Is it possible to make significant cardio gains in ten minutes per day or less?
January 3, 2012 3:25 PM   Subscribe

Help me understand how physical conditioning works. Isn't eight minutes a day enough?

I'm being a little facetious but there's a real question here.

Say there's a hill I walk up every day, which takes me ten minutes at a leisurely pace. If I walk fast, at, say, a nine-minute pace, I get out of breath.

If I made a concerted effort to climb that hill in five minutes, each day walking a little faster, eventually breaking into a trot, then a run, then a faster run, if I did that for long enough, wouldn't I be able to do it without too much exertion? And wouldn't I be able to go back to an eight or nine minute pace without even breathing hard?

And if these things are true, then that would be a pretty significant improvement in my physical conditioning, right? In under ten minutes per day? Or would it be a completely insignificant improvement? What am I missing?
posted by stupidsexyFlanders to Health & Fitness (10 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
More work would perhaps cause faster improvement. Up to a point. And a higher plateau. You may care about neither.
posted by krilli at 3:41 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes it would be a 'significant improvement' in relation to your stated starting level.
posted by londongeezer at 3:52 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

I think you're missing the endurance part. You could get up the hill in 5 minutes, but how far could you go at that pace?
posted by DoubleLune at 3:53 PM on January 3, 2012

I think the key question is "enough" for what? Yes, your ability to walk up the hill will improve. Will you burn a lot of fat or build a lot of muscle? I'm no expert but I don't think so.

This also depends on what you're eating afterwards.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:54 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

Walking up a hill would be a great way to get in good walking-up-a-hill shape. You'd also burn a few dozen calories. You wouldn't see great improvements in your not-walking-up-a-hill life.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:56 PM on January 3, 2012 [4 favorites]

I think the exception is with something interval training.

In short, if you run like a maniac for 90 seconds, walk for a few minutes, run like a maniac for 90 seconds, you could expect improvements in endurance beyond 10 minute hill runs - you might find yourself in surprisingly good shape for 60 minute hill runs, for example.
posted by BleachBypass at 4:03 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

something ~like~ interval training
posted by BleachBypass at 4:04 PM on January 3, 2012

And wouldn't I be able to go back to an eight or nine minute pace without even breathing hard?

To an extent, yes. That extent would be the degree to which you have improved the output of your aerobic energy system, which is what you'll be using when walking up the hill.

As you go faster, requiring more muscular power, your aerobic system would reach maximum capacity, after which any additional work would be performed by your anaerobic energy systems.

Such a short period of walking would not really be sufficient to elicit any major increase in your aerobic output (30 minutes or more is the usual minimum), so you'd be unlikely to notice any improvements to your cardiac output, oxygen uptake or other markers of aerobic fitness.

As you strive to climb the hill in shorter times (i.e. increasingly in excess of your aerobic capacity), you would be more quickly employing anaerobic pathways which, due to being much less sustainable due to your muscles' finite glycogen stores, can be effectively stimulated by short bouts of exercise. Eventually you would be at maximum power output and burning not glycogen but ATP, the body's most effective fuel, intramuscular stores of which last mere seconds.

None of these energy systems would be significantly improved without dedicated progressive training. So trying to travel up the hill faster and faster each day probably wouldn't net you much, if any, measurable athletic improvement. However if you stretched the training out over several weeks, months or years, focusing on the improvement of each individual energy system in sequence, then you could tailor your capacities to whatever your goal requires, be it a 100m sprint or an ultra-marathon.
posted by Kandarp Von Bontee at 4:18 PM on January 3, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is a bit like the idea behind HIIT. And yes, it works (even without a hill!), as long as you're willing to push hard and then drop down to walking at short intervals.

There's a interval program here which might be of use to you, designed for the average individual rather than athletes: you'd sprint for a minute (at about 60% of your max ability), walk for a minute, then repeat for ten total sprint/walk cycles. Don't cheat -- it's important to be strict with the timing. If you do it right it should be difficult at the end. That's 20 minutes instead of 10, but hey, who's counting?
posted by vorfeed at 4:18 PM on January 3, 2012 [1 favorite]

It would pretty much work like you describe - which is why for severely out-of-shape people, a ten-minute walk is a good place to start. If you kept up with it, you'd probably eventually be able to sprint up that hill at a pretty good clip.

Now, the caveats:

- Eight minutes a day of exercise is not very much stimulus. Your body will adapt to it, but they will be very small adaptations and after the initial curve, further change will be very, very slow. It might take three weeks to get to a comfortable eight-and-a-half minute pace, and three months to get to a seven minute pace. And a year to get to a six minute pace.

- Even if you go from ten to five minutes up that hill, it will not necessarily translate to anything but walking that distance at that slope. It won't make your arms stronger, make you faster on a bike, or even do all that much to make a twenty-minute walk easier. Adaptation tends to be very specific to the stimulus, and you're talking about a really tiny, specific stimulus. (Sprints would be better, by the way - I'm assuming you're just talking about increasing your steady-state pace.)

- The change would be tiny enough that it would easily be swamped by other inputs in your life. Diet, sleep, illness, injury, etc would be enough to knock you back a long, long ways.

So yeah, you've got the basic idea, and there are lots of short training programs that work on basically that principle (I work out three times a week for about half an hour, and fully half of that is gossip and/or hunting for the goddamn ten-pound plates) but the specific scenario you describe is not the best possible way to go about it.
posted by restless_nomad at 4:22 PM on January 3, 2012

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