I’ve been an avid exerciser for about 30 years – yeah, that’s right – 30 years. For most of that time I was a runner, however lower back pain has curtailed my running almost entirely in the last few years. I have also done lots of spinning classes, other cardio classes, TRX, ballet, yoga, and old-fashioned weight training. Week after week, nearly every day, I put in my 90-120 minutes, some of it pure torture, but mostly I enjoy it and know it is better than the alternative. My workouts are tough – typically one hour of interval cardio plus an hour or so of weight training, (or TRX, or ballet, or yoga – some kind of resistance work). I’ve been putting in this kind of schedule for so long I really miss it on my days off, and struggle when I travel. However, over time, and with age, this kind of punishment takes its toll. I find it takes longer to recover from a particularly challenging workout, I don’t sleep as well as I used to, and I’m sore most of the time. Granted, I do tend to overtrain and I am working on that.
Recently, I came across a book by Gretchen Reynolds (NYT wellness reporter) called “The First 20 Minutes.” This book was written for me! The basic idea is to provide useful information for those of us who want to continue to challenge ourselves physically but not die prematurely (!) or get injured (or have successive injuries). The author provides lots and lots of compelling evidence from studies done around the world that try to shed light on how much (or little) exercise one can do to reap the health benefits. The big takeaway for me is the compelling evidence supporting HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training. This idea has been around awhile, and I have been aware of it. But the great thing for me is to read all the studies that show equal or better outcomes for this kind of training. The idea – for those of you who don’t know – is to do very intense, to-the-limit short intervales interspersed with recovery intervals. Just 4-6 minutes of intense work can do the trick! The hard part is the hard part – these work intervals need to be quite intense, and they hurt – a lot. In the last few months, the gym I belong to has added a few classes to the schedule based on the HIIT approach. Doing this in a class with other people and good music makes it MUCH easier to push myself. Both classes are 30 minutes, one on the spin bike, the other includes a range of exercises using weights, bodyweight, bosu balls, bungees, etc (kind of like Crossfit). I definitely feel like I’m doing more by doing less. I highly recommend the book, available here, and I also recommend doing more HIIT workouts!