If this is true I have been doing it wrong the whole time.

According to a recent BBC Article, a genetic trait in some people can allow them to do "high intensity training" (basically: stressing your body to the limit on an exercise, in this example, cycling) for mere minutes a week, and gain many of the benefits of hours of traditional cardio. The idea is doing 20 seconds of "to the limit" cycling, then after a short recovery, another burst, another recovery, etc.

The exact headline is that

A few relatively short bursts of intense exercise, amounting to only a few minutes a week, can deliver many of the health and fitness benefits of hours of conventional exercise, according to new research, says Dr Michael Mosley. But how much benefit you get from either may well depend on your genes.

Assuming you are one of the lucky ones, this seems too good to be true.

  • Not an answer, but: The article describes an n=1 experiment, that fails. It links to a study that involved 30 minutes light exercise per week PLUS the high-intensity stuff. So the evidence they provide is light on.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 29, 2012 at 4:26
  • And I love the comments on the story that are either doubting (without evidence) or tell anecdotes that completely miss the point.
    – Oddthinking
    Feb 29, 2012 at 4:29

2 Answers 2


Whether it will be exactly the same benefit in all physiological aspects may not be, but there is at least some corroborating evidince for this:


"The present study demonstrates that 2 weeks of low-volume, constant-load interval exercise is a practical, time-efficient strategy to induce mitochondrial biogenesis in skeletal muscle and improve functional exercise capacity."

The study shows measurable molecular and cellular outcomes. Note that it is not exactly the kind of H.I.T in the quoted article, but the concept of low voume high intensity remains the same.

Even though it does seem counterintuitive, there must be some sort of signaling system that tells your body to respond to the physiological stresses of exercise, and this may just be one way to trigger it.

The article you quote from also states that it is only effective in some individuals, which would make perfect sense in a genetic transcription/protein setting.

  • What is wrong with my answer here?
    – Tjaart
    Jun 29, 2012 at 8:59
  • The study you're linking to looks at the result of 8-12 minutes high-intensity exercise, which is not 3 minutes. Other than that you get a +1 from me.
    – w00t
    Jul 2, 2012 at 14:50
  • "Note that it is not exactly the kind of H.I.T in the quoted article, but the concept of low voume high intensity remains the same." I did state that in my answer. I couldn't find corroborating evidence for that exact same study.
    – Tjaart
    Jul 2, 2012 at 15:13

From the same university as Tjaart's answer, but a different study by different people find similar results, where high intensity training has significant effects.

Given the markedly lower training volume in the SIT group, these data suggest that high-intensity interval training is a time-efficient strategy to increase skeletal muscle oxidative capacity and induce specific metabolic adaptations during exercise that are comparable to traditional ET.

Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans.

As with Tjaart's answer, not exactly the same training, but a similar concept.

  • I think the core answer to this question is that some trigger must go off in your body that tells your body to make more muscle and make other changes as a result of the exercise. You could probably imagine an early human ancestor that was mostly sitting around but occasionally needed to run like hell. They too needed to be fit. I doubt that our ancestors spent hours a day jogging or lifting heavy things.
    – Tjaart
    Jul 30, 2012 at 7:48
  • 1
    @Tjaart: The hunting method used often essentially involved hours of jogging, a form of endurance hunting where the prey was pursued until it collapsed of heat exhaustion. Jul 11, 2014 at 12:35

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