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Cheating the system: how shorter workouts may be most effective

By Jessica Chaiken

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With spring less than two months away, the time is quickly approaching when we will no longer need to be bundled up to our ears in sweaters and coats. In lieu of spring break trips and the imminent “bikini season,” this is the time when people begin to work on reclaiming their beach bodies, hence the overly crowded gyms and bizarre health food kicks circulating.

For many of us who have busy schedules crammed with classes, work, existential crises and just about anything else time-consuming that you can imagine, it is difficult to find time for working out. Yet, in the midst of everyone’s hectic schedules, it is healthy to dedicate some time to exercising, as it is a stress-relieving activity.

A common misconception is that exercising takes up a lot of time. On the contrary, when it comes to exercise it is more about quality than quantity. If you spend two hours at the gym but are lazy in your workout, you won’t get the same results as someone who spent 30 minutes at the gym but had a high-intensity workout.

Studies have shown that one minute of high intensity interval training may be equivalent to 45 minutes of moderate exercise. Scientists at McMaster University in Ontario conducted a study where they enlisted a sample of out-of-shape men and separated them into three groups: a control group where the men did not exercise, another group where the men began a typical endurance workout plan, and the third group where they participated in an interval training routine that lasted 10 minutes at a time.

The study showed that the groups of men who exercised through the typical endurance workout versus the 10-minute interval routine had essentially identical results. This supports the idea that you can still achieve a beneficial workout in a short amount of time if you give it your all. Of course, if you can exercise at a higher intensity for longer than 10 minutes, do it. But if you don’t have the time, the few minutes of high intensity exercise is better than nothing.

As for the high-intensity exercise, the term HIIT, high-intensity interval training, has been thrown around a lot lately. HIIT is a type of exercise that alternates short and intense anaerobic exercise with very brief recovery periods. HIIT burns fat at a faster rate than less intense exercise periods.

Adding HIIT into your workout routine may seem like a challenge but it is actually very simple. You don’t need to have a personal trainer or take a class at the gym to perform HIIT. All it requires is for you to do a series of “high-intensity” exercises, such as jumping jacks, mountain climbers, high knees, push-ups, etc.

As a beginner, choose three or four different high-intensity exercises. Create a circuit by doing one exercise for about 30 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest, and then immediately moving on to the next exercise. As you get stronger, you can increase the number of seconds you do each exercise for, the number of rounds you perform the circuit and the types of exercises in your circuit.

The great thing about HIIT is that you can do it anywhere. If you’re pressed for time and can’t make it to the gym, you can do a quick HIIT routine in your backyard, living room, dorm or any other free space.

With the evidence that shorter and more intense workouts are just as effective as a moderate and longer workout, the excuse that you don’t have time to go to the gym is no longer valid. If you sacrifice just 10 minutes of your day to do a quick and intense circuit, the benefits will far outweigh the cost. High intensity workouts are ideal for the busy student, saving time while staying healthy.

Jessica Chaiken can be reached at [email protected]

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