The Benefits of a Short Workout

by | Updated: December 3rd, 2016 | Read time: 3 minutes

A dentist appointment. Cleaning day. A work presentation. There are certain must-dos you prefer to keep short and sweet. If your workouts often fall on that list, you’re in luck! A fit mind and body are completely within reach, regardless of how much time you have – or how much time you’re willing to spend.

Benefits of Short & Intense Workouts
Jumping rope is a great way to get your heart rate up during high-intensity interval training.


A recent study from the University of South Florida further confirmed that shorter workouts can, in fact, be as effective as long, grueling sweat sessions. Before you pop the champagne to celebrate, be warned that shorter does not mean easier.

What to do:

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) simply involves alternating short, intense bouts of exercise with recovery periods. There are different variations of interval training, including Tabata and Gibala, which have been around for several years. Gibala was dreamed up by Professor Martin Gibala at McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. He conducted a study in 2009, which consisted of a 3-minute warm-up, followed by 8-12 sets of 60-second intense intervals (at 95% VO2max). Between each 60-second interval, participants spent 75 seconds recovering.

Tabata is another style, based on an older (1996) study conducted by Dr. Izumi Tabata on behalf of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Japan. His training involved seven to eight sets of 20-second high-intensity intervals, followed by 10 seconds of rest. The intense periods were performed at about 170% VO2max.

How it benefits you:

A revving metabolism – According to the Exercise Metabolism Research Group led by Gibala at McMaster University, as few as six HIIT sessions over a two-week period can greatly benefit endurance performance and induce positive metabolic changes, including fatty acid oxidation (aka fat burning).

A boost in cardiovascular AND muscular fitness – In Tabata’s study, the participants’ VO2max increased significantly and their anaerobic capacity increased by 28%. Offering improvement in both aerobic (cardiovascular) and anaerobic (muscular) performance is way more than what long, moderate training sessions can provide.

Bonus: HIIT takes less of your precious time. In fact, Tabata’s training program takes a mere four minutes. Everyone has time for that!

Why it works:

Of course, there are physiological reasons HIIT works, but let’s not bore you with the details of protein kinase and mitochondrial biogenesis. Essentially, HIIT increases your resting metabolic rate for the 24 hours after, as determined by an excess in post-exercise oxygen consumption. But perhaps a more important explanation for why this method of training is so effective lies in your mood.

Endurance activities require more than just physical stamina; they pull from your mental reserves to push through pain, boredom and exhaustion. The main purpose of the USF study was to prove the relation between HIIT-style exercising and the emotional affect, and it did just that. As the study states, “HIIT comprised of either 30 or 60 seconds facilitate more favorable perceptual responses…and perceived enjoyment than continuous exercise and intervals longer than 60 seconds duration.”

Here’s the takeaway: your brain enjoys quick bursts of activity. And, by nature, we can assume that the more you enjoy something, the more likely you are to continue doing it.