Yes, despite what conventional wisdom tells you, it is possible to get ripped with just minutes of exercise a week.
How is this possible? Simple body science. Let’s start with what doesn’t work. Common knowledge, as usual, is wrong.
Why Grinding on a Treadmill Does NOT Burn Off Body Fat
If burning fat were as straightforward as hopping on the treadmill from time to time, you wouldn’t see so many chubby runners. Many people exercise constantly, experience cravings as a result, eat a ton, and never lose weight. For most people, it doesn’t matter how much they exercise if their diet sucks: the weight will catch up with them. This is especially true if they’re doing the wrong kind of exercise…
“Burning off” calories through low-intensity cardio is not the best way to burn fat because the actual caloric burn of aerobic exercise is minimal.
To put it into perspective, an hour on the treadmill burns off approximately one Starbucks muffin. Grim.
Doing more cardio is not the answer.
Why You Can’t Get Ripped While Training For A Marathon
When it comes to getting lean and fit, your body responds to quality over quantity. Overtraining reduces your body’s ability to burn fat and catabolizes muscle. This applies to both frequency and duration of exercise. Growth hormone and testosterone begin to decrease and muscle wasting increases after just 60 minutes of training.
Effective exercise does not mean subjecting your body to punishment. Sure, with enormous amounts of volume and intensity you could burn off a fair amount of calories through grit and sheer force of will. If your only goal is to lose weight (and aren’t worried about sacrificing muscle) you could potentially eat crappy food and run a half marathon every day. I did once, and I became skinny (and meek – see below)… But it’s not particularly good for you, sustainable, or necessary.
So don’t expect to get ripped if you are training for a marathon. It doesn’t work. Let’s look at a case study – me.
Low-Intensity Vs. High Intensity Exercise in Pictures
In one of my many experiments guinea-pigging on myself, I wanted to see how my body responded to different levels and types of training. After finishing in the top 3% of runners in my second marathon in 2 months, I decided to switch to shorter distances and prioritize sprints (and finished in the top 4% of the 10k a few weeks later). I assumed that since I was exercising more (running 50 miles a week versus less than 10) with a very solid finish time, my body would be optimized when I was in tip-top marathon shape.
The results are far more interesting.
The picture on the left shows me just before finishing my second marathon in two months (running 50 miles a week with no sprints). The picture on the right shows me just a few weeks after finishing my second marathon after I reduced my mileage to less than 5-10 miles a week and began incorporating sprints…
Not only did my muscles get bigger and more defined after replacing long runs with high intensity exercise, but my body also looked and felt much healthier. I reduced body fat and increased lean muscle by 10 pounds. The pictures don’t show the extent to which my body regained healthy color and a more masculine shape. Even my face changed… from being Sam-the-Eagle-from-Sesame-Street-skinny to a healthy “normal.” All from exercising less.
So What Happened Here?
Have you ever noticed that endurance athletes are rail-thin, pale, and look a little unhealthy? But what about athletes that are required to perform short bursts of maximum output, like sprinters? They are jacked!
This is what happens when you run too much: your body does not know you are running a marathon or have just been run over by a truck. Your body simply knows it is experiencing significant trauma. So your hormones go wacky, your fight/flight response is heightened, and your body pumps you full of stress hormones. For long-term training, fat loss, and health, this is all bad news.
Because it’s always trying to recover from what you just did to it and protecting itself from whatever might happen next, your befuddled body never has a chance to heal. As a result, your body gleefully eats away at your muscle.
While endurance training sends a signal to become more energy efficient and use more fat as fuel, high intensity training sends the muscles an adaptive signal to become bigger and stronger and more efficient using glucose for fuel. With high amounts of endurance training you are at a higher risk of fat storage due to starvation response and associated metabolic slowdown when not replenishing enough calories after a long run (not to mention fat gain after overdoing it with post-exercise binges – try to not eat an entire pie after a marathon – I dare you).
If you want to build muscle and get huge results in the shortest amount of time, don’t run marathons. Run sprints.
How to Build Muscle Instead of Burn It
When I went from exercising many hours a week to just minutes, I got ripped. But How?
Exercise is only beneficial up to a point, after which you start wasting muscle instead of building it, retaining fat instead of burning it, and increasing the release of stress hormones that throw your metabolism out of whack.
The truth is that you don’t need to grind it out on the Stairmaster or powerlift all day to achieve spectacular results. Simply following the right diet will achieve 80% of your results (and yes, I certainly made some tweaks to my diet for picture number 2)! But HOW you spend that 20% that makes up your training can be the difference between a six-pack and a spare tire.
Exercise should be effective, not punishing. My philosophy is this: maximize metabolic, hormonal, and athletic results with the least amount of time and effort. You will be amazed at how much you can achieve with just a few minutes a week. These high-intensity exercises will cue your body to burn fat and build lean muscle with amazing speed and efficiency.
So stop the frustrating, endless cycle of jogging, stuffing your face, and cursing your stubborn belly fat. If you want results, find an exercise you enjoy, train hard (for short amounts of time), and expect success. If you need help getting there, you know where to find me. If you want clear steps to achieve rapid fat loss and muscle growth, pick up your copy of the Wild Diet System today.
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LEARN HOW TO DROP 20 POUNDS IN 40 DAYS WITH REAL FOOD
Mary Griffin says
Nice writing style. I look forward to reading more in the future.
Abel James says
Thanks Mary! Catch up with you soon.
Ryan McDonough says
Woah. You just blew my mind. I’m a gym rat but I feel like I always was caught up in this circle where I couldn’t get out. LIke if I stop exercising, I’ll suddenly get fat… But when I stop and think about it, it makes sense that your body doesn’t need to exercise all of the time as long as its getting enough.
I’m subscribing to your e-mail list, by the way!
Abel James says
It’s really amazing the difference between what most people think is effective exercise and what is actually effective exercise. Working out efficiently is so much more rewarding.
Luke Cage - Fit Switch says
Good post! Burning more fat in less time. What really brought clarity is the pics between the two ways of training.
Abel James says
Thanks Luke. Crazy, isn’t it? Exercising less improves results!
I am running about 36 minutes 6 to 7 day a week and do about 4-6 sprints at the end, I use to run 45 to 60 minutes, I do feel a difference. Do you have any other sujestions that I shoud do to get learner? I really do not need to lose any weight just tone but the 36 minutes with a few sprints at the end seems to be working so far. Thanks Kathy
Abel James says
Hi Kathy, thanks for stopping by. If it’s working, keep it up! I would say, however, to take 1-2 full days of rest a week especially after hard sprints. Remember: you build and tone muscle while you rest, not while you work out.
brian bowes says
Loving the podcast. Got into the pale diet after my brother-in-law used it to recover from losing a lung to cancer. I have been doing the Beachbody Insanity workouts which are short and very intense. Was wondering what your thoughts are on the Insanity workouts. Please advise.
Abel James says
Hi Brian, Glad you’re digging the podcast. My approach to exercise is this – do something that you love, but don’t overdo it. Short and intense workouts are excellent, especially if you are in decent health and give yourself ample time off to rest and recover. If you like Insanity, keep doing it. If you don’t, find something you love!
You are the man, when no one wants to be honest or really tell the truth, Abel teaches us that intensity over quality will get the job done in order to get in shape and look great.
Abel James says
Right on Mario – intensity and quality of exercise is definitely where it’s at! No need to tether ourselves to a treadmill – thank god!
I could not refrain from commenting. Perfectly
Awesome, just awesome. Free self-experimentation with diet and exercise as well I pretty much follow exactly what you do. And I FINALLY have the athletic body that I always wanted. Over Christmas I took 2 weeks off from working out and sat on my ass eating good food. I did not gain a pound nor lose any muscle tone. And more importantly- I’m now focused on health and not body image, and just feel awesome. Yet my dad won’t listen to me when I tell him not to starve himself and bike 3 hours a day to try and lose weight for the 80 millionth time. So…I decided to start my own blog! Haha. Thanks for all you do and so glad I found your site. I stopped reading most of the “paleo” blogs I was reading cuz everyone gets so extreme and creepy.
Some weird grammatical errors in there b/c I got so worked up in agreement..but you get the idea…
Thanks again for what you do!
Mike Folden says
I’m doing crossfit 3-5 times a week and eating a “mostly” paleo diet. I’m trying to burn off a little more fat and having a hard time getting to go. I’m thinking about adding a morning cardio session to my routine as I usually hit the gym after work. Would you recommend morning sprints? What distances? Sets? Or could it be some elliptical or cycling? Any feedback is much appreciated!
Emily Dewey says
Tabata intervals are a great way to incorporate sprints. 20 seconds of “work” then 10 seconds “rest” – do 8 intervals, rest for about 2 mins, then repeat. Generally 3-5 sets is a good goal! – Emily, FBM Team
Gary Sheridan says
I agree with your workout philosophy and really enjoyed your interview with JJ Virgin (what a woman!). You quote percentages on your races. What were your times? Is there a reason you don’t state them?