The Science And Sweat Of High-Intensity Workouts

Rock-hard bodies in a fraction of the time. We’ll look at the 7-minute workout and the promises of high-intensity exercise.

In this 2011 photo, U.S. Navy sailors participate in  intense 10-minute workout intervals. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael K. McNabb/U.S. Navy)

In this 2011 photo, U.S. Navy sailors participate in intense 10-minute workout intervals, testing fitness until only one participant remained. (Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael K. McNabb/U.S. Navy)

The roar in exercise for a while now has not been about “going the distance” or “slow and steady” or “a nice, long walk.”

The roar is about hard, fast, intense workouts.  Really intense.  The 7-minute workout.  Crossfit.  P90X.  Insanity. Super-charged bursts of exertion, high intensity interval training, that will bust out the sweat and — if you believe the TV ads — the hubba-hubba beach bod in a hurry.

So does it work?  How’s it work?  Who’s it work for?

Up next On Point: The 7-minute workout and its go-crazy cousins.  The high-intensity path to fitness.

— Tom Ashbrook


Chris Jordan, director of exercise physiology at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla. and co-developer of the 7-minute workout.

Jessica Matthews, exercise physiologist for the American Council on Exercise, professor of Kinesiology, Health and Nutrition at MiraCosta College, fitness writer for Weight Watchers and SHAPE magazine. She is also a yoga teacher, group fitness instructor and personal trainer. (@FitExpertJess)

Justin Lin, physical therapist and athletic trainer who wrote about avoiding injury during high-intensity workouts in “Don’t Be Fooled By Crossfit, Insanity Or P90X.”

Show Highlights

For transcripts of individual show highlights, read this hour’s complementary blog post.

From Tom’s Reading List

The New York Times: The Scientific 7-Minute Workout — “Exercise science is a fine and intellectually fascinating thing. But sometimes you just want someone to lay out guidelines for how to put the newest fitness research into practice. An article in the May-June issue of the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal does just that. In 12 exercises deploying only body weight, a chair and a wall, it fulfills the latest mandates for high-intensity effort, which essentially combines a long run and a visit to the weight room into about seven minutes of steady discomfort — all of it based on science.”

The Atlantic: Insanity: The Rise of the Supercharged Home Workout — “Insanity is the brainchild of Carl Daikeler and Jon Congdon, co-founders of BeachBody LLC, an outfit that, despite its hammy name, had in the 15 years since its establishment seen meteoric success. Their first breakthrough came in 2003 with the launch of P90x, a ninety-day fitness program developed with workout guru Tony Horton. It combined resistance training and muscle confusion exercises and sold a million copies in its first season. Four years later, they looked to expand their line with an even more intense workout, one that could deliver the same results in just sixty days. It seemed they had a winner in high-intensity home fitness.”

WBUR: Flunking The Insanity Workout But Coming Away Wiser — “Here’s the basic concept: Try harder. To wit: Typical “interval training” involves several minutes of moderate intensity and then a minute or so of high-intensity push — a sprint, if you will. The Insanity workout flips that formula, so that you do longer high-intensity intervals and then have relatively short rests. That approach struck me as meshing well with a wave of recent research findings that shorter, very vigorous workouts can provide surprisingly strong health benefits. And, as I wrote when I embarked on my Insanity, I was inspired by a 58-year-old doctor I deeply respect, who reported that the program was certainly intense but did not have to be truly insane. He ended up with lower body fat and feeling great. So I took the plunge.”

Tweets From During The Show

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