Workout fads come and go all the time. Typically a new program comes out January 1st, some stick and some don’t. Most of these commercial workout fads  take your money and make empty promises.

Know that many Americans are becoming more and more educated on the importance of fitness, this trend is definitely changing.

The Minimalist Workout Movement is rising. The hot topic in fitness is not about how much you can workout, but how little.

Gretchen Reynolds in the New York Times explains that the main fitness focus at the 2013 American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting was mostly targeted towards minimalist exercise — the fact that you can get great benefit from small workouts.

Minimalist Workout Movement – Cardio

Historically, the recommendation was to get 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 30 minutes of exercise at least 5 days per week.

Currently, the  CDC sticks with the classic recommendation, but also adds a second option — 75 minutes of vigorous activity per week. Typically this is divided up into 3, 20-minute workout with a 15 minute workout or 7, 10-15 minute workouts every day.

The shift is important. While the old recommendations were based on good faith and research, 150 minutes per week of exercise is not always practical. In fact, only about 20 percent of Americans meet these recommendations. While you can break up a 30-minute workout into 3, 10-minute sessions, this can still be difficult to achieve. In addition, there is a growing body of research that is revealing the other health benefits of high-intensity interval training. These benefits include better fat burn and improvements in both aerobic and anaerobic fitness. 

The Minimalist Workout Movement was sparked by early research from Martin Gibala and Izumi Tabata. In Gibala’s 2006 study,  24 men performed 6 training sessions over 14 days. In one group, the men were asked to perform 6, 30-second all-out bike sprints with 4 minutes of rest between each sprint. The outcome from these workouts was compared to the outcome of having 8 men perform 90-120 minutes of continuous cycling at a lower intensity.

The results — both groups had similar muscle adaptations even though the sprint group spent a lot less time training.

Tabata also has a historic study that shows further benefit of sprint training. In Tabata’s 6-week study, he had participants complete 7-8  intense sprint intervals that involved sprinting all-out for 20 seconds followed by only 10 seconds of rest. The total workout time was only 4 minutes and performed 5 days per week. This group was compared to another group who performed 60 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 days per week.

Again, the results were significant. The sprint group had nearly double the improvement in how the body utilizes oxygen in comparison to the moderate intensity group. Further, the sprint group had improvements in anearobic endurance (sprint endurance) when the moderate group did not have any significant improvement.

While I am a big fan of the Minimalist Workout Movement, high-intensity sprint workouts may not be for everyone. First, the research supporting these workouts is still thin. The benefits are promising, but most of these studies are small and involve young adults. Second, the workouts are uncomfortable. It really takes a lot of discipline to perform “all-out” sprints with 100% effort. This can be a turn off to some people. Finally, it’s not clear whether high-intensity workouts are optimal for fat burn. Because the sessions are so short, it may not be enough to get rid of fat mass. However, the counterpoint here is that your body continues to burn calories secondary to the afterburn effect. Either way, there are no firm conclusions.

Minimalist Workout Movement – Resistance Training

How many of us have an hour or more to spend at a gym? It takes time to get there, time to park, time to go change clothes in the locker room. Then, you waste time waiting on others to finish using equipment, which is loaded with bacteria… Then, you shower, get dressed, find your car and fight traffic to get home.

Ain’t nobody got time for that!

I don’t want to discourage you from going to the gym. Personally, I love going to the gym. I always wiped down equipment before I used it and enjoyed seeing friends there and catching up. The truth is that I haven’t been to a gym in about 4-5 years and do my workouts at home, mostly because of time constraints.

When it comes to resistance training, the Minimalist Workout Movement is also in full effect. Instead of intense training, minimalist resistance training workout routines typically only require the use of your body weight or a dumbbell. An exercise ball, ab wheel, or other types of small home equipment are also appropriate. But the key is simplicity. You will be surprised how much you can improve your strength and build muscle mass with simple home workouts.

Even better, you save tons of time and money, use your own equipment and can clean up in your own shower. It’s also easier to find 20 minutes of workout time while at home. You can sneak in a workout while your food is cooking or after your kids go to sleep. The key is to make sure the workout is challenging so that you benefit from it.

With both cardio and resistance training, when it comes to the Minimalist Workout Movement less is indeed more…

Keep an eye out on updates regarding the Minimalist Workout Movement. Personally, I love being able to get a workout done in 10 minutes or less. Not only do I love the physical challenge, I am also realizing the psychological benefit of being “so worn out that I don’t care about anything else.”

As always, check with your doctor if necessary, and don’t hesitate to take a shot at one of these workouts!