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Why Short Workouts Work Best

In this excerpt, Ryan Lee shares on the physiology of exercise and why short work outs work.

In this excerpt, Ryan Lee shares on the physiology of exercise and why short work outs work.

The Fountain of Youth World Summit with Ryan Lee, fitness professional, the founder of Prograde Nutrition and fitness sites Sports Specific and Work Out Pass.

Kevin: Great. Well, tonight is going to be absolutely awesome. I know that for sure and as you know I don't like to waste any time and as everyone else knows I don't like to waste any time. Let's get right into it. Let's talk a little bit about your story, how you began in the workout business?

Ryan: Okay and I will cut right to the chase too. Basically, I've been a fitness professional since '94. I've always worked out my entire life since I started at 12 years old working out in my basement, you know, with the Joe Weider set. I progressed up. I was a competitive athlete in high school and college. I was a track athlete. I was a sprinter, did really well there and continued just to stay in the fitness industry. I always worked out clients. I did strengthening and conditioning clinics. I did the USTA, United States Figure Skating. I worked at Children's Rehab Hospital. I trained people in their houses. I trained people in gyms. So I pretty much trained people my whole life and also as a phys. ed. instructor in a school, as well, in New York City. So I had to learn to be adaptive with my workouts. And what I did I was kind of one of the first people back in like '94, '95 to do 30-minute workouts.

What I found was a lot of my clients just didn't have a lot of time. They were busy and then when I started training people in the school the classes were 50 minutes but by the time my kids got to the class, and they changed and they gave me a hard time I usually had about 20 minutes to work out. And when I first got to the school we didn't have any equipment. There was no room literally. I had to go to the student's rooms, to the classrooms. And they'd say okay, let's do the workout. So I had to really be creative. So I would come up with these 20-minute, 30-minute workouts, 15-minute workouts and from there, you know, I would start to do this on my own and started really studying the science of exercise. That's what I got my Master's in, exercise physiology, and I started to realize that, you know, I think a lot of people were working out wrong. I'd see these guys spending two hours in the gym, you know, and I'd say what do you do? They'd say, oh I'm just working arms. And they would do like preacher curls, and barbell curls, and dumbbell curls, and preacher. It was just unbelievable. They just seemed to be wasting so much time. I created the whole system and then after my first daughter was born, Jordan, I really had no free time. So I read this study by Professor Tabota out in Japan doing these four minute workout intervals just using anaerobic training so I kind of adapted it and created this whole four minute work out system using strength training, body weight, dumbbells. You know things that you had at home and I would literally do these workouts while my little girl was like taking a nap or in the room watching a baby Einstein. And I would do these quick workouts and I started actually seeing really good results and I started--created a DVD on the workouts and I started prescribing these workouts to clients online and then people started getting great results. Then Men's Fitness reviewed it and called it the world's fastest workout and, you know, the rest is history.

Kevin: Four minutes is pretty intense man. How did you get from hours in the gym to four minutes? I mean how -- that's not to say, and we'll talk about this later, that's not to say four minutes is perfect for everyone but how does it start from those hours in the gym? What goes in your physiology to get that short period of time and still gets results?

Ryan: Well, basically the reason why typical workouts, you know, the two hours in the gym aren't as effective is first of all there's a lot of time wasting and there's a lot of -- you know, when you're at the gym you get your towel and you get a drink of water, you talk to your buddy. You know, there's definitely between each set you end of wasting probably four or five minutes on average. So one typical set of three exercises, you know, one exercise for three sets usually takes about 15 to 20 minutes or even more. And it's just not efficient. I mean when you -- typical gym workouts are you break it into body parts. Say today is arm day, or today is leg day, or today is, you know back day and you end up hitting the same muscle group but you do like five or six exercises and there's just no real benefit. I mean unless -- the only time you should be doing those type of workouts, personally I feel, is if you're a professional body builder or you want to be a body builder. I mean that's when it would be most appropriate; but if you're like 99% of the population who just want to look better, have more energy, and feel more fit then you just need to kind of get rid of those single joint movements, like a bicep curl, and just go multi joints. So you know what the best bicep exercise is? Like a pull up. I mean you're doing, you know, your elbow flexion. You're working your biceps but you're also working your back.

You can play around with your leg positioning and work your core region as well or you could do -- maybe grab a pair of dumbbells and do a squat, and then as you come up do a curl, and then maybe you can turn into a press. So youre getting your bicep, you know, your elbow flexion and extension with the press. So you can work your biceps but you can do many other body parts at the same time and it's all about being efficient and, you know, these workouts -- see the difference is too when I used to train, you know, I ran track in college competitively. So I trained as a sprinter. So all we did were sprints. I mean by sprints I mean in practice we'd go all out 100 meters, or 150 meters and for people who are a little metrically challenged 100 meters is pretty much, you know, a football field from end zone to end zone and sprinting that as hard as you can. You know, resting for a couple of minutes and sprinting it again; and those are the type of workouts that get you just writ and feeling good and feeling energetic and raises your human growth hormone level. And all you have to do is watch a competitive track meet on TV the one time they show it a year or the Olympics and you look at the finals of the 100-meter dash; and you tell me those athletes, the men and women, are not in just phenomenal shape. And then, you know, wait until they show the marathon guys. Wait until they show the guys running 5 miles and 10 miles and they look awful. They are thin as a rail. They look like they're older. Their faces are drawn. They're always hurt. And I'm like why would I want to train like that? I don't want to look like that.

I want to look lean, and cut and healthy. So I'm not even sure if I answered your question but anyway you're transitioning.

Kevin: You did. Well, the next question is going to give some more insight for everyone out there. Now, you're talking about sprinting and then you're talking about marathon running. Why dont you talk about the difference in the two systems, not necessarily as applied to a marathon and sprinting but just the two energy systems and how that's working?

Ryan: See, here's the big misunderstanding with exercise. You know, I'll give you the real, real basic physiology of it for everyone listening right now. Basically, when you go at a slow pace, you know, you go a walk or a slow jog you're using more fat as energy at the slower pace. So everyone once they heard that they said, oh my god if that's the case compared to a sprint where it's more, you know, the carb source, the glycolysis and all that kind of stuff. You know, people start to think okay, then you have to go slow if you want to burn fat but here's the problem. Let's say you run three miles and you're using more of your fat as energy. What happens is your body uses a little bit of the fat during the workout and then once your workout's done now you're getting ready for your next workout. So the next time you workout your body is like, oh my god. Okay, we're doing more exercise but last time we used this fat as an energy so now we have to really hold onto it because your body thinks that there's some trouble. They're like okay; we're going to need this fat later on. So now your body actually starts to conserve the fat. So it said hey, we are going to do some exercise now. Now we've got to really hold onto the fat. And then as you start getting more fit and your body adapts to the workouts it starts holding onto the fat even more.

And that's why, you know, when you look at distance runners they are not muscular. They're thin but they're soft. They don't have muscularity because their body is just so used to conserving the fat. And now three miles now takes three and a half miles, now take four miles and it's a never ending cycle; as opposed to the opposite when you're sprinting you're using a different energy system but you're actually burning more calories and oxygen consumption when you're done working out and there have been studies that show, you know, up to 38 hours later. When you're done doing aerobic exercise maybe it's for an hour and then it's done but the high intensity sprint- type workouts that's why it's so much more effective because it's not holding on to the fat storage.

This interview is an excerpt from Kevin Gianni's Fountain of Youth Summit, which can be found at In this excerpt, Ryan Lee shares on the physiology of exercise and why short work outs work. Ryan Lee is a fitness professional, the founder of Prograde Nutrition and fitness sites Sports Specific and Work Out Pass.

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