- High-intensity circuit training is growing in popularity because it's efficient
- 20 minutes of intense exercise can have same benefits as longer, more moderate workout
- Effect on fat loss could last up to 72 hours after the workout is finished
Seven minutes. That's the amount of time it takes to complete the high-intensity circuit training program Chris Jordan designed to help his clients lose weight and get fit. Repeat the circuit two to three times and your workout is over.
You'll sweat. Your muscles will probably be sore the next day. And all you need is a small space on the floor, a chair and your own body weight.
"(High-intensity circuit training) is growing in popularity because of its efficiency and practicality for a time-constrained society," Jordan writes in the May/June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine's Health & Fitness Journal. "The combination of aerobic and resistance training in a high-intensity, limited-rest design can deliver numerous health benefits in much less time than traditional programs."
Jordan is the director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute, where he developed the fitness programming portion of their Corporate Athlete program for business executives looking to improve their performance -- in and out of the office.
The Human Performance Institute was formed more than 30 years ago by doctors Jim Loehr and Jack Groppel. The founders had backgrounds in sports psychology and physiology and wanted to help enhance professional athletes' performances in high stress environments. Since then the institute has moved on to helping law enforcement officers, military personnel and Fortune 500 employees.
"Business executives, much like athletes, have to perform under pressure. Numbers count for everything. They're always on," Jordan says. "Being energized can help us be the best we can possibly be at those times that really matter."
Before joining the Human Performance Institute 10 years ago, Jordan was a researcher with the British Army; his work focused on finding out what the human body was capable of tolerating, whether it was extreme heat or strenuous exercise.
He later switched gears to do more hands-on work with the U.S. Air Force, designing fitness programs for personnel in Europe. His favorite program? Interval training, of course.
The seven-minute circuit is actually based on a workout he designed for the Air Force in 1997. When he launched the program, 85% of personnel were passing the required fitness test; 12 months later, 97% were passing.
So what makes high-intensity, interval training so effective?
The simple answer is that we know exercise is "dose responsive," Jordan says, so the more you put into it, the better the results you'll get. That can be with a moderate 90-minute workout or an intense 20-minute workout.
With the seven-minute circuit, you do 12 exercises back-to-back for 30 seconds each, taking a maximum of 10 seconds of rest in between. It's not a workout for beginners, Jordan says. For 30 seconds at a time, you should be working at 85% to 90% of your maximum heart rate -- or an eight out of 10 on your personal exertion scale. Each exercise focuses on a different part of the body, so the other areas can recuperate without lowering your heart rate.
"This is a relatively short, but intense, nonstop workout. As a consequence, it's quite demanding on the body."
No pain, no gain, right? The reward for completing the circuit is a higher calorie burn that lasts longer.
During the workout, your body releases hormones that have a stimulating effect on fat loss; research has shown the effect can last up to 72 hours after the workout is finished.