high risk individuals that need to be carefully monitored, but I point to the fact that there’s a lot of cardiac rehabilitation programs now that are incorporating interval exercise and resistance exercise on a regular basis.
Mike: You spoke before about how you get a new boost. Like if you’re doing intervals for the first time you get a boost, and after a while, it goes up and then there’s some diminishing returns after a while. With your studies, with your experiments there, if you vary the stimulus, like say you do the beginner for a while, and then you find that you plateau. Have you shown that you just do a different interval workout and a new boost will happen?
Dr. Gibala: I think a varied approach is always going to be best. I think there were take some clues from the athletes again. Periodized training over the course of a season really is just about changing up workouts, hitting the body in different ways, and it’s just a common sense strategy that even average, recreational based people can incorporate. So yes, stick with a program for a bit of time, and then vary it up, or if you want, change the interval workouts every week, but the body thrives on variety. After a while, anyone is going to get a stale doing the same thing, so that’s why I think that varied approach to fitness is always going to be best.
Sheila: Adam actually asked the question that I was going to ask. It’s the question that most girls usually want to know about is burning fat. What I have a question about is are there any apps that you know of or do you have an app? Like I love apps, like you go outside and you have your phone and your headphones, like is there an app to do these different types of interval training?
Dr. Gibala: There are, a ton of them. Personally I don’t use a specific one, but even recently I’ve gotten this question on Twitter so I’ve answered it a number of times and just pointed to a few sites that have the top ten best interval training apps. I think you can find a lot of them out there and it makes it easy. You sort of short your brain off and you just go when it says to go, and you back off when it says to stop. There’s lots of options out there.
Sheila: Exactly, great. So I’ll check that out and maybe we’ll list them in the show notes here.
Tim: How about rest and recovery, Dr. Gibala? Here at InForm Fitness, we go and workout once a week, we workout hard for 20-30 minutes, and then we take that week off to recover and prepare for that next workout. With this interval training, do you have any recommended rest and recovery periods?
Dr. Gibala: I think it comes back to the intensity interval, so the more intense the nature of the training, the longer the recovery needs to be. It depends a little bit on if you’re talking about training for performance, training for health, so there’s all those variables but I think as a general rule of thumb, the more intense the interval, the longer the period of recovery that you’re going to need, and the more intense the interval training session, the longer the recovery days in between you might need. Again, it’s really individual then in terms of what you’re specifically looking for, especially if it’s just general health or if it’s performance.
Tim: So if somebody is near an InForm Fitness or decides to do this somewhere else perhaps, they can just listen to their body if they don’t have a trainer.
Dr. Gibala: Again, lots of common sense stuff but it’s common sense for a reason. It makes a lot of sense.
Adam: That’s a great way we can wrap it up I think, that says it all right there. This whole workout just makes sense, this whole idea that it’s the intensity over duration.
Dr. Gibala: The other moniker we’ve come up with is life is an interval training workout. We don’t just sort of plod through life like this, you run to catch the subway or whatever, so I think this alternating pattern, alternating energy demands, interval training rewards that.
Adam: Well thank you so much, I really enjoyed this talk. I appreciate your work so much. Don’t retire anytime soon please, keep going, there’s still a lot to find out, and I hope we can stay in touch.
Dr. Gibala: Pleasure to speak with all of you, I really appreciate the opportunity to be on the show and the great, insightful questions. Thanks for this opportunity.