THE usual reason we give for not exercising regularly is that we don’t have enough time given our busy schedules. That may be valid if we’re talking about the traditional notion of exercise like going for a long run but latest findings in sports science will deny us any use of that excuse.

I first came across “high intensity interval training” (HIIT) when I was looking for a quick exercise for my judo students.

Jogging around the neighbourhood took up too much time which could be better spent on training judo techniques. HIIT was the solution.

The concept behind HIIT is that short bursts of very intense exercise will improve your fitness as much as traditionally longer exercises.

What’s so radical about this type of exercises is just how short these bursts are.

If 20 minutes of exercise is too much time for you to set aside for exercise, how about seven minutes? Too much? What about four minutes? Still too much? One minute?

If I’ve got you intrigued, read and on and be amazed at how much you can achieve within a few minutes just three times a week.

The key word for HIIT is “intensity”. Under this regime, you don’t have to exercise for very long at all but you do have to exercise hard. You also don’t have to be very technical about it. For example, you don’t have to use specialised monitoring devices. Just push yourself until you’re breathing hard.

Basically if you have no difficulty talking to someone while doing these exercises, you’re not working hard enough.

There should be a certain level of discomfort when doing these workouts. Thankfully they don’t last very long.

Seven-minute workout

Dubbed the “seven-minute workout”, this is the HIIT programme I use in my judo class. This programme first came to public consciousness four years ago after an article about it was published in the American College of Sports Medicine’s Health and Fitness Journal.

In a nutshell, the programme requires you to do a series of 12 exercises that do not require any special gym equipment.

You can do this in the convenience of your living room or office.

Each of the 12 exercises should be done for only 30 seconds but at high intensity. You get to rest for 10 seconds in between each 30-second burst of exercise.

Technically, the total amount of time spent on the exercise is six minutes, with a total of one-minute and 50 seconds of rest time.

If you want to know what the full range of 12 exercises are, just Google the phrase “seven minute HIIT” and you’ll see lots of results.

There are also plenty of YouTube videos and even mobile apps that you can download for free.

The seven-minute workout created quite a splash when it was first revealed and is actually quite a famous form of HIIT.

Four-minute workout

I doubt anyone can seriously argue that they can’t afford to put aside seven minutes for a workout but I can understand how some people might dislike doing push-ups and tricep dips, planking and so on.

Maybe you’re also the kind of person who prefers more “traditional” exercises like jogging, swimming or cycling but you don’t want to do these for a full 20 minutes or so, which is usually the minimum amount of time recommended for such exercises.

Well, the four-minute workout is suitable for you. According to a study published in 2013, researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology found that just four minutes of jogging, swimming or cycling at top speed, done three times a week, will get you in good shape.

Again, the key word is “intensity”. You have to push yourself until you’re literally panting, which is hard work but it’s only for four minutes.

The Norwegian researchers got overweight and sedentary volunteers to try this programme for 10 weeks and found that at the end of the trial period, the volunteers had improved their endurance levels by at least 10 per cent and both their metabolic and cardiovascular health had improved as well.

One-minute workout

Okay, let’s say you hate the idea of doing a dozen different exercises (seven-minute workout) and you feel that four full minutes of all-out running or biking is not your cup of tea. How about doing just one minute’s worth of intense exercise?

Actually, it’s not even a minute of continuous exercise but three 20-second bursts, with two minutes of cool-down in between each burst, for a total of one-minute of intense exercise.

One minute! Sounds unbelievable or maybe too good to be true? Again, this is all scientifically sound advice.

Martin Gibala, a professor of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, had conducted a test in 2014 where he got overweight and sedentary volunteers to complete these three 20-second exercises on stationary bicycles.

Just one full minute of intense cycling, done three times a week for six weeks, saw the volunteers increase their endurance level by a whopping 12 per cent. They also displayed healthier blood pressure levels.

No more excuses

So if you want to get fit but don’t have much time, you now have a solution that doesn’t even require fancy equipment or a gym membership.

What you will need is a willingness to push yourself hard during those few minutes of intense exercise and a commitment to do it three times a week.

These workouts are so brief you could easily do them in the morning before going to work, during your lunch break or right after you reach home from work.

If you find exercise in general to be boring, listen to some music while you are working out. In the time it takes to finish just one or at most two songs, your workout would be over!

Oon Yeoh is a consultant with experiences in print, online and mobile media. reach him at

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