The fitness industry seems to be absolutely obsessed with getting more benefits from less training at the moment. The big push is for super-fast workouts such as HIIT routines and even ‘tabata’ which promises that it can get you into great shape using just 4 minutes of regular training.
Whether or not you can really get the same benefits from shorter training sessions is open to debate. But for argument’s sake, let’s try and take this trend to its logical conclusion. What would happen if you were to do just one minute of exercise but go all out ? Would this have any benefit for your health? Would it be enough to help you lose weight, improve your fitness or tone your muscle? Let’s take a look at what the science has to say on the topic…
1 Minute of All-Out Training: What Happens?
Going all-out for one minute would be taking for the heart more than the muscles, which would make it a form of cardiovascular training (a CV workout).Interestingly though, it would be inaccurate to describe the work out as being ‘aerobic’ even though the two terms are very often used interchangeably.
That’s because‘aerobic’ training always involves the lungs and oxygen. In other words, it utilizes the ‘aerobic energy system’. This is what happens when our heavy breathing kicks in during a jog or a walk, at which point the body is using that oxygen to burn fat stores and transport the energy to the muscles and the brain.
One minute of intense exercise would not have this effect. One reason for this, is that one minute would not be long enough for the body to use the aerobic system which takes a considerable amount of time.
Another reason,is that all-out exercise places too much demand on the body and the aerobic system is too slow to deliver the necessary energy in time.
So, what would happen instead, is that the body would start out by using the ATP(adenosine triphosphate) already stored in the muscles and then recycling that using creatine monophosphate. This is what is known as the ‘ATP-CP energy system’. This energy system only provides enough ATP for a couple of seconds of maximum exertion however, at which point you would switch to the glycogen-lactic acid system.
This energy system uses the glycogen that is stored in the muscle but produces the by-product lactic acid and other metabolites that can eventually build up in the blood making you feel sick and causing the muscles to ‘burn’.
What Does This do for the Body?
So, is this useful?
Unfortunately,because you haven’t used the aerobic system, you won’t have actually burned any fat. However, there is a silver-lining to this because you will have used up the glycogen stores in your muscles and the ATP. This in turn means that you have created a calorie deficit that must be paid!
While you won’t have burned fat during this training, your body will then work to restore the ATP and glycogen in the muscle, which in turn will involve burning more fat than usual. This is what is sometimes called the ‘after burn effect’ and it will result in you burning more calories for a short time afterward and a greater ‘total’ number of calories than you would from doing 1 minute of aerobic exercise (sub 75% maximum heart rate).
Of course, there’s still only so much of a deficit you can create in just one minute, so it’s not going to be a huge amount.
A piece of good news here though, is that if you consume carbs during the after burn effect, then those carbs will be sent to restore the muscle mass rather than to be stored as fat. This is called ‘carb backloading’ and it’s a great way to ‘get away’ with eating carbs without gaining lots of extra weight.
Again though, this is not going to happen to the same extent that it would if you had engaged in exercise for longer .
In terms of fitness and heart health, the benefits here will be quite minor. Fitness works on the basis of ‘SAID’, which stands for ‘Specific Adaptations to Imposed Demands’. That is to say, that your body adapts to the strains you put it under. If you only ever train for a minute at a time, then your body will adapt to that and nothing else.
This means your heart won’t benefit in the same way – you won’t increase the size of your left ventricle to decrease your resting heart rate for example and you won’t improve your fitness for any extended workouts.
But what you may find is that you improve your ability to maintain maximum exertion of one minute. This is something that not everyone can do,as the build-up of metabolites in the blood make it hard to remain within the glycogen lactic acid system. Your muscles will start to burn and you’ll start to feel sick and exhausted. Your body will be begging you to slow down so that you can enter the aerobic energy system.
As you continue to use this type of training, you’ll improve your lactate threshold and your ability to recycle ATP. In short, you’ll be able to sprint for longer before becoming exhausted.
Note that sprinting also requires fast twitch muscle fiber, so you may be able to increase the explosive strength in your legs.
Is There Any Reason to do This?
So, is there any benefit to training this way?
Not really. Not on its own. The benefits you do get will be so small as to not be terribly worthwhile. That said, if you combine a minute of intense exercise interspersed with periods of active recovery, then you’ve got HIIT and that is very worthwhile.
Likewise, you could make some argument for interspersing multiple shorts bursts of exercise throughout your day so that you get these advantages multiplied several times over.
But do keep in mind that 1 minute of all-out exercise is not as easy as you probably expect. This is not really a ‘short cut’ at all in fact!