Fitness Fun

Is the 4 Minute Workout Legit?

4 minute workoutThis pocket-sized workout might be deceptively powerful

Good-bye long, drawn-out cardio. In just four minutes, experts are saying, you can accomplish double what you have been by spending hours at the gym.

Appealing to our shortcut-loving brains, the “burst” movement is catching on quickly. The most popular example is the Tabata Protocol (no, this isn’t a Star Trek reference): also known as the “four minute workout,” it calls for eight bursts of 20-second rigorous activity, separated by 10-second periods of active rest.

The rigorous activity can be cardio: full-blast running or cycling, interspersed with walking or slow peddling, for example. Or it can be a circuit of full-body resistance exercises, like burpees, plyometric jumps, lunges, mountain climbers, squats or jumping jacks, with 10 second in between to catch your breath.

Whether your goal is aerobic or anaerobic progress, just four minutes of this explosive lineup is more effective than an hour of moderate cardio, according to Shape magazine. Not only that, but it can give your metabolism a boost that lasts up to 36 hours.

All this from a workout that lasts the length of a single song on your iPod.

Does it sound too good to be true? It does? Then read on.

Hyper-productivity, as we’ve learned from Tim Ferriss, does not mean easy. In fact, it’s pretty much guaranteed to be the opposite. The 4 minute workout is a full-body assault of deceptively brief proportions.

I did it for the first time yesterday, and it hurts to type.

Need further proof of its effectiveness? Just check out the people demonstrating four-minute workouts on YouTube. It’s working. Seriously.

This “miracle workout” is so hard won, in fact, that even fitness experts and writers can’t sugar-coat it:

“Prepare for the longest four minutes in exercise history.”
“It’s not for the faint of heart.”
“You will barf.”
“You will die.” (This one’s mine)

Think about it: a one-hour jog in the park may render you a little winded, a little sore, and 100 percent refreshed. Four minutes of pushing yourself to your limit—past muscle fatigue and into puking territory—can render you limp, heart pounding, on the floor.

Still think it sounds too good to be true?

The four-minute workout is a great reminder of how the fruits of our exercise labor ride on quality, not quantity. A workout can’t be measured by the time we log on our Garmin watches. We need to get back in touch with exertion.

“Burst” exercises are hard because most of us don’t know how to push ourselves to our limits. It’s uncomfortable, and we panic. Fitness model and coach Belinda Benn told me that people tend to instinctively pull back well before they reach their actual threshold. This was something she had to learn to overcome in order to see real fitness gains.

So for those who say they don’t have time to exercise, maybe their workouts are a little too… leisurely?

If you’re in good enough shape to try the four-minute workout, you should. It will quickly get you in touch with your physical threshold. And you’ve got nothing to lose. Well, except four minutes.

So, in the name of exercise honesty: Get a timer, cancel your post-workout plans and have a wheelchair ready. The first few times, it’ll probably be a two-minute workout. And there will be tears.

P.S. If you’re budgeting exercise time, it’s really more of a 14-minute workout, when you add your warm-up and cool down—which, trust me, are not optional. Of course you won’t see me complaining about a 14-minute workout, either.

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Chelsea Ratcliff

Chelsea Ratcliff

Writer and expert


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