Which Is Better- The Short or Long Workout Session?


I just got done with my “CrossFit”-type workout session. I know what CrossFit means now. My burning thighs and calves are pretty ‘cross’ and my aching biceps and shoulders are throwing a ‘fit’.

Wow that was fun, exhausting and exhilarating all in a short period of time. But is it helping me improve my fitness? I can’t be burning as many calories comparatively to the longer workouts, am I?

So what is better? The short 20-25 minute workout or the longer 60-90 min workout? I have always felt that I was not getting an adequate workout unless I did the longer sessions. So, longer workout sessions are better, right?
Well, as it turns out, NO. Unless your goal is to run a marathon or participate in a long endurance activity then a longer workout will be the best for you. Other than that, a short workout program can fit into your busy life and give significant results.

Studies are showing that shorter workout sessions are just as effective as longer sessions, and may have more benefits and better results. This is a huge paradigm shift for me. But when I converted to the short high-intensity exercise programs I was amazed on the quick response I was achieving. I had better muscle tone, definition and endurance than I ever had before in half the time.

Now don’t let me scare you off and think you have to get “Insane” with Shawn T’s workout program to get fit. There are two ways of approaching the short workout: the modest-pace and, the high intense-pace. The one you chose depends on your ability and fitness goals you want to meet.

The short modest-pace workout is engaging in 10 minutes of regular exercise, 3 times a day, 4-5 times a week. These 10 minute sessions can all be one type of exercise, such as walking or jogging three times a day, or a variety of exercises. For example, one 10 minute session is walking, another 10 minute session is swimming and last 10 minute session of the day is rotating leg lunges/squats/push-ups. Just do anything that will get your heart rate up.

Researchers have looked at the shorter 10 minute workout sessions, 3 times a day verses the continuous 30 minute session, each group exercised at a moderate intensity, and they found both groups had the same benefits. The two groups improved on strength, muscle tone, mood, weight loss, blood pressure and cholesterol. Although the 30 minutes broken down into 10 minute sessions maintained a slightly lower mean blood pressure, mild increase in weight loss and tended to rate feeling less stressed and more energetic throughout the day than the continuous 30 minute exercise group.

Pondering this, it does make since that frequent activity sprinkled throughout the day would have more improvements in the subjects. Exercise releases all sorts of chemicals in the brain and body that help with stress, suppress food cravings and lower blood pressure. So giving yourself a quick “therapeutic boost” of all natural chemicals during the course of the day can keep yourself more balanced and your hand out of the cookie jar.

This is great news for a person that has limited time to workout, or have a difficult time getting through 30 minutes of continuous exercise. The idea of just 10 minutes three times a day seems time-wise, physically and psychologically doable then exercising for 30 to 60 minutes. Lets see- 10 mins of cardio before we go to work, 10 minutes upper body strength when we get home and 10 minutes of legs and abdominal in the evening or a brisk walk, run, jump rope, etc. Do this 4 to 5 times a week and you got it all wrapped up. Not so painful right?

Now for the people who want a more dramatic response in body composition the 20-25 minute high intense-pace or high intensity interval training (HIIT) gets the blue ribbon over the lower-intensity 60-90 minute workout. This is where quality wins over quantity. Studies have shown the 20-25 minute fast-pace interval training is more efficient in improving body contouring, strength, metabolism and weight loss than the lower-intensity 60-90 minute workout. The American Council of Exercise recognizes the above benefits of the short higher-intensity exercise over the longer lower-intensity workouts.

Exercise experts have been aware of this and have been developing HIIT exercise programs such as Insanity, Tabata, CrossFit, TurboFire and so on, that have shorter time frames 20-25 mins that give excellent total body fitness results.

Consumer video programs such as “Insanity” or P90X are great workout programs that can be done at home (I have gotten great results from both of them). Just get ready to do a lot of Burpees and jump squats. You can adapt the HIIT concept with running, spinning, eliptical, stairs, etc. you just need a good timer.

For example: increase speed or sprint for 1 minute then slow down pace for 4-5 minutes, then increase again and repeat until 20-25 minutes is finished. Another example is the ‘beloved’ wind sprints- try sprinting ten 100-400 meter dashes with 1 minute rest period in-between sprints.

There are several HIIT websites (bodybuilding.com and beachbody.com) and Youtube programs that you can look into for ideas. There is even a variety of interval timing apps to keep you on task. Although, it is fun to workout in a group and several gyms are offering HIIT such as, Tabata and Insanity or you can join a CrossFit center.


About adwettrick

I am a Family Nurse Practitioner that works in an OB/GYN practice at Community Hospital North in Indianapolis. I graduated with my undergraduate and master's degree at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis in 2005. I am married to my best friend, Don Wettrick, whom is one of the inspirations in my life along with my three beautiful children and of course my faith in God. I enjoy educating my patients on preventative health and how to balance their busy life and being healthy. Mind, body, spirit are all connected and if one is in trouble the others tend to suffer as well.
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