If I were raising myself, I'd be a terrible parent. The older I get, the bossier and less-disciplined my inner-child has become. She decides what we eat (cheese), when we eat (every 30 minutes) and what extra-curricular activities we engage in (Netflix). As you can see, we're very busy. So busy, in fact, we just can't find the time to workout. So many shoe-laces, so few matching socks, so much planning to not drink or eat for longer than is comfortable.
Then, last week, I spotted an exercise plan that even a 34-year-old childless woman with a Wikipedia addiction could fit into her crowded schedule. It's a 30-second workout. Actually it's 3 minutes of a 30-second high intensity exercise three times a week, but let's keep that between us.
This proposed exercise program isn't the kind of thing you can buy on Amazon. There's no beefy celebrity trainer holding an exercise ball waving three fingers at you from the cover of a book. There's no DVD hosted by a washboard stomach that once dated Robert Kardashian. There's not even a mention of the word "abs" in the workout's description.
Instead, the 3-minute workout is part of a long-term study led by Dr. Jamie Timmons, a professor at Birmingham University, who specializes in aging biology. For the past few years, Timmons has been researching the effectiveness of High Intensity Impact Training (HIIT). Through multiple small-scale studies on a range of human guinea pigs (including a self-elected BBC correspondent), he's found that short, hyper-fast bursts of exercise can be just as effective in burning fat and improving overall health as some types of longer, low-impact exercise.
Timmons and his team are currently testing the exercise method with an ongoing large-scale study to decipher more concrete evidence for the ground-breaking results. For now, they theorize that HIIT's effectiveness stems from a few key factors. Firstly, it's believed that working out at your maximum capacity, however briefly, engages more muscles than any low-impact extended exercise. The speedy movement may also shift sugar from blood to the muscle resulting in a speedier caloric burn. And you know how ravenous you get after an hour at the gym? The 30-second burn doesn't elevate your appetite, because you're not expending nearly as much energy. The best part: participants in HIIT trials started seeing results after only four weeks.
Kind of sounds like a late-night infomercial, doesn't it? "So how does it work?" she said in her best Bowflex voice.
There are loads of different approaches to the 3-minute-workout, all of which involve 30 seconds of super-fast heart-racing muscle-throbbing exercise punctuated by a few minutes of catching your breath.
The cycling workout: On a stationary or regular bike, cycle gently for a few minutes to warm up (sadly, those don't count as part of the minutes). Then you cycle faster than the Wicked Witch of the West for 20-30 seconds. Then you repeat the whole thing two more times.
The staircase workout: Walk up the stairs slowly for a few minutes, then sprint as fast you can up the next set of stairs for 30 seconds. Repeat twice more.
You can follow the same three fast/slow sets on a rowing machine, an elliptical machine or a treadmill. If you're ready to jump on the 3-minute bandwagon, make sure you consult your doctor first, especially if you've got any cardiovascular issues. You definitely want to check with health professional before you go full throttle at the gym, even if it's only for 30 seconds.
In the meantime, I'll be testing out the 3-minute program for myself. For the next four weeks, I'll be dragging my inner-child through the quick and dirty workout three days a week in hopes of taking back my body from the spoiled brat who currently operates it. There will be tantrums, and endless excuses (I feel sick! I accidentally drank something I shouldn't have!), but in the name of science my inner-parent will prevail. On Monday, February 4, I'll report back with results. Can I really drop a few pounds with a few minutes of exercise? Will there finally be something that resembles muscle on my body? Will I find the time in my crazy schedule to not lay down? I make no promises.