The Man Behind “The One-Minute Workout”

A few weeks ago we learned that high-intensity training can be more effective than regular moderate exercise. To learn more about high-intensity exercise, BTRtoday speaks to Martin Gibala, Ph.D., chair and professor of kinesiology at McMaster University, whose book, “The One-Minute Workout” (written with Christopher Shulgan) was recently published.

BTRtoday (BTR): I gotta ask: Can you really have an effective workout in just one minute?

Martin Gibala (MG): [Laughs]. I must admit, that is a teaser title. Our research concluded that three, 20-second bursts [of intense exercise] is effective in context between periods of recovery. Intervals provide the time-efficient strategy to exercise intensely between periods of recovery. The title is true, but in context of the full workout.

BTR: How did you first become interested in kinesiology prior to the inspiration for “The One-Minute Workout”?

MG: I studied it as an undergraduate and was always interested in physiology and athletics. Because of the limited time I had to exercise as an assistant professor with research commitments and raising two young boys at home with their working mother…that led to a greater interest in how I could exercise more efficiently with the little time I had. I also taught a class, the Integrated Physiology of Human Performance, for my students who were always interested in elite athletes’ workout regimes. My personal interest and professional line of research in the field made me want to pursue it even further.

BTR: In your book you divide interval training into two different camps: high-intensity interval training [HIIT] and sprint interval training [SIT]. What’s the difference?

MG: Interval training is alternating training periods of more intense exercise with periods of recovery. Interval training is HIIT, which is not all-out maximal exercise; and SIT is exercising as hard as you can go, which is very demanding and therefore not for everyone. HIIT pushes you, but not like SIT does. SIT is extremely effective and time-efficient but not suited for everyone. I think we know more about HIIT, which is more time-efficient than [traditional moderate exercise]. But SIT is even more time-efficient than HIIT.

Even so, interval training comes in a variety of flavors. Even interval walking elicits improvements in greater cardiovascular health, fat reduction, and fighting disease and aging.

BTR: Are there any risks switching from the two-and-a-half-hour moderate weekly workouts to the fractioned HIIT or SIT workouts?

MG: The greater risk is remaining sedentary—staying on the couch all day. Exercising itself comes with increased risk because you’re being more active. What I suggest is to be smart about changing your exercise routine and check with your physician before beginning any regimens. Interval training comes in so many different flavors: don’t try and be a hero going from zero to 60. A very de-conditioned individual [i.e., a person who does not exercise regularly] should start slowly and check with their doctor before changing their lifestyle.

BTR: What do you wish to achieve next in your studies?

MG: The public health guidelines [that recommend 150 minutes of moderate exercise per week] are based on good science and many studies, but to use a pharmaceutical analogy, interval training is like the new drug on the block in comparison to the traditional approach. By and large, the studies [for interval training] are small and short-term. We’ve not looked into all the health parameters. We need to move into larger scale, randomized trials [of interval training] versus moderate exercise. The issue is there are only so many ways to jog for 45 minutes on a treadmill, but there are various ways to exercise with interval training. We have to come up with specific protocols that we can test against the traditional approach.

BTR: Is there anything else you’d like to discuss regarding interval training’s effectiveness?

MG: While not directly related, I’m often asked about weight control, and what I always say is that it’s easier to control what we intake than what we burn when we exercise. Trainers discuss an “afterburn” for maintaining a higher metabolism to burn more calories after finishing your workout. While studies show this to be true, it might be overstated.

Stay tuned next week for an in-depth review of “The One-Minute Workout.”