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Get Fit Quick: Ed Coyle on PYP 448

How much exercise should you get every week? The recommendations vary, but they all circle around 150-300 minutes a week of non-vigorous exercise, or 75-150 minutes of vigorous exercise.

And do you know how many Americans hit those numbers? Fewer than 20 percent.

It makes sense, really. Exercise takes a lot of time, including preparing, warming up, showering, and so on. And you can't exactly grab 30 minutes at lunchtime if you're going to sweat like a gladiator in your next Zoom meeting.

Plus, most people don't like feeling out of breath, or tired, or achy.

But as today's guest points out, the science of exercise hasn't really moved on from its original assumption that long, slow, low-intensity workouts are the gold standard, and are what most of the population should be going for.

Enter the renegade world of HIIT research.

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training, and it's pretty much the opposite of mainstream exercise science over the past 50 years.

In HIIT, you work really hard – maybe even as hard as you can – for a short amount of time, and then rest until your next set. The advantage is a shorter, more efficient workout that achieves the same health and fitness outcomes as the longer, traditional workouts.

Six years ago, I interviewed one of the research pioneers behind HIIT, McMaster University's Martin Gibala. His workout, radical at the time, involved 20-second periods of high intensity repeated three times in a short span of time, for a total of one minute a day, three days a week.

The popular press got their hands on the idea and pushed it as a “minimum workout” for busy and lazy people. But 20 seconds is still a long time, and many folks found the workouts to be highly unpleasant, even if they were unpleasant for just half a minute at a time.

So today's guest, Ed Coyle, a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology & Health Education at the University of Texas at Austin, wondered what the shortest useful interval would be. And he discovered that four seconds does the trick.

Not only that, 4-second intervals allow for higher efficiency, less fatigue and soreness, and significant improvements in measures of fitness and health.

NOTE: This is not a “4-second workout,” as the popular press likes to label it. Instead, it's a workout of 20 or so sets of 4-second “go as hard as you can” sprints, taking about 15 minutes total.

As Coyle explains during our conversation, when we work out long and slow, we recruit only half of our muscle fibers – the slow-twitch ones. Four-second HIIT intervals fire up the fast-twitch fibers, which are the ones most susceptible to hypertrophy (wasting) as we age. Plus, those fibers also use glucose and can contribute to fat metabolism, which means onboarding them can combat high blood glucose and hyperlipidemia.

In studies with athletes and aging ordinary people, the gains over 8 weeks of fun and short workouts were remarkable.

In our conversation, we talk about the data, the experience of running the studies, and the exercise bike that's at the center of the work, the Power Cycle. Since the bike isn't yet commercially available and will cost about $2500 when it is, I pressed for free or cheap alternatives that anyone can do to approximate the benefits of the Power Cycle.

We also discussed Coyle's personal workout regimen, and how he combines HIIT with other activities to stay fit as he gets on in years.

Links

The Human Performance Laboratory at U of Texas Austin

The January 2021 study of HIIT with older non-athletes

The New York Times article about Coyle's work

PowerCycle.com

Martin Gibala on Plant Yourself (January 2015)

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Music

The Plant Yourself Podcast theme music, “Dance of Peace (Sabali Don),” is generously provided by Will Ridenour, a kora player from North Carolina who has trained with top Senegalese musicians.

It can be found on his first CD, titled Will Ridenour.

You can learn about Will, listen to more tracks, and buy music on his website, WillRidenour.com.

Gratitudes

Thanks to Plant Yourself podcast patrons – Kim Harrison – Lynn McLellan – Brittany Porter – Dominic Marro – Barbara Whitney – Tammy Black – Amy Good – Amanda Hatherly – Mary Jane Wheeler – Ellen Kennelly – Melissa Cobb – Rachel Behrens – Tina Scharf – Tina Ahern – Jen Vilkinofsky – David Byczek – Michele X – Elspeth Feldman – Leah Stolar – Allan Kristensen – Colleen Peck – Michele Landry – Jozina – Sara Durkacs – Kelly Cameron – Janet Selby – Claire Adams – Tom Fronczak – Jeannette Benham – Gila Lacerte – David Donohue – Blair Seibert – Doron Avizov – Gio and Carolyn Argentati – Jodi Friesner – RuthAnn Funderburk – Mischa Rosen – Michael Worobiec – AvIvA Lael – Alicia Lemus – Val Linnemann – Nick Harper – Bandana Chawla – Martha Bergner – Molly Levine – The Inscrutable Harry R – Susan Laverty the Panda Vegan – Craig Covic – Adam Scharf – Karen Bury – Heather Morgan – Bonnie Lynch of Plant Happy Oregon – Sabine Kurtzhals – Nigel Davies – Marian Blum – Teresa Kopel – Julian Watkins – Brid O'Connell – Shannon Herschman – Linda Ayotte – Holm Hedegaard – Isa Tousignant – Connie Haneline – Erin Greer – Alicia Davis – Heather O'Connor – Carollynne Jensen – Sheri Orlekoski of Plant Powered for Health – Karen Smith – Scott Mirani – Karen and Joe Crabtree – Kirby Burton – Theresa Carrell – Kevin Macaulay – Elizabeth Rothschild – Ann Jesse – Sheryl Dwyer – Jenny Hazelton – Peter W Evans – Justine Divett – Joshua Sommermeyer – Dennis Bird – Darby Kelly – Lori Fanney – Linnea Lundquist – Valarie Hummel – Emily Iaconelli – Levi Wallach – Rosamonde McAtee – Dan Pokorney – Stephen Leinin – Patty DeMartino – Mike and Donna Kartz – Deanne Bishop – Bilberry Elf – Marjorie Lewis – Tricia Adams – Ian Cramer – Nancy Sheldon – Lindsey Bashore – Gunn Marit Hagen – Tracey Gulledge – Lara Hedin – Meg from Mamasezz – Stacey Stokes – Ben Savage – Michael K – David Hughes -Coni Rodgers – Claire England – Sally Robertson – Parham Ganchi – Amy Dailey – Brian Tourville – Mark Jeffrey Johnson – Josie Dempsey – Caryn Schmitt – Pamela Hayden – Emily Perryman – Allison Corbett – Richard Stone – Lauren Vaught of Edible Musings – Erin Hastey – Sean Owens – Sagar Naik – Erika Piedra – Danielle Roberts – Michael Leuchten – Sarah Johnson – for your generous support of the podcast.

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