The 60-Second Workout That's Proven to Work (Really)

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The One-Minute Workout, the latest book to tout the benefits of high intensity interval training (HIIT), has a title that sounds too good to be true — but its message and 12 included workouts are based on legitimate exercise science. After years of receiving requests for more information on HIIT, author Martin Gibala, Ph.D., professor and chair of the department of kinesiology at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, set out to translate his research into practical fitness tips for people who live at the gym, as well as those who struggle to get there.

The book’s takeaway message: When it comes to getting and staying fit, intensity trumps duration. “If you are willing and able to work hard, you can ‘get away,’ if you will, with a surprisingly small dose of exercise and still reap significant benefits,” Gibala says. And he has ample proof for this. In one study, Gibala’s team divided a group of 20 physically active college students into two groups. The first group rode stationary bikes five days a week for between 40 and 60 minutes, maintaining an intensity level of 65 percent of their maximal aerobic capacity. The second group trained only three times a week. Their workout consisted of a two-minute warm-up followed by four to six 30-second sprints, each of which was followed by four and a half minutes of rest. At the conclusion of the six-week study, Gibala and his team found no significant differences between the two groups; both experienced comparable improvements in aerobic fitness and the ability to burn fat.

Simply put, what HIIT lacks in time under tension it makes up for in disruption to the body’s homeostasis. When you take off in an all-out sprint versus a steady jog, the body has to work harder to deliver oxygen to muscles. And even after you stop moving, your metabolism stays elevated while the body returns to its natural state, a phenomenon known as “afterburn.” “The trick is to drop the fuel levels as quickly as possible,” Gibala writes in The One-Minute Workout. “Doing it once is great; doing it more frequently is better. The volatile nature of the stimulus is what’s key. Mix it up! Disturb homeostasis!”

This is particularly welcome advice for anyone struggling to carve out time for exercise; we’ve all got five minutes here and there for quick bursts of activity. And for those who already have a traditional cardio routine in place, revving the engine a bit with intervals can help with weight loss and training plateaus. The caveat? For HIIT to work, you have to stretch beyond your comfort zone. “It’s a reality that you can’t escape: If you want time-efficient workouts, you have to push yourself,” Gibala writes.

Below, you’ll find three of Gibala’s science-backed routines. Each of these workout templates can be applied to most forms of exercise — running, cycling, rowing, stair climbing, swimming, or even bodyweight strength training that keeps your heart rate up (think of doing all-out burpees, air squats, or mountain climbers). Gibala recommends that you spend at least three minutes warming up and two minutes cooling down with light physical activity.

The One-Minute Workout

Start with an all-out, 20-second sprint

Rest for one to two minutes. (Stay in motion, but keep the effort light; try jumping jacks or jog in place.)

Repeat two more times

The Ten By One

Begin with a one-minute sprint. (Based on a scale of 1 to 10, effort should be at an intensity level of 5.)

Rest for one minute

Do another one-minute sprint, slightly increasing the intensity. (Slightly higher than 5 on a scale of 1 to 10.)

Rest for one minute

Continue in this pattern until you’ve done 10 sprints and worked your way up to an intensity level of 9.

The 10-20-30

For 30 seconds, work at an intensity level of 4 (on a scale of 1 to 10).

For the next 20 seconds, increase the intensity to 6.

For a final 10 seconds, work at intensity level of 9.

Repeat this one-minute cycle four more times, to accumulate five total minutes of intervals.

Rest for two minutes.

Repeat the entire sequence three more times, to finish with 15 total minutes of intervals.