The Tim Ferriss Show – #217 The One-Minute Workout Designed by Scientists — Dr. Martin Gibala

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The Tim Ferriss show

#217: The One-Minute Workout Designed by Scientists — Dr. Martin Gibala

Martin Gibala, Ph.D. is a professor and chair of the kinesiology department at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario and co-author of the new book The One Minute Workout.

  • Published more than 100 peer-reviewed articles
  • Featured by New York Times and Wall Street Journal
  • Appears in The Four Hour Body
  • Frequently invited to speak at international scientific meetings
  • Multiple awards for teaching excellence

VO2 max (or maximal oxygen uptake): The highest rate at which the body can take up and use oxygen, typically during exercise. Important for athletic performance and physical health

  • Correlates to longevity
  • Takes time to measure accurately
  • Metabolic equivalent is the unit of measurement for vo2 max. individuals who have a 1 met higher value = 13% lower mortality risk (dying from all causes)
  • Good online calculators can give estimates based on your age, sex, type of activity you habitually do, resting heartrate and other parameters of habitual fitness level
  • Most of these tools are not 100% accurate but the level of inaccuracy is consistent, so you can use the same test to see if you’re trending positive or negative

Is VO2 max a fixed metric?

  • No, it’s something that can be improved. The fixed element is genetic capacity for your heart size. The highly variable element is your body’s response to endurance training, which boosts your VO2 max by 20%.
  • Highly individual parameter.
  • Malleable in most individuals.

What started your research in sprints/interval training?

  • Began in 2003-2004
  • Stemmed from a class I taught: Integrative Physiology of Human Performance
  • Students were interested in elite athletes who used interval training (time limited)
  • For example, Roger Bannister: Busy medical student, half an hour to train, repeated short intervals around track at high tempo
  • Very simple early designs around studies, asking “How low can you go?”
  • Time efficiency of exercise, in terms of boosting performance (athlete) and boosting health (average individual or someone with health issues)

Richard Metcalf & Tabata

Tabata classic protocol (1990s)- 8 repeats of a cycle that involves 20 seconds of effort and 10 secs of rest = 4 min workout. Original study done on bicycle, intensity around 170% of vo2 max

Led to tabata style training.

Is tabata especially magical or has data been over-interpreted?

  • It’s not magic
  • A well-known example of short, hard bursts of effective exercise
  • Maximal aerobic capacity.
  • Boosting vo2 max.
  • Not a lot of underlying physiological measurements performed, instead looks mechanistically at what’s happening
  • Improves muscle health
  • Body weight style intervals are harder to measure, therefore less scientific evidence.
  • The few studies done show that short hard bursts of exercise can be extremely effective and time efficient to boost performance & health

Why is most research done on a bike?

  • Can quantify work/power accurately
  • Enhances scientific rigor
  • Ability to control stimulus
  • Easy to look at specific physiological markers

In your research related to interval training: what was the first study that surprised you?

  • Our first study was one of our most impactful
  • It was influenced by a number of scientific papers, more notably a study that involved two groups in Europe where they applied the same training stimulus to both groups, which involved 14 days of hard work outs
    • One group did them every day consecutively for 2 weeks
    • One group did them every couple of days for 6 weeks
    • At the end of the study period, physiological adaptations were virtually identical
    • Performance was better in the group that got recovery days.
  • This study hammered home for me the idea that recovery is important.
  • Our study asked what if we do interval training 6 sessions over 14 days?
    • Measured endurance performance (how long can you ride a bike until you’re exhausted
    • Exhaustion defined by fatigue= a point at which a subject is unable to maintain power output i.e. 200 watts, unable to turn pedals, RPM fall below 40)
    • Intervals required 2-3 mins of heavy exercise every couple of days
    • Results: endurance capacity doubled
      • We took biopsies from subject’s legs, measured important enzyme citrate synthase, the marker of the TCA cycle
      • Enzyme increased by 35%
      • Higher enzyme level = risk for developing type two diabetes tends to be lower
      • Reproduced study to verify results

What does interval training do to the body?

  • Decreases body fat
  • Blood sugar decrease
  • Increase in glucose transport capacity
  • Improves endurance
  • Improves vo2 max

What would you recommend for warm up/cool down?

  • Keep them short
  • 2 min on bike for warm up (75 watts)
  • 3 min on bike for cool down (50 watts)
  • Remember to see physician before you change work out routine.

Standard protocol workout conditions

  • Perform vo2 max test
  • 20 min workout
  • Increase workload 1 watt every 2 seconds
  • 3-5 mins intervals (provides most effective stimulus for boosting vo2 max)
  • Workout #1 Three 5 min efforts with recovery in between. (demanding. ideal 3x a week for those who can tolerate it)
  • Workout #2 1 min of hard excersie, 1 min of recovery. repeat 10 times. (for deconditioned individuals)
  • Recovery period around 75 watts
  • Goal to get to 85-90% of max heartrate per interval
  • The more intense the workout, the shorter amount of time you can get away with

What types of bikes do you use?

How do you determine the optimal recovery period?

  • Metabolic considerations
  • Depends on individual
  • What’s an individual’s goals?
  • What time do they have available?

Standard one minute workout:

  • 5 min work period total
  • Only 1 min of hard exercise
  • 2 min warm up
  • 3 min cool down
  • 20 sec effort, 2 min of recovery
  • Repeat
  • 20 sec sprint

Most recent study’s key outcome measures

  • Vo2 max increased by 19%
  • 30% increase in citrate synthase
  • Improved glycemic control (index of insulin sensitivity; how well body utilizes blood sugar)

What is the single best exercise?

  • Burpees
  • Requires no specialized equipment
  • Builds strength & cardiorespiratory fitness
  • Applying in interval manner allows you to keep heartrate up

How do you increase long term adherence to interval training?

  • Start out early in the day
  • Avoid comparisons
  • Don’t beat yourself up
  • See a short interval as a success
  • Reward yourself
  • Pick the best type suited for you

What books do you recommend?

If you could put a short message on a gigantic billboard, what would you put?

  • “Life is an interval workout.”

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