"Great Fitness Results in 10-Minute Workouts - or Less!" Fact or Late-night TV Hype?

John Allen Mollenhauer | 11/06/04

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For many years I scoffed at the seemingly crazy marketing messages that promised "razor sharp abs" or "buns of steel" in workouts of 10 minutes or less. As a fitness expert, I "knew" there was no way that any serious or significant fitness results could be achieved in that amount of time.

In addition to my distrust of infomercial hype, my early days as a competitive bodybuilder left residual beliefs that said you needed to train in chunks of at least 30 -45 minutes or more, 5 -6 days per week, to be serious. And those unexamined beliefs rang true for me until quite recently, despite growing personal experience to the contrary.

I had become aware over the years, primarily by accident, that when I would miss several workouts for one reason or another, I would actually come back stronger than ever. In other words, less training was actually more when it came to results.

It took me a long time to acknowledged the truth of my experience, rather than the "mantras" of the fitness culture. Once I did, though, I was able to think through the core dynamics of why and under what circumstances less training was more, and how I could use this insight to my advantage.

Given how busy we are these days, it would be a great thing if one could develop a solid level of fitness in 10 minute workouts, even if the "razor sharp abs" are still hyperbole.

In this article, I explain how to get great results in 10 minute exercise workouts. In the process, I need to debunk one of the most well -known mantras of all time: "Eat less and Exercise more" as a weight -loss strategy.

You're about to discover a new view on training that will serve you for the rest of your life, promote your fitness success and ensure that you are always fit.

John Allen MollenhauerThe insight that "less is more" is not entirely new

Arthur Jones, inventor of Nautilus, was promoting the idea of training less with greater intensity over 30 years ago. But the wisdom of this idea, as well as its practical application, has been overlooked. Before I expand on this idea, let me make it clear what I'm not saying:

  1. I'm not saying that training (exercising) in 30 -45 minute chunks is not good. If you never read another word on exercise or training, know this: the fact that you're active - walking, running, resistance training, whatever, in whatever form, for 30 -45 minutes 5 -6 days per week, will likely do you good.
  2. I'm not saying that just any 10 minutes of exercise will help you succeed at developing a high level of fitness.
  3. I'm not zeroing in on 10 minutes exactly, as if it was a special formula; I'm talking about a relatively "short" workout anywhere between 1 -20 minutes. And yes, I did say 1 minute! It all comes down to what precedes those 10 minutes, what you do during those 10 minutes and what you do after. The same is true for any duration of exercise. The "pre", "during" and "post" events (how you live) will determine the outcome (results) you'll experience. Of course, your desired outcome will determine your intensity level, type, frequency and volume.

There are no exact rules for how long you should train, because your purpose and lifestyle variables, more than anything else, determine your training plans and their level of effectiveness. If your lifestyle will accommodate short workouts predominantly, then intensity level is your new best friend.

This article is not about designing training plans. Rather, it's about giving you the core principles that will allow you to design your own plans - customized to your unique and ever -changing circumstances.

It turns out the "10 minute workouts" message is more than effective marketing. It's more than trying to make a complicated message simple. The power of that message has to do with two sets of variables: time and energy, and growth and development.

Time and Energy - With so many demands on us, we generally don't have the time or the energy for long workouts that will further deplete our time and energy. To be sustainable, most of the time we need short workouts with higher intensity that promote growth and development, that fit into our schedules and that don't deplete our energy. Here's a fitness rule I've developed:

"You should feel strong after a workout, not like a wet noodle for the next two days."

Growth and Development - More is not more: more is often less when it comes to promoting growth and development. Here's why: if you're depleted of resources going into a workout, or you deplete your resources too far during a workout, or you don't give yourself enough time to recover and recuperate after a workout, your exercise experiences will be short lived (the old "on the program, fizzle out" pattern). And even if you manage to stick with that kind of punishment over time, you will not reap the benefits because your muscles will not have enough resources to build themselves up stronger. Here's the corollary to my "wet noodle" rule: "You can accomplish a great deal in 10 minutes if you use your time wisely and set it up properly."

Believe it or not, many of us are suffering from too much "time under tension" these days. I'm not just talking about life stress; I'm talking about too much exercise, which is neither effective nor sustainable.

Note: If you are an endurance athlete, for example, or you're advanced, with your lifestyle set up to support longer training periods, you are an exception. Nonetheless, the points herein are relevant to you too.

You may be thinking, "Is too much exercise really a problem today, with so many people not exercising at all?" The answer is yes, because too much time under tension (stress) is a primary reason so many people fizzle out, let alone fail to exercise effectively for even 10 minutes.

What happens because we don't have time or energy for the "recommended" 30 -45 minute, 5 -6 times a week workouts? Since we can't do it all, we often end up doing nothing.

Where did these recommendations come from?

That's the amount of exercise recommended to lose weight - the second half of the "eat less and exercise more" mantra that I mentioned earlier.

This philosophy is partly to blame for so many people working out indiscriminately. At face value, eating less and exercising more sounds like "common sense." Unfortunately, it's a dangerous half -truth, all the more misleading and potentially destructive because it does "make sense."

Eating less and exercising more makes sense theoretically, but not practically. As a society, we just can't do it. Want proof? Look around you: Americans spend billions of dollars each year on losing weight, and the more we spend, the heavier we get (an almost identical annual increase, frighteningly enough).

Exercising to lose weight is like taking a pill to cure your headache

Exercising to lose weight is a failing proposition. It works, but only for short time. As long as the rest of your lifestyle is not working in your favor and supporting your success, you can't stay trim by exercise alone.

When exercise is seen as the solution for losing weight, 10 minutes of exercise doesn't seem like much. After all, how many calories can you burn in 10 minutes, no matter how hard you're exerting? If you've ever worked out on a machine that flashed "calories burned" during your workout, you've undoubtedly made the depressing mental calculation that 90 minutes of agony burns the rough equivalent of a Snickers bar.

But exercise is not supposed to be a solution for weight loss; its purpose is to develop fitness. Burning calories to lose weight through exercise has only come into vogue in the last 50 years, since the overweight condition has become widespread.

The true causes of the overweight condition

The overweight condition itself is the result of more animal product and refined food consumption than at any other time in our evolutionary history combined with the fact that we are moving less.

We're moving less for a variety of modern day influences, not the least of which is, we're overwhelmed, exhausted and overweight (OEO); and exercising sustainably, for any length of time, with any degree of intensity, means we have to face our true condition. In the OEO stage, that's tough.

A little background on the core dynamics of lifestyle

Today we are faced with relentless demands on our time and energy. Most of us live in a depleted state so much of the time - sleeping less, resting little, and getting very little recovery time. When we go on vacation, we take trips that leave us more exhausted than before we left. In short, we're chronically overwhelmed and exhausted.

Add to this the fact that we are eating predominantly nutrient poor foods and you have the primary causes of the overweight condition.

These two factors, exhaustion (spending more energy than we generate) and eating nutrient poor foods, (being overfed but undernourished) cause us to get overweight.

The tendency when we see the bulge is to eat less (dieting) and exercise more. The problem is, in a depleted state, exercise works against us. Without enough recuperation, we are overtraining.

When we're stuck in this pattern, eating less and exercising more in an already depleted state results in short term, limited and down right poor results, so much so, that many of us have just given up on looking better, feeling better and performing better.

And the reality is, our lifestyle - the way we're living - is the cause of the problem. The way we're living day to day is not supporting our success.

The seemingly simple question of whether or not you can have a great workout in 10 minutes comes down to your lifestyle.

Remember the key points: time and energy; growth and development. So the question is, what has to happen to get great results in a short workout?

When we focus our efforts on the most obvious symptom (overweight) rather than the root causes (overwhelm, exhaustion, and nutrient poor eating), we take ineffective action. When we address the core dynamics, at a lifestyle level, we have the leverage to achieve more with less - in this case, to achieve high levels of fitness in minutes a day.

"How you live" determines "how you exercise."

You're either setting yourself up for success, highly resourced and in a position of strength on a day to day basis, or living in a way that leaves you energetically and nutritionally bankrupt. Only when you are set up for success can you achieve great results in 10 minutes, or any length of exercise.

Developing fitness requires vital energy and a nutrient rich body, an environment where you have the resources to adapt, grow and develop. That's why the question of exercise strategy is ultimately a lifestyle issue.

If your lifestyle is overwhelming and exhausting (doing too much, not recuperating, and over consuming nutrient poor food) you will tend to overcompensate, and turn to heroic efforts at dieting and exercise. You will go "on the program" temporarily, only to return to the same old lifestyle you had before, and stay stuck.

We've all experienced it - wondering why we can't stick with the program and why not matter how long or hard we train, we just don't seem to improve.

Changing these core dynamics of lifestyle (how you live) is what will make the difference in your fitness success and answer the question, "How to get great results in 10 minutes of exercise."

I bet you thought I was going to teach you some special training routine! (Smart training is important, but any training on top of a foundation of health is smarter.)

Great results follow correct action; health (energy and fitness) is the result of healthy living and training. You've heard this before. Hopefully this article is putting this into even greater context.

What exercise is really about

"Working out" simply provides the occasion for an adaptive response. This does not take long to accomplish, it can happen in as little as one minute. (Yes, I did just say one minute.)

An adaptive response means that when you stress a muscle - any muscle - beyond its current capability, the muscle fibers break down under the stress and then rebuild themselves stronger. It's as if they say to them selves, "Wow, that workout kicked our butts. We'd better get stronger for next time!" The principle of adaptive response works just as well for the heart muscle as the leg muscles. What you want to improve, you stress. The higher the intensity level, the less time you need to spend training. And a high intensity level means that you don't have to take your muscle to fatigue - so you can still stand and walk for the rest of the day.

Finally, a high intensity level means that your muscles will improve the most given longer periods of rest. So your 10 minute workout - or whatever - doesn't have to become a program or a quasi -religion. When you need to skip a day because you aren't fully recuperated, go right ahead. It's not laziness. It's actually smart training.

The way you live every day is a much a part of a successful workout as the workout itself.

How you live determines how much and how often you have to work out to achieve or maintain your desired level of physical conditioning.

To sum up: fitness is the result of a successful lifestyle

When you are adequately recuperated and powered by nutrient rich food, you don't need to depend on willpower. You don't need to work out just to burn calories. You are free to exercise for one exhilarating reason: to develop the level of fitness you choose, so you can meet the challenges ahead.

This does not require much time.

Depending on your goals, you can work out around 10 minutes at a time, and with an optimized lifestyle, get fantastic results.

You may not be ready for the Olympics in 10 minute workouts, but the level of fitness you can achieve will surprise you. (Remember, the lifestyle rule applies to the professional athlete as well. Their entire lifestyle is set up to support their training. When they're not training, they're recuperating. If you want to exercise as much as they do, then set the rest of your life up like they do too!)

Eating less and exercising more are effects, not causes. If you want to eat less and exercise more, make sure you are recuperating your energy and eating nutrient rich foods. You'll find yourself in a position of strength. You'll desire exercise more than ever before; and when you do, you'll accomplish more in less time.

How to Improve Your Lifestyle

Why invest time in growth and development (fitness) if you're not going create an environment where you can do so well, both effectively and efficiently?

When you optimize the core essentials in your life, exercise takes on a whole different purpose. You're no longer doing so primarily to lose weight, so you can accomplish far more in less time, and actually develop higher levels of fitness in very short workouts, intermittently throughout the week.

And do so without depleting your resources of time and energy.

This is what the wellness elite do. Despite their busy lives, they get great results and they don't live as a gym rat. They get the point of developing higher levels of general fitness: being able to do what they're up to, more sustainably and more successfully... in style.

They get the results they want cumulatively, as a natural consequence of how they live, not heroic efforts at dieting or exercise.

If you want to develop the level of fitness you choose, enjoy athletic experiences and achieve big goals, then a health promoting lifestyle - a flexible approach to taking care of your body and the right coaching - will set you up for success.

John Allen Mollenhauer is founder of, the online personal training site founded by Health Science contributor John Allen Mollenhauer. To learn how to develop true physical fitness without supplements or heroic attempts at dieting or exercise, visit and download the free special report.


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