Imagine a workout plan where you could get fitter, stronger and faster in just a few minutes each day. You wouldn't have to slave for hours down the gym or even invest in fancy trainers and trendy lycra.
Well thanks to a new fitness plan that's sure to be the hit workout of 2014 — that impossible dream is now reality.
Fast Exercise is the brainchild of Dr Michael Mosley and, based on cutting-edge scientific research, it promises to shift half a stone or more in four weeks with just eight minutes of sweat.
“It's not how long you spend working out that matters, but how hard you push yourself,” explains Dr Mosley.
“If you are prepared to give all-out effort in short bursts — an approach the experts call High Intensity Training (or HIT) — then the reward is a workout that need last only a matter of minutes yet will product a list of health and fitness benefits as long as your arm.”
The science would appear to back up the doctor's claim. In 2005 researchers at McMaster University in Canada found that subjects who did 30-second cycling sprints over two minutes developed the same muscle cell adaptations as those who spent two hours of long, steady bike riding.
Research shows that as well as improving muscle tone and strength, HIT has also been found to shift fat, boost the cardiovascular system, help weight-loss, reduce the risk of diabetes and stabilise blood sugar levels.
Dublin-based fitness trainer James Murphy (zestfitness.ie) agrees that high intensity training is the best way to fight flab. “Put simply, the higher the heart rate the more calories you're going to burn,” he explains. “I often hear from people who say they're walking for an hour a day, or jogging on a treadmill, but not losing any weight.
“They're not going to, because the heart rate isn't getting to the point it needs to, to burn fat. If you're of a decent level of fitness and not suffering from any breathing problems, it's always better to do short bursts of high intensity training and lift the heart rate rather than slogging away at a slow pace.”
Fast Exercise is the latest instalment from the same man who brought us the Fast Diet. As with his revolutionary 5:2 eating plan, where practitioners follow a normal diet for five days of the week before ‘fasting' on a calorie-controlled plan for two days, Mosley's ethos for fitness is keeping it simple with minimal disruption to your normal life.
He says: “The [other] great benefit of Fast Exercise is practical: it can be slotted into a busy life with relative ease. You can, if you really want, do Fast Exercise in your normal clothes, not even bothering to change into trainers.”
Like Dr Mosley's Intermittent Fasting diet, the four-week plan for Fast Exercise adopts a 5:2 approach of five days working out and two days rest.
Exercises suitable for HIT include skipping, indoor rowing, running, stair running or cycling.
A suggested week-long plan for a beginner to HIT might include skipping for as fast as you can for 90 seconds before resting and repeating, sprinting for 20 second intervals on day two, sprinting on an exercise bike for eight seconds, then 12 seconds recovery and repeat over four minutes, running up stairs and walking back down over four minutes on day four and cycling in a fast burst of three minutes during an eight minute long cycle on day five.
Mosley suggests building up HIT Fast Fitness exercises before embarking on his series of Fast Strength exercises which use the body's own weight to work and build the major muscle groups.
Aspects of Fast Exercise have of course been around for some time. Placing a limited timeframe on workouts has long been popular with Helen Mirren a long-time devotee of the Canadian Air Force 15-minute workout plan. Likewise, fitness trainers have long espoused the virtues of high intensity interval training and calisthenics — muscle strengthening exercises that don't require equipment — leapt to popularity in the leotard frenzy of the 1980s.
But with the strength of one health and fitness craze already behind him it seems likely that Dr Mosley will be on the fast track to success with his latest no-fuss weight-loss wonder.
Fast Exercise (Short Books) by Dr Michael Mosley with Peta Bee is out now
10 ways it will improve your health
1 Accelerates fat loss: According to Dr Mosley, even if you don’t significantly alter your diet, and exercise for only two 60-second HIT sessions a week, studies have shown that you can lose 1-2kg in six to eight weeks. In scientific studies, those doing HIIT lost an average 12.4pc of their fat mass in six weeks, a total that was more than double that of joggers.
2 Reduces blood pressure: Many studies, including one in the journal PLOS One, have demonstrated that four minutes of short-duration, high-intensity training three times a week can regulate or even lower blood pressure in those who haven’t previously done much exercise at all.
3 Helps cholesterol levels: Researchers in Duke University in North Carolina first made the link between high-intensity exercise and improved cholesterol profile. In the New England Journal of Medicine, Dr William Kraus showed that patients assigned a high intensity programme did better than those assigned to a moderate exercise one.
4 Makes the heart stronger: As well as increasing brain size, fast training can make the heart muscles bigger and stronger, and therefore work more efficiently. It could even be safer than moderate exercise for those recovering from a heart attack, but it is essential that a doctor is consulted in these cases before trying a new training programme.
5 Balances insulin: HIT can help older people control their blood sugar better, having a favourable effect on balancing blood glucose levels and insulin production. It’s good for those with blood sugar issues, because it’s simply pushing yourself harder but over a shorter period of time.
6 Makes you less hungry: Studies have proven that exercisers eat fewer calories after an intense HIT session than they do after a bout of moderate exercise due to the short, sharp bursts of energy being used.
7 Makes your brain bigger: Studies have shown that highly energetic exercises have resulted in an increase in brain size, especially when compared to those who do more sedentary exercise like stretching. At the end of one study there were impressive increases in the brain size of those doing high intensity activity, but no change in those doing stretching.
8 Stops the hunger hormones: Leptin, which has been described as the hunger hormone, is reduced by doing high intensity, fast exercises. Studies in Australia showed this reduction in a group of women as they got fitter, as opposed to those doing low-intensity routines.
9 Higher calorie burn: One of the main benefits is higher burning levels. One would need to use a treadmill, run, jog or cycle for far longer to burn 200 calories than you would taking part in fast exercise. You would need to jog for at least three times longer for the same return. Growth hormones are also evident in the blood after HIT.
10 Increases your metabolism: HIT pushes your muscles to their limits due to its intensity. It also works bigger groups of muscles and by pushing them harder, you’re boosting your metabolism for longer - even as long as three days later. That means you’re still burning energy for hours after you finish exercising.
- Wear what you like to do a Fast workout, even ordinary, everyday clothes. Workout gear is not essential because you’re unlikely to sweat a huge amount.
- Fast Exercise is based on a combination of Fast Fitness and Fast Strength. Once you’ve got fitter, aim to split your time equally between the two.
- Take care to warm up for at least a minute, ideally doing the activity you will be performing in the main part of the workout.
- With HIT or Fast Fitness, push yourself hard on the Fast sections. Your thighs should begin to burn after about 15 seconds of a 20-second sprint or 20 seconds of a 30-second sprint if you’re to do the exercise correctly.
- Make sure to recover, ideally by walking, jogging or pedalling at a gentle pace before ‘sprinting’ again.
- With Fast Strength workouts, make sure to take 10-second breathers. And ensure that technique stays good when you’re doing the exercises. After enough practice, they will come naturally.
- It is important to cool down with at least a few minutes of gentle exercise after Fast workouts to ensure that blood pressure and heart-rate return to normal.
- Stay active: to work properly, Fast Exercise should incorporate more than just the short bursts of daily activity.
- Actively increase the amount of activity you do every day by walking more, taking stairs instead of lifts and not sitting so much.
- Ultimately, it is the combination of the Fast method, plus more conventional exercise that will have the most profound effect on your health, fitness and life-expectancy.
The easy ways to work fitness into your day
- Find a fitness buddy. If you are going for a run with some extra HIT, get someone to join you. Even better, you could also get together with a group and make definite plans to meet up regularly.
- Get up and move when you are at work. You should be on the go every thirty minutes. See colleagues in person rather emailing them or talking on the phone. Make your phone calls standing up. In this way you could burn off up to 350 calories a day.
- Keep your aims in mind and convince yourself that it is all for a purpose. Just think of the health benefits and the improvement to your self-esteem.
- Keep you exercise tools highly visible as a reminder of what you should be doing. Keep your runners in a prominent place, and if your family can bear it put the exercise bike in the living room
- Don’t give yourself excuses for not following the regime. If there is any doubt you could write a list of reasons why you think you may not be able to do it — it could be the weather or you’re overloaded at work — and then offer a solution to each one.
- Make a promise and put it in writing, setting out exactly what you will do and for what period every week. Write it in a notebook or post reminders on email. Set it all out in a thorough manner and you will stick to it more readily.