It’s no revelation that when we exercise, our bodies are healthier as a result. What might be a little less known is that not only does our physical health improve, but so too does our mental health. Exercise generates powerful growth hormones and Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which actually make you learn faster and support healthy ageing. When you move your body, not only do you feel better, but you also think more effectively. But like all practices that are good for you, you can also go too far.
As an avid lifehacker, efficiency is the cornerstone of my life philosophy. When it comes to exercise, the goal is to maximise my capacity to be lean, strong, and healthy with the least amount of pain and suffering possible. This led me to discover the concept of minimum effective dose for exercise and subsequently reducing my workout routine from 45 minutes, 5 times a week, to just 15 minutes once a week — a 93.3% reduction. Shifting to this routine for the last two years has saved me precisely 364 hours grinding it out in the gym.
By now, I’m likely getting raised eyebrows from skeptical readers. Don’t fret, I’m not trying to convince you, and I have nothing to sell. This is not a how-to article but rather a why-to: why I did it, and how and why it works.
Where I Went Wrong, And Perhaps You Did Too…
For a very long time, I would muster up my finite daily will-power to grind it out at the gym, so I could be a good person. I would also convince myself that I loved working out from the aftermath of the endorphin release after each gym session, but then I would hit a wall and crash a few hours later, leaving me without any energy to do anything else useful. My life was a cycle of going to work, working out, and episodes of South Park.
It should be no surprise that working out stresses the body. Known as homedic stress, our training produces micro tears to the muscle fibres, which then triggers the body’s repair and healing mechanism prompting muscle growth. If the training intensity is high enough, it takes on average 5–10 days for this process to occur, producing a positive adaptation. Continually adding more stress to an already injured body, by performing workouts, day after day — essentially feeds the furnace creating inflammation throughout the entire body, resulting in a weakened immune system. I found I was sick often, while concurrently battling constant energy fluctuations and mood swings. And coping with chronic aches and pains, which I thought was normal at the time. After all — no pain no gain right? Well, being in shape and looking fit doesn’t necessarily equal health and resilience. Similarly, fruits and vegetables are not typically comparable, but I digress.
Only Fifteen Minutes A Week?
As I made the transition into the Bulletproof lifestyle and taking a deeper dive into the world of biohacking, I discovered that the High-Intensity Super-Slow Training method detailed in the book Body By Science is the most scientifically validated and efficient training method I’ve come across. It’s a brief, extremely intense, one set to failure resistance training protocol using weight machines. All repetitions have to be made slowly — no faster than 5 seconds up and 5 seconds down to progressively load the various muscle groups to total fatigue. A typical session lasts approximately 15 minutes, and only involves 3–5 sets with no rest between sets. That’s it.
“Your goal is not simply moving a weight from point A to point B, but rather the inroading, or weakening, of muscle.”
Unlike medium intensity steady-state exercises such as running, the level of intensity exerted during this work out boosts both metabolism as well as efficiently stimulating the cardiovascular capacity for the heart and lungs. It’s a truly effective way to build muscular strength and endurance in a short period of time, that most people only need to do it once per week. This can be measured by your readiness score from various tracking devices available on the market today.
Don’t be fooled by the briefness of this form of training; it’s far cry from a walk in the park. It involves taking one set to absolute failure for the desirable adaptation to occur. It will be the toughest and most painful 15-minutes of your week. But transient discomfort is a fundamental part of life, and exposing myself to short-lived meaningful pain for worthwhile gains fits in with the concept of strategic laziness, giving you more time and energy to do more of the things you deeply care about.
Enough Is Enough
One of the most powerful insights of the book is the notion of the dose-response relationship — as with drugs, training requires an optimal concentration and frequency. The concentration, in this case, is the intensity of the actual workout and the dosing frequency is how often the workout needs to be performed. If you train too much too often, you can reach a point of diminishing returns and even toxicity. More is not always better.
“You can get a hammer and pound the shit out of the nail, but if you really tune the recovery side of the equation — the training becomes a nail gun.” Dr Doug McGuff.
Another side benefit derived from the slow movements and the act of counting double up as a mindfulness practice, because it forces your focus and attention on the muscles’ contraction and detraction, making it a great tool for training your mind. It’s contrary to what we often see in the gym – a person sitting on a reclining exercise bike, reading a magazine and just going through the motions, totally disconnected to what they’re doing. It is vastly more impactful when we fully inhabit the present moment and ensuring the body and mind are in tune. Training this way is immensely meditative and gives me zero chance of risking an injury, and even helps me to be more calm and tranquil.
People in the gym often stare with curiosity and wonder, since it’s so different from the norm. Just remember, societal progress was never achieved by people following the crowd and accepting the status quo.
What If You Could Free Up An Extra 3 Hours A Week And Get The Same Results?
What is your time worth? This training protocol is all about how to get the most benefit in the least amount of time. It’s not for dedicated bodybuilders or people who go to the gym to socialise. It’s for regular people who want to maintain a high level of athletic ability, and look and feel great.
I’d personally rather have the extra time to incorporate additional movements with physical activities that I’m deeply passionate about; such as chasing better lap times on the racetrack and learning to dance salsa. What new skills do you think you’d like to learn if you had a few extra hours each week?
There’s a lot of conflicting information out there, most of which is influenced by certain political and economic agendas. It’s highly unlikely for the fitness and personal training industry to advocate clients spending only 15 minutes per week training with them.
As someone who has experimented with different training methods over the years, I’ve come to realise that the extra training I was doing didn’t make much of a difference. The biggest change to my body composition came from switching to an HFLC diet (and by extension intermittent fasting), streamlining my training and paying close attention to my recovery period.
When you separate all the emotion and the positive feedback commonly associated with the training experience — solid biological data suggests that following a well-designed strength conditioning system, an optimal training frequency for most people is much less than they thought. It’s a total paradigm shift in how we view exercise, where scientific evidence supporting this claim continues to grow.
Please share your thoughts in the comments section, so we may all learn from each other.
Hong is a Certified Bulletproof® Coach – www.hongstarr.com