Doctor Says 20-Second Workout Can Make You Slimmer and Healthier

ABC News Blogs

20-Second Workout: Is 'Fast Exercise' the Best Thing for You?

Now watching

Next video starts in : 7 Play

20-Second Workout: Is 'Fast Exercise' the Best Thing for You?

For many of us, exercising can be a chore, but what if your workout could be over in just 20 seconds?

Dr. Michael Mosley believes that three 20-second bursts of high-intensity training, three times per week, can make people skinnier and healthier.

He calls the concept "fast exercise," and describes the approach in his new book, also titled "Fast Exercise."

Scroll Down to See Quick Workouts from 'Fast Exercise'

It's the latest in the apparent trend of rapid workouts. First, there was the seven-minute workout, then the four-minute plan.

ABC News correspondent Juju Chang met Mosley at Reebok Sports Club in New York to go through the paces of the routine.

Watch Dr. Mosley Explain the 'Fast Diet'

Mosley explained that the key to effective, high intensity workouts are doing short bursts of intense exercise. He said they seem to be much more effective for weight loss as well as for insulin resistance.

Science shows that what's beneficial about exercise is the stress and intensity of the workout, not the duration, Mosley said. The benefits of this type of exercise regimen include reduced risks of cancer and diabetes.

For Mosley, it's personal.

'Brutal' 7 Minutes a Day May Be Enough for Beach Body

"Two years ago I discovered I was a diabetic," Mosley said. "I was a bit overweight. That moved me into … fast exercise. And now I'm 20 pounds lighter and my blood sugars are completely normal. I've gone from diabetic to normal."

Mosley is also the bestselling author of "The Fast Diet," which outlines a weight-loss plan in which participants can eat what they want for five days a week, but must fast for two non-consecutive days.

As a guinea pig for his own research, Mosley says he doesn't need a fancy gym, or even gym clothes.

"Stair running is a fabulous form of exercise," he said. "You can do it in any building which has three floors."

But can a few minutes a week really work?

Daniel Rohanna teaches high-intensity workouts at Reebok. He understands that people have a lot going on in their lives.

'Greetings, Chubby Human': Weight-Loss App Shames Users

"For a lot of people it's 'I've got kids, I've got my job, I've got to get groceries.' It's really nice to get in, get out, hit it hard and I'm done, but I don't think 10 minutes, three times a week is going to be enough," he said.

Mosley said scientists all over the world are finding health benefits from doing better workouts in less time.

Try These Workouts From 'Fast Exercise'

*You should consult your physician before starting this or any exercise routine.

The Bare Minimum. 40 seconds hard exercise (2 x 20 seconds) Total - 4-6 minutes, including recovery.

Unbelievably, there is evidence that just 40 seconds of intense activity can make a difference. In 2011, Dr. Niels Vollaard and colleagues at Bath University did a study in which they asked fifteen healthy but sedentary young men and women to try something they called REHIT (reduced­ exertion high-intensity training) for six weeks.

He started them off in the first week with a couple of minutes of gentle cycling, then one 10-second burst of in­tense cycling followed by a couple of minutes of cool down. In weeks two and three, each exercise session consisted of a warm-up, fifteen seconds of all-out sprinting, a couple of minutes of recovery, another fifteen seconds of all-out sprinting, then the gentle cool down.

For the final three weeks they cranked it up so each ex­ercise session consisted of two 20-second flat-out sprints separated by a couple of minutes of recovery.

Despite the fact that over the six weeks the volunteers had done less than ten minutes of hard exercise, both the men and the women showed significant improvements in their aerobic fitness - with a measure known as VO2max, the maximum volume of oxygen used by the body, up 15% and 12% respec­tively. When it came to insulin sensitivity, there was a gender difference: the men's sensitivity improved by 28% while the women's did not improve.

Vollaard is currently carrying out further studies to see if this gender difference is real and also to see if people with metabolic syndrome and diabetes get similar improvements.

He is also keen to investigate in the future whether a single burst of 20 seconds done three times a week makes a measur­able difference. If you are only doing a few bursts, 20 seconds seems to be the minimum time for a burst that will make a difference.

Extreme Weight-Loss Success Stories

The basic principle here is to push yourself in two 20-second bursts. The most obvious activity to choose is cycling, since that was what they did in the trials; if you are doing it indoors, you will need an exercise bike with variable resistance on which you can crank up the intensity mechanically; and, if cycling outside, you will need to find a hill, preferably quite a steep one, and use gravity to increase your workload. But in principle, any of the activities above will work fine. In the case of running, you will need to find some way of cranking up the resistance for your 20-second spurts - either mechanically, on a treadmill in the gym, or by using a hill if you are outside.

- Start off with a couple of minutes of gentle pedaling/running/swimming.

- When you feel ready, speed up and work your body as hard as you can for 20 seconds then slow down.

- Repeat the sprint after you've had a couple of minutes of gentle pedaling/jogging/walking to recover. Recovery time is important.

In total, the bare minimum should take less than ten minutes. Mosely likes to do it on an exercise bike (see box below) and, now that he's more used to it, he does it in less than four minutes by minimizing warm-up and cool down and by cutting his gentle pedaling to about a minute.

If you are very unfit or have never tried HIT before, it may be worth slowly building up the sprints from 2 x 10 seconds to 2 x 20 seconds. Once you have mastered 2 x 20 seconds you may want to add on another 20-second sprint which, along with the recommended recovery period, will add another couple of minutes to your regime.

First find a quiet stairwell in a building with at least four full floors. If you are unfit, you may want to spend a few weeks walking up the four flights before attempting any­thing more adventurous.

How to Cram a Workout Into 4 Minutes

When you feel up to it, try bounding up the stairs for 20 seconds. And I mean bounding. If you are a beginner, this should be long enough to make you breathe heavily and to feel the buildup of fatigue in your thighs. As you get fitter you will find that you need to run for longer, up more stairs, to get the same feeling.

Ideally take the lift down to where you started, or in a tall building just pause for 1-2 minutes to catch your breath before bounding up another few floors.

The 30-Second Sprinter. 2 minutes hard exercise. Total - 16 minutes, including 14 minutes recovery

This is similar to the 20-second sprints that we have just described, except that you will need a longer recovery pe­riod between sprints because going from 20 seconds to 30 seconds of all-out sprinting is much more demanding.

If you are not used to HIT, you should start gradually, preferably by working your way through a 20-second re­gime first, then trying 2 x 30 seconds and building up from there.

Make time to do a couple of minutes of warm-up and en­sure you are mentally ready before starting your first sprint. Between each sprint pedal gently for 3-4 minutes to recover (you will need it).

6 Ways to Work Out at Your Desk Now

This regime is based on the original HIT studies, which were done in Canada and were called SIT (sprint interval training). The Canadians found that doing four 30-second sprints (interspersed with a few minutes of recovery) three times a week led to similar improvements in fitness as run­ning or cycling at a steady speed for many hours a week.

30-second sprint/bike: 4 x 30-second sprints on a bike. Make time to do a couple of minutes warm-up before start­ing your first sprint. Between each sprint take 3-4 minutes to recover by pedaling at a gentle pace (you will need it). Then take at least 2 minutes to cool down.

30-second sprint/run: 4 x 30-second running sprints up a hill. Warm up by running at a gentle pace to your chosen hill. Then sprint for 30 seconds up the hill; walk down or around for a few minutes, then do it again. And again. And again. Finish by jogging slowly home. Stretch if you like.

30-second sprint/swim: If you like swimming, do the first few lengths at a gentle pace. When you are ready, try swim­ming 25 meters flat out (or count to 30 in your head). Take a bit of a breather, then continue gently swimming a couple more lengths. Then do another sprint. Repeat four times. Finish with a very gentle couple of lengths.

The 60-Second Workout

2½ minutes hard exercise, total - 10-11 minutes, including 8 minutes recovery

This is one of my favorite approaches and a format I have used for many years. It's very simple: the basic principle is to alternate 60-second bursts of activity with 90-second recovery periods - for example, 1 minute on, 1½ minutes off. It's wonderfully flexible: it can be done with any of the activities listed above, like cycling, running, swimming, and can be scaled down or up according to what you require.

Woman Films Herself Through 100 Days of Workouts

You might think that 60 seconds of HIT has to be tougher than 30 seconds, but this version is not. The 60-second work­out evolved out of work done by the sports science team at McMaster University when they were trying to find an ef­fective but "gentler" version of the challenging 30-second Sprinter. The key difference is that you don't push yourself quite as hard. Instead of going flat out, you exercise for a minute at about 90% of your best effort, aiming to push your heart rate up to around 80% of your maximum heart rate (see section on measuring the impact of exercise at the back of the book) by the end of the first minute. (To find out your HR max, see the reference section at the back.)

In the original studies they asked the volunteers to do 10 x 1-minute bursts of HIT with 90 seconds recovery in between each burst. This is what I do. More recently re­searchers from Metapredict (a group of exercise academics) have begun testing a less demanding variant, involving a maximum of 5 x 60-second bursts alternated with 90-second recovery periods.

The less fit should definitely start with three bursts; if you are super keen, and really want to push your limits, you can do the full 10 (this is effectively the Roger Bannister ver­sion, and particularly beneficial if you are preparing for an endurance event). Our recommendation, if you are basically quite fit, is that you aim for a steady five. So:

- Two minutes of warm-up.

- 5 x 60-second bursts of activity, with 90 seconds recovery between each burst.

- One minute of cool down.

The Fat Burner: 8 minutes hard exercise, total - 20 minutes, including 12 minutes recovery

This workout involves a repetitive cycle of eight seconds of intense activity alternated with twelve seconds of recovery, and is only really suitable for an exercise bike. It is based on two key Australian studies by Stephen Boutcher, which showed that HIT could lead to significant fat loss.

After a brief warm-up, you cycle hard against resistance for eight seconds, then gently for twelve, then hard against resistance again for eight seconds, and gently for twelve, and so on.

Copyright 2013 by Parenting Matters Limited and Peta Bee from FASTEXERCISE published by Atria Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.

View Comments (106)

Recommended for You

  • Charlotte Police Release Video of Keith Lamont Scott Shooting

    Charlotte-Mecklenburg, North Carolina, released some of the department's tapes of the fatal shooting of Keith Lamont Scott, which has sparked days of protests across the city.Police Chief Kerr Putney announced the release at a news conference today, saying that other footage will come later.In the…

    Good Morning America8 mins ago
  • Prince William, Princess Kate Arrive in Canada With Prince George, Princess Charlotte for Royal Tour

    Prince William and Princess Kate and their children, Prince George and Princess Charlotte, arrived today in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, for the start of an eight-day royal tour of Canada, their first royal tour as a family of four.

    Good Morning America12 mins ago
  • Spike Lee Remembers Bill Nunn, Who Starred as 'Radio Raheem' in 'Do the Right Thing'

    Spike Lee is among the many who are mourning the death of actor Bill Nunn. Radio Raheem died in the film after being chocked by police. In part, Lee wrote in a caption, "RADIO RAHEEM Is Now RESTING IN POWER.

    Good Morning America
  • Manhunt Continues for Gunman in Seattle-Area Mall Shooting That Killed 5

    The suspected gunman entered the Cascade Mall in Burlington, Washington, about 65 miles north of Seattle, and 10 minutes later, at about 7 p.m. local time, opened fire in the makeup department of Macy's, police said. Four women, ranging in age from teens to seniors, were killed, and a man who had…

    Good Morning America
  • What to See and What to Skip in Kauai

    Kauai gets fewer visitors than some of its more famous neighbors, half as many as Maui’s 2.4 million annual tourists and one-fifth the annual arrivals in Oahu. Fans of outdoor adventure already know about the magic that defines Kauai. Don’t Procrastinate My colleague Andrew Young, the New…

    Good Morning America
  • Nirvana's 'Nevermind' Turns 25

    On Sept. 24, 1991, Nirvana released their mind-blowing sophomore album, “Nevermind.” The album was also their major-label debut as the band shifted over to DGC records in part because it was also the home of Sonic Youth. It’s strange to think that the time since Nirvana released “Nevermind,” is…

    Good Morning America
  • Seattle Mariners Suspend Steve Clevenger Over Tweets Labeling Black Lives Matter, Obama 'Pathetic'

    Clevenger posted a series of comments on Twitter on Thursday, two days after Keith Lamont Scott, a 43-year-old black man, was fatally shot by police in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Mariners catcher appeared to suggest that those protesting against Scott’s shooting should be locked up “like…

    Good Morning America
  • New Details of Brad Pitt's Plane Altercation Emerge

    While Pitt did engage in a shouting match aboard a plane recently, there "was no inappropriate physical contact," the sources told ABC News on Friday. It has not been confirmed with which child or children Pitt argued. Pitt's wife of two years, actress Angelina Jolie Pitt, filed for divorce on…

    Good Morning America
  • Idina Menzel Is Engaged to Aaron Lohr

    Idina Menzel is engaged to actor Aaron Lohr.The Tony Award-winning actress, who just released a new album, "Idina," made the announcement on Twitter today."As if this week couldn't get any better I have wonderful news ... my man and I are engaged! We are so happy," she wrote. "It's a beautiful…

    Good Morning America
  • California Cops Buy Bike for Teen Who Walks 2 Hours to Work Every Day

    A police officers' association in California bought a bicycle for a local teenager after one cop discovered that he walks four hours to and from work every day. Corporal Kirk Keffer of the Benicia Police Department found Jourdan Duncan, 19, walking home late one night last week, and offered to…

    Good Morning America
  • What Consumers Need to Know About the Yahoo Security Breach

    Yahoo announced on Thursday that it believes information associated with at least 500 million user accounts was stolen by a "state-sponsored actor" at the end of 2014. Cyber security experts believe that this was the largest-known breach of user accounts.

    Good Morning America
  • Terence Crutcher Shooting: What's Next for Tulsa Officer Betty Shelby

    Betty Shelby, a white Tulsa police officer accused of fatally shooting an unarmed black man, turned herself into the Tulsa County Jail early this morning, and is now out on bond. She is accused of fatally shooting 40-year-old Terence Crutcher last Friday night. Shelby was arrested at 1 a.m. CT…

    Good Morning America
  • FBI Releases 189 More Pages of Hillary Clinton Email Probe Documents

    The FBI released nearly 200 more pages of documents late today from its investigation into Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, offering further insight into how FBI officials decided that charges were not warranted for the former secretary of state and her aides. FBI Director James…

    Good Morning America
  • Gwen Stefani on Her 'Crazy Year'

    Like, 'I did it! I'm on tour!' It was such a crazy year, and then making that record and actually being face to face with the people that loved me and supported me throughout the year and listened to the music, it was like this big exchange of love," the pop star, 46, said in an interview on "The…

    Good Morning America
  • Little Girl's Reaction to Seeing a Ballerina Is Too Much Cuteness to Handle

    She and her mom, Kiersten Schwendeman, were attending the Faerie Festival at Rockwood Park in Wilmington, Delaware, when all of a sudden, something very magical happened. “She just lit up and started trying to talk to her,” Schwendeman told ABC News. The three ladies had all been taking a group…

    Good Morning America
  • Leslie Jones Tweets for Missed Love Connection

    By now, Leslie Jones' recent troubles on social media have been well documented, but now she's making her online presence work for her love life. The "Saturday Night Live" comedienne -- who already scored a chance to cover the Olympics in Rio after her furious tweeting about the Games -- is trying…

    Good Morning America
  • Donald Trump Troll Mark Cuban Well-Positioned for 1st Presidential Debate

    Cuban officially endorsed Clinton for president on Twitter on July 29 and introduced her and running-mate Sen. Tim Kaine at their campaign rally the next day in Pittsburgh. During an appearance on the Netflix show "Chelsea," Cuban said he even offered to play the role of Trump in Clinton's mock…

    Good Morning America