March 9, 2003

Is this the world’s fastest workout?

Sports active: Is this the world's fastest workout? Or is it just a short cut for the lazy? ; According to the latest gym craze, you can stay in great shape by lifting a few weights for eight minutes - and you needn't go anywhere near the running machine. Peta Bee tries to uncover the (not very) sweaty truth

Source: The Independent on Sunday

Adam Zickerman is not a fitness consultant who minces his words. "Aerobic exercise is a complete waste of time," says the 38-year- old American personal trainer. "One day I looked around me at people doing aerobics and treadmill jogging at the gym and I noticed something - they were all fat. If I had my choice I would ban aerobics."

And what would he recommend in its place? A solitary weekly weights session lasting no longer than eight minutes.

Zickerman and the Manhattan gym-owner Frederick Hahn are co- authors of Power of 10: The Once-a-Week Slow Motion Fitness Revolution, and part of a growing band of high-profile American fitness experts who believe that a workout lasting little longer than it takes to heat a microwave meal is all you need to do to stay fit. According to this lot, anything that gets your heart pumping and your brow sweating in the name of fitness is futile.

"You are simply not going to lose weight that way," Zickerman says. Their philo-sophy has sparked a debate as furious as the carbohydrate v protein war. Unsurprisingly, it has also spawned a library of reduced-workout books and gym classes.

Based on the unquestioned principle that muscle burns more calories, even at rest, than fat, the idea is to overload the muscles in a slow, controlled way so that they get stronger quickly. Instead of the usual four to five seconds it takes to lift and lower a weight, the new reduced workout requires that each movement up and down lasts at least 10 seconds. Many studios have installed loud- ticking metronomes to ensure clients accurately count the paces of each repetition.

"A heavy load on the muscles means they gradually get fatigued to the point where they can no longer lift," explains Ken Hutchins, a trainer to many of Hollywood's A-list stars, including Brad Pitt. "Within two to three minutes of exercising a muscle this slowly, it reaches a threshold. The body then gets a signal to make that muscle grow stronger."

When you finish one of the mini- workouts, says Jorge Cruise, author of 8 Minutes in the Morning, a bestseller on last year, the beneficial effects continue. "Once you get off that treadmill you stop burning calories," he says. "But muscles are like an investment in the bank - they keep earning for you. By replacing fat with muscle strength and muscle tone, your body will need to burn more calories all day, even at rest."

Two studies have shown this regime produces 50 per cent greater improvements in muscle tone than ordinary strength workouts. Because the overall pace of the workout is quick - you move swiftly from one weights machine to the next and complete the entire workout in eight to 20 minutes - Zickerman and the others even claim it gets you aerobically fit. To those who raise a cynical eyebrow at such a suggestion, the eight-minute devotees point to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association last year. Researchers at the Harvard Pubic School of Health showed that men lowered their risk of heart attacks by 23 per cent through 30 minutes of weight training and only 18 per cent through half an hour of power walking.

Professor Eric Rimm, one of the researchers, confirms that weight training alone can boost the body's ability to process insulin and distribute glucose, factors which help to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease. But he adds: "It wouldn't substantially help the heart. It would raise heart rate during the once-a-week workout, but not for the other six days, 23 hours and 50 minutes."

Still, Hutchins maintains that one or two eight-minute sessions a week is plenty for most people. "You need at least a day off between these type of workouts, but preferably two," he says. "The muscle building goes on when your body is resting. If you train while your body is trying to build muscle, you defeat the whole purpose."

Some British trainers are already incorporating these theories into their programmes, but as far as medical experts are concerned, the reduced workout is not an excuse to opt out of regular training. Richard Godfrey, chief physiologist at the British Olympic Medical Centre in Harrow, believes it is irresponsible for the fitness industry to promote a message that eight minutes of exercise a week is enough to stay healthy.

"People should not be fooled that this is a short cut," he says. "Slow, short weight-training sessions are great and they will help to change your shape. But they are not enough on their own. To suggest so is a bit of a gimmick."

"Power of Ten: The Once A Week Slow Motion Fitness Revolution" by Adam Zickerman (pounds 14, Harper Resource) "The Slow Burn Fitness Revolution" by Frederick Hahn (pounds 12.97, Broadway Books) "8 Minutes In The Morning" by Jorge Cruise (pounds 12.97, Rodale Books) "Burn Faster By Exercising Slower" by Stuart Mittleton (pounds 7.91, HarperCollins) "Flip The Switch: Discover The Weight Loss Solution" by Jim Karas (pounds 12, Harmony Books)

The eight-minute workout

Determine the maximum weight you can lift and then reduce it by 30 per cent.

Start with six repetitions of each exercise, concentrating on the major muscles in the arms, legs and trunk. Take 10 seconds to lift the weight, then 10 seconds to lower it.

Move quickly between exercises - by finishing within 20 minutes you will have conditioned your cardiovascular system.

Machines tend to be better than free weights because they force you to focus on your technique.

Take at least 48 hours between each session to recover. If you hit a fitness plateau, try doing less, not more.


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