#123 How To Do The One Minute Workout

How To Do The One Minute Workout

“I don’t have time to exercise,” Mark told me at his last clinic visit. Mark is not alone. In fact, most of my patients and friends all feel the same way.

Could just one minute of exercise be enough for optimal heart health? In this article, we will explore the new science behind sprint interval training (SIT) as an option for busy people who don’t have time to exercise.

If you would rather not read the rest of this article, here is a short television segment I did on the “One Minute Workout.”

How Long Should We Be Exercising?

To understand just how significant the time saving benefits of sprint interval training are, we need to first review the exercise duration guidelines. Currently, our government recommends 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise each week.  For busy people trying to juggle work and family responsibilities, 2.5 hours or even 75 minutes of exercise time may simply be out of reach.

For those of you who follow my blog, you know that I have stressed that exercise actually gives you more time in the long run. For example, studies show that you can become biologically 10 years younger with regular exercise.

While exercise can make you biologically younger, it may not satisfy the day-to-day demands on your time. Of course, for those people who can carve out the time to exercise, this investment of time not only sharpens your mind but also significantly increases your productivity for the day.

The studies I review in this article take exercising to a whole new level. In fact, with sprint interval training, it may only require a total of 3-minutes of all out exercise each week to achieve the same benefits as traditional exercise.

What is Sprint Interval Training?

Sprint interval training (SIT) is something that is completely different than traditional endurance training exercises or even high intensity training (HIT). Whereas high intensity training is exercising at high intensity, sprint interval training is done at an even higher level of exercise.

Sprint interval training is all out exercising at the highest possible intensity your body is capable of. It is an all out sprint and is something that can only be maintained for about 30 seconds at most.

The One Minute Workout Study

In this study, Dr. Jenna B. Gillen from McMaster University, in Ontario, Canada and her team, enrolled 7 overweight/obese men and women to test her hypothesis that just one-minute of all out exercise for 3 days a week would be enough for good health. To simplify the study, she designed the following stationary bicycle protocol for this study:

1. Warm up for 2 minutes

2. Three “all out” pedaling sprints against resistance for 20 seconds

3. Rest for 2 minutes between each sprint

4. Three minute cool down after finishing all of the sprints

If you do the math you can see that this stationary bicycle protocol takes a total of 10 minutes to complete. Following this protocol 3 times a week adds up to a grand total exercise time of 30 minutes. Thirty minutes of exercise weekly is far less than the currently recommended 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise or 75 minutes of high intensity exercise.

Of course, to realize the benefits of this exercise protocol, it has to be at the maximal possible intensity. For most people this means that you either hit or come close to hitting your peak heart rate.

To calculate your peak heart rate simply subtract your age, in years, from 220. For a 40 year-old person this would calculate out to be a peak heart rate of 180 (220 minus 40). While this simple peak heart rate calculation is not perfect for everyone, it is certainly a reasonable estimate of your maximal exercise intensity.

The beauty of this protocol is who doesn’t have 30 minutes in a week to spare? Even though this exercise protocol is extremely short, the bigger question is does it actually do anything good for your cardiovascular system?

To answer this question, Dr. Gillen and her colleagues did a chemical analysis of muscle biopsy specimens as well as continuous glucose monitoring, peak VO2 measurements, insulin sensitivity evaluation, and blood pressure readings of these 7 people in this study. Through all of these tests, they concluded that even this short exercise protocol seemed to achieve all of the desired effects of traditional exercise.

Can Anyone Do the One Minute Workout?

Sometimes the exercise protocols used in studies can’t be easily replicated in the “real world.” This is definitely not the case with this study.

I especially like this exercise protocol for my patients as using a stationary bicycle is a safe way for them to do an all-out sprint. If all-out resistance pedaling doesn’t sound like much fun to you, I’m sure you could have the same effect outside on a running track or even running up stairs.

I definitely wouldn’t recommend doing this exercise protocol at home on a treadmill. For starters, treadmills don’t go fast enough for a sprint. Secondly, there is a good chance that you could get thrown off your treadmill at the end of the sprint.

Endurance Versus Sprint Interval Training

I grew up under the old mindset that endurance training was needed if you wanted to burn fat.   The teaching at the time was that to get rid of body fat you had to put in long grueling hours of exercise to see any benefit.

Intuitively this makes sense. A sprint is so intense and it is not aerobic exercise at all. It is far too short of a period of time to reasonably burn any fat.

Despite what makes sense intuitively, there have now been many medical studies showing that sprint interval training not only results in fat loss but also may be even better than endurance training at burning fat. Indeed, some studies suggest that sprint interval training may burn off belly and hip fat better than traditional endurance exercise.

Since reviewing the medical literature on sprint interval training, I have now incorporated this into my weekly exercises. I have found that this is a much more efficient way to get in my daily work out on the days when I spend long hours in the hospital.

Calories Burned with the One Minute Workout?

My philosophy on exercise is that it should be something that you enjoy and even look forward to. The beneficial mental and stress reducing effects of exercise are every bit as important as the cardiovascular benefits. The problem is that if you are focused on how many calories you are burning then you probably are not enjoying your exercise.

However, for those of you who would like to know how many calories you are actually burning with sprint interval training, one study estimated a calorie burn rate of up to 100 calories for every minute of sprinting. Of course, the actual calorie burn rate varies from person to person depending on exercise intensity, how big you are, etc.

Risks of Sprint Interval Training

As you might expect, there are some risks associated with sprint interval training. For example, even just 20 seconds of an all-out sprint could cause a heart attack or even death in someone with a serious heart blockage. Also, doing sprint interval training on an outdoor running track, or running up stairs, could result in significant orthopedic injuries.

The safest way to incorporate sprint interval training would be to check with your physician first before starting this kind of an exercise protocol. Also, to minimize the risk of orthopedic injuries, all out sprints would probably be safest on a stationary bicycle.

Final Thoughts

Based on the compelling medical studies discussed in this article, the excuse of “I don’t have time to exercise” just does not hold water. One minute of all out exercise for three days a week is something that most people can safely do. At a burn rate of up to 100 calories per minute, you can’t do much better than that.

For me, sprint interval training seems to work best on my long hospital days when I wouldn’t be otherwise able to exercise. On days when I have more time, I still prefer endurance exercises like running, skiing, mountain biking, or mountain climbing. I find that these outside endurance exercises not only make me much happier but also give me the mental clarity to solve the various challenges I may be facing in my life.

If your physician feels that sprint interval training is safe for you, give it a try and let me know how it goes for you.   Please leave your comments below for our community to see.


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  1. Dr. Day, great article as always…I’d love to get your thoughts of this 20 sprint, 2 min recovery compared to the Tabata method of sprint training of 20 sprint and only 10 recovery. Do you suggest starting with the 1 min workout and work toward something like the Tabata method? I’m a runner that is finding it harder to find the time for 30-60 runs and want to move to a sprint workout a few times a week (with yoga on other days.) Thanks!

    • Hi Brett,

      Great question. The reason why I wanted to share the “One Minute Workout” because this is likely as low as you can go and still have some benefit. With the “One Minute Workout” there really are no excuses to doing something.

      As you are well aware, there are many different protocols for sprint interval training. The studies I have reviewed all seem to suggest benefit. There really are not much data comparing one technique to another.

      If you have one that works well for you, and you enjoy it, then continue with it. Combining sprint interval training with yoga is a great combination.

      Hope this helps!


      • Thanks for the reply. Makes perfect sense. Funny after reading my comment, I should clarify that meant to say 30-60 MINUTE runs not 30-60 runs! hahah.. I think everyone would have a hard time finding time for 30-60 runs. 🙂

  2. You sign off your friend John Day…Should be your best friend John Day. IF I could accomplish all these good things you tell us… WOW Thanks Ever So Much