There IS a shortcut to fitness

March 15, 2016

fitness-shortcutHave you added strength training to your workout? Do you think you need to do multiple sets for hours on end to get results?

Think again. About a decade ago, I learned a fitness shortcut.

High Intensity Training (HIT) gets results faster than most training regimes, or so I learned first-hand a few years back from my former trainer, Tom Ellis. It involves getting the most out of your workout in the least amount of time—three workouts a week are enough–just right for busy professionals or those of us who don’t like to spend hours in the gym. Plus, HIT helps slow the aging process.

I’ll let Tom explain it and I’ll add my comments in italics.


Trainer Tom Ellis. This is what 65 can look like.

The founder of Nautilus devised HIT way back in the 1970s and even today, it goes against the norm in strength training. It calls for fewer reps with higher weights and proper form until you can’t do another rep—muscle failure. One key to effective HIT is, as the name implies, intensity. When you cannot move the weight with good form, you have hit failure—which tells your body it has to adapt by growing muscle. Think of it as “no pain, no gain.”

Your body is always in adapting mode. If you can move a boulder in your yard your body feels no need to add muscle but if you can’t move it, your body responds by building muscle.

Muscle is your metabolism and as we age, muscle atrophies, so we lose the ability to burn calories effectively. Strength training is the only form of exercise that will slow the aging process.

Shorter workouts, less frequency, fewer sets

Mike Mentzer, a body builder from 1970s, has several books that expand on this philosophy. He recommends shorter workouts with less frequency and fewer sets. The key is muscle failure (when you just can’t do another rep) with proper form:

Three seconds on the positive contraction…. with a 1 second pause at the point of contraction…. then 4 seconds down on the negative with a one second pause before beginning the next rep.

Repetition range should be 8 to 12 reps for your working set. If you can do more than 12 without failure, you need to add more weight. Find that point of muscle failure and adjust your weights accordingly. Three workouts a week for thirty minutes are enough to get results.  He’s not kidding, either. I was never stronger than when I did his half-hour workouts–and managed to do my very first push-up ever. Yeah, I know, I’m a wimp. But no more.

fitness-shortcutHIT works: I trained this way for two years with another trainer before I moved my clients to this training format some years ago. Effectiveness comes from the way your program is designed and getting the most out of your workout in the least amount of time. It’s also safer, as your biomechanics are better than they would be if you were trying to lift heavy weights you can’t control. Which is how many people weight train. And I see these people in the gym, wobbling away and lifting with their backs.

More is not always better

If you think that’s not enough and like “old school” training, believe that, “more is better” think about this. Most folks do a two second repetition versus an eight second rep. So if you do three sets of ten at two seconds you put muscle under load for sixty seconds with all three sets.

If you do one set of ten to failure at eight seconds per rep you are putting tension on muscle for eighty seconds. What do you think is harder? This is the key to HIT’s success.

You only need to send that signal to your brain that you need to be stronger once. If three sets are better than one why not five sets or more? There is a point of diminishing returns.

Another consideration is your fuel system. Weight training is an anaerobic activity versus cardio, an aerobic activity. You have approximately enough muscle glycogen for about forty minutes of an anaerobic activity such as strength training, unless you are a conditioned athlete.

There are other factors to consider in your quest for the best health with the least amount of time. Breathing, range of motion, intensity variables, individual goals, nutrition challenges, when, how much and what to do for cardio, movement work, injury prevention etc. etc. all play a part in optimizing your fitness. This is why I like working with a trainer.

“It’s not necessary to spend hours in the gym.”

Most of us don’t want to spend hours in the gym nor is it necessary. So get in and get it done and enjoy the benefits of a better quality of life. And of course you will look better as well!

If you would like a complimentary consultation and/or a program designed for you my contact information is listed below. Online coaching with is available including nutritional guidance and set-up. Here’s what I like: Tom is my age and understands the aging body. He is committed to health and fitness, plus he is one heckuva a good guy. We miss him.  He’s in Tampa, but he’ll work with you online to help you meet your fitness and nutrition goals. Trust me: this is as much of a fitness shortcut as anything I know. And it works.

Tom Ellis
Strength of Mind, Body, and Spirit
(813) 545-9341

28 comments on “There IS a shortcut to fitness
  1. Shari Eberts says:

    What an interesting approach! I tend to do Bikram yoga, which can get pretty intense, but I can see how muscle failure applies to that as well. Holding a posture for 60 seconds may sound easy, but it is not. I hold it until my muscles fail. Then try again the next day to hold it longer. Either way, the brain is getting the message to build more muscle.

  2. GiGi Eats says:

    I need to get out of the mindset that MORE IS ALWAYS BETTER! I am a creature of habit and I am on the elliptical trainer for at least 1.5 hours a day! HA!

  3. I wish I could do more intense workouts but I have to work with what I have. My new normal doesn’t allow for intensity, so I stick with gentle yoga and walking. We all do what we can and I’m proud of you for taking this on for yourself! Good going, Carol.

  4. Nancy Hill says:

    I need to get back to real strength training. When I worked with heavier weights I loved it. Thanks for the motivation.

  5. Nancy Hill says:

    I’ve been using Aveda. May have to check this line out though!

  6. Lois Hoffman says:

    Since I’ve started a new (sedentary) business over a year ago, I have dedicated too little time for exercise and it shows. I’ll have to give this a shot.

  7. I like the idea that less is more – especially when it comes to exercising!! I could so get into this!

  8. I’ve got to get back into strength training. I walk every day. It makes me feel good but my body looks the same. You’ve inspired me.

  9. I discover HIIT about a year ago and have lost 50 pounds. This is definitely an effective method.

  10. Carolann says:

    I’ve heard of HIT but never exercised using it. I really like the idea though. I’m going to check it out for sure. Now that I have a Fitbit, I’m even more aware and into exercise. Thanks for showing us this method. I need all the help I can get!

  11. Shaylee says:

    Right now I’m just trying to get back into better shape so I can DO some of this haha I’ve stopped driving and made myself walk everywhere which is having a really positive impact on my health!

  12. My kind of fitness great tips and ideas thanks!

  13. Jamie says:

    This was really helpful info! I have limited time and will have to give this a try. I know that I need to work on gaining muscle for sure!

  14. Estelle says:

    I so agree. I work out with a trainer and now we do shorter sessions, more reps. It is a great program.

  15. Sheryl Kraft says:

    Save time at the gym and slow the aging process at the same time? That is a win-win. I’m in!

  16. Denita says:

    Less really is better. I actually feel much better if I don’t over exercise. Sometimes, I do get antsy because I’d love for the weight to come off more quickly. However, overdoing it does nothing.

  17. I am so happy that strength training has been become so recognized for women over the past few years. I’ll admit I was one of those women worried about weights and getting bulky but I learned last year that was not the case. Thanks for sharing.

  18. I need this shortcut. I don’t have any time so anything to help me would be great.

  19. Jenn Slavich says:

    I’m a big fan of this type of working out because you are really getting cardo and strength training in one. This is how I workout except I am at the gym 5x a week because I need it for my sanity 🙂 Thanks for sharing, loved this!!

  20. Elizabeth O. says:

    That makes a lot of sense. More time spent on working out doesn’t necessarily make it better for your body, sometimes that could turn out to be bad too. This sounds like a great way to stay fit without asking for too much of your time.

  21. I’ve been a real slacker when it comes to strength training, but three 30-minute sessions a week really ARE doable. Time to get off my arse. Thanks for the inspiration and motivation, Carol!

  22. Nicole Escat says:

    So glad you shared this! working out takes a long time and it’s really hard to achieve in a long time. This makes sense.

  23. Faye says:

    I love this! I constantly fall into the trap of thinking that “more is better.” This is a great approach instead.

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