The “Brief Workout” Trend – Are You Exercising Enough to Hit Your Goals?

February 22, 2010

I enjoy brief workouts, especially during the summer when I am active. I think this emerging trend of quick workouts is great, but how brief can you go before you aren’t exercising enough?

Can a few 30 minute workouts per week really give you the same results as 4-5 one-hour workouts per week? In my opinion, there is a time element involved to getting in peak condition. Even if you train hard, you can’t expect to reach a high-level of conditioning just putting in a few 30 minute sessions per week.

Perhaps the reason you haven’t been able to lose those last 5 pounds or don’t have defined abs is simply that you aren’t devoting enough time to exercise.


[One thing in limited supply for all of us is time. This picture is a reminder of that. Life is too short to live in a gym, but recent studies suggest that 4 or more hours per week of exercise may be extremely beneficial to longevity. I’ll talk about this “4 hour minimum” rule later in this post.]

My Experiments With Workout Frequency

When I was a younger guy in my 20’s, I hit the gym 5 times per week. My workouts were 1.5 to 2 hours per workout.

Yes, I realize that this is excessive! I was spending close to 10 hours per week exercising pretty hard. As I reached my 30’s this frequency was closer to 4 times per week.

These past 2 years I have experimented with working out just 3 times per week for certain periods of time. Here is what I found true (for myself anyway)…

4 Days Per Week Seems to Be My “Sweet Spot”

When I train 3 days per week, I am always slowly sliding back. It doesn’t matter if my goal is fat loss or gaining strength. I can maintain a look for a few weeks, but will eventually lose ground and need to increase workout frequency.

Again…I am not saying this is true for everyone. Training 5 times per week works well too…but 4 workouts per week is the point where I can make positive progress.

Anything less than 4 workouts per week will result in regressing a bit. I could train 5 times per week, but then it comes close to “living in the gym” (although I will do this for 6-8 weeks in Spring each year).

What About the Time Per Workout?

I have gone through periods where I trained as long as 2 hours per workout, which was madness. These days, I seem to get my workout done in almost exactly one hour and 15 minutes.

I spend 45 minutes of lifting and a total of 30 minutes of some sort of HIIT and steady state cardio combo. I have tried to train less than that and it just doesn’t seem to do the trick. Either I don’t stay lean or my muscle definition and strength levels suffer.

Summer is a different story…the extra physical activity can keep you lean with less official workouts per week.

treadmill workout

[Although I love brief intense interval cardio, I have also found that you have to put some time in on cardio to get maximum fat loss benefits.]

There is a “Time Element” to Cardio…

I hate to say it, but even the most intense HIIT for 10 minutes isn’t as effective as mixing in HIIT type cardio with an additional 20 minutes of steady cardio.

It is trendy to look at steady state cardio as a waste of time. The problem is that most people compensate with the additional cardio by eating more. If this is the case, then it is a waste…BUT if you add in this extra cardio while maintaining a calorie deficit you will see consistent visible results. Intense cardio is good, but you do have to put some time into cardio if you want to see what it can really do for you.

When wanting to get really lean I follow a “30 minute rule”…I have to get in at least 30 minutes of cardio after every session of lifting.

I have never failed to predictably lose fat, getting as lean as desired following this cardio rule.

Exercise 5 Days Per Week to Reduce the Common Cold?

The Wall Street Journal (Jan 5, 2010) talked about the effect frequent exercise had on the common cold. Dr. David Nieman conducted several randomized controlled studies showing that people who walked briskly for 45 minutes, five days a week over 12 to 15 weeks had fewer and less severe upper respiratory tract infections.

“No pill or nutritional supplement has the power of near-daily moderate activity in lowering the number of sick days people take…These subjects reduced their number of sick days 25% to 50% compared with sedentary control subjects.”

Over 4 Hours of Exercise Per Week to Extend Life?

A study in Israel which was reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine (September 14, 2009), examined physical activity and survival rates.

The researchers examined mortality data for 1,821 people for 18 years, from ages 70 to 88. Subjects were classified as sedentary (less than 4 hours a week of physical activity) or active (four hours or more, including vigorous exercise, such as jogging or swimming, at least twice a week).

Here are there findings!

“Among physically active vs sedentary participants, respectively, at age 70, the 8-year mortality was 15.2% vs 27.2%…at age 78, the 8-year mortality was 26.1% vs 40.8%…and at age 85 years, the 3-year mortality was 6.8% vs 24.4%”.

Basically, those who were physically active for at least 4 hours per week, significantly outlived those who did not exercise as much. It made a bigger difference as people aged. Check out those figures at the age of 85!

Sometimes More is Better

To me, the benefits of training over 4 hours per week outweigh the negatives. Obviously some exercise is better than none, but I am going to do my best to create a new rule for myself…the “4 hour per week” exercise rule. I will do my best to get in at least 4 hours of exercise per week.

It doesn’t always have to be a gym workout, but I will do my best to hit that number. These studies aren’t the only reason I am doing this.

My experience has proven (at least for me) that it takes at least 4 hours of exercise per week to stay in peak condition.

What Has Your Experience Been?

I would love for you guys to give me feedback. Has anyone been able to get really lean off of much less than 4 hours of exercise per week?

If time wasn’t a limiting factor, what feels like the ideal amount of exercise per week?

----> (New) Facebook Comments..."Cause all the cool kids are doin' it!"

{ 99 comments… read them below or add one }

Rahim Samuel February 22, 2010 at 8:14 pm

This gave me some insight into why I sometimes feel like I’m sliding back. I have to find where my sweet spot is when it comes to frequency and intensity. Rusty, would this same notion apply to circuit training? I know one of the benefits of circuit training is the time you save. But is it possible to short yourself in the process?

Rahim Samuel

Dave February 22, 2010 at 8:19 pm

Hey Rusty,

I can live with three 45 minute dedicated exercise workouts a week BUT (isn’t there always BUT), I do a lot of walking everyday as part of my day job.

Throw in the stairs a couple of times a day (again, just part of my job and getting around) and I’m probably closer to 4 hours when everything is said and done.

I guess I’m fortunate enough to get in some exercise even if I’m just going to a meeting on another floor.


Robert February 22, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I couldn’t agree with you more. I bought into the 30 minute, 3x times a week is enough. I lost a lot of size, and strength. At first, I felt stronger, and looked bigger (not that big, I am an ectomorph, 6′ 165lbs) but then, it seemed over night, I lost a lot of strength, and size. I figured it out though. I was training too much, and doing just 30 minutes 3x a week, gave my body a much needed rest, which caused it to grow. I now work out 4-5 times a week, for 40 minutes, and do 15 minutes of steady state cardio, which is enough for some one with my build, and still get all the health benefits associated with it. The key with cardio is not to “dog” it. A few minutes warming up, 7-10 minutes going for it (Not HITT), and a few minutes cooling down. Great post.

Mike February 22, 2010 at 8:39 pm

Hey Rusty,

Absolutely LOVE this site. I discovered it over at Zen Habits. I wanted to ask you what your favorite protein shake recipe is. I know you used to drink strawberry myoplex but you’ve talked about switching over to natural foods, something I fully agree with.

I’m jumping on the two protein shakes and one dinner a day diet, coupled with ESE in hopes of shedding some body fat. I’m 5’8, 169, with about 20% body fat and would love to get back down to 8-12% before it gets warm out.

As far as time on cardio goes, I absolutely agree with the 30 minute rule. I never shed fat faster than when I was training for my triathlon. I wasn’t even lifting weights during those 12 weeks, and I was leaner and more cut than ever.

Johnny at The Lean Saloon February 22, 2010 at 9:05 pm


As you mentioned, the total dose of physical activity is different for different folks. I’ve been able to maintain around 5% body fat with two 30-minute strength workouts per week. I move around a lot all day and don’t sit still that often, which is a factor I always include when talking about total “exercise time.”

I believe that my low body fat has a lot more to do with my dietary habit, in particular the adoption of an IF (intermittent fasting) lifestyle in the past year.

I believe also that the proper dose of physical training depends greatly on the individual’s goal. If it’s to build more muscle mass, then more time should be devoted to lifting, with sufficient recovery. If it’s to get lean, then that’s a function of diet. If it’s to get really ripped, then increased exercise (strength, circuit, cardio, etc.) combined with calorie deficit may be the best bet for most people, but not necessarily for all.

If it’s to stay healthy and possibly live longer, then daily (but casual) physical activity (like the Stessman study from Isreal published in the Archives of Internal Medicine, the one you mentioned) appear to be the right dose and intensity.

As for me, I just love the freedom of the least amount of time spent in the gym for MY GOAL of being very lean, yet still have decent muscle mass.


Johnny at The Lean Saloon February 22, 2010 at 9:10 pm

And to add to my previous comment:

It is the beauty and art of exercise — everyone can discover what works best for them. In particular, most of us should try to find our minimum training threshold and still see the greatest physical return.

And it is the beauty of blogs like this — everyone can share their discovery, and learn from others!


Craig Avera February 22, 2010 at 9:26 pm

I’m positive a lot of readers here can relate to this… it seems like once you get used to going to the gym 5 or 6 days a week, it’s really really hard to take days off from the gym, to the point of possibly over-training. I’m guilty of this myself. It’s crazy, but if I have the energy and my body is feeling good, it doesn’t matter if it’s my 10th workout day straight, I’ll feel guilty if I don’t go to the gym that day.

I agree that you do have to put in a decent amount of workout time to maintain a really defined and lean physique. At least, I haven’t found a way to maintain that extreme definition without a lot of hours in the gym, if someone else has, please spread the wealth ๐Ÿ™‚

I’ve read that taking a week off completely every 12 weeks or so from lifting will allow your body to fully recover and prime it for growth next round of training. While this does make sense, I haven’t taken a week off in I can’t remember how long. Maybe I will experiment with this soon and observe the results. What do you think Rusty on this one?

Dan February 22, 2010 at 9:28 pm

AAAAAAMEN. I was literally just thinking about this. I take the same approach as you in terms of lifting and doing cardio after.

I was just watching some of Craig Ballantyne’s videos. I enjoy his quick body weight programs and his thoughts on fitness, but I just can’t see myself getting into peak condition on 3-4 of those body weight circuits a week.

What I have been doing is lifting/cardio approach 4 days a week and incorporating one of circuits in on an off day.

I think a nice balance of 3-4 lifting/cardio days and 1-2 body weight days a week works perfect. Add in some paleo eating and Eat Stop Eat and you have a recipe for one hell of a physique.


Josh February 22, 2010 at 9:36 pm

It depends on the activity. Weight workouts my ideal is 3 to 4 days a week. Anymore than that and I burn out quickly. Cardio is a different story. When I first started running I would do 3 runs a week and I improved but I never really felt my fitness improve until I started cycling 3 days a week too. With 6 cardio workouts a week my performance went through the roof.

Alexis segura February 22, 2010 at 9:51 pm

Rusty in spite of the distance, we are in the same track. Today I was just measuring the time I spent lifting weights and how often I hit the gym. I just realized that because of limit time, I do my lifting in 30 minutes and jump the rope for ten additional minutes. I reduced my sessions of 5 days per week for only 3 and I saw that I donยดt look so ripped as I want. In other order of ideas, yesterday I wen to the theater to see Yamato (a japanese performance in which they play the drums) I have to say that all tne actors have muscular density and could appreciate the fibers of they shoulders and the definition of the triceps) I just wonder how many hours they spend trainning and hitting the drums to have such bodies.


Andrew February 22, 2010 at 10:03 pm

I am like you, in that I can’t get my workouts done in under an hour, no matter how hard I try. There’s just not enough time to get the necessary cardio, lifting and core work done in any lesser amount of time. Granted, my workouts aren’t focused on getting lean, as I’m already lean enough. I’m focused more on strength training and training for soccer. To help with sports performance, my core workouts consist of a lot of stabilization exercises, like planks, supermans and side planks. Those, like cardio, simply take TIME to be effective. You can’t really speed up a stabilization exercise.

I think a lot of people want to use quicker workout periods as an excuse to say “I’m active!” but don’t get the necessary work in to get where they really want to be. And then, they wonder why it’s not working, turn to fad diets and constantly try to switch up their routine to the newest “SUPER MEGA AWESOME 40 SECOND FAT BURNING WORKOUT XTREEEEEEEME” in an attempt to get results. It’s never going to work like that.

While you can’t fight more with more, it’s sometimes necessary to DO more in order to ACCOMPLISH more.

Greg February 22, 2010 at 10:04 pm

The science here is very sound, but the truth is that for the average person with kids, spouse, job, and home to care for, getting in 4 hours of workout time just isn’t manageable. Unfortunately, I fall into that category…

cp87 February 22, 2010 at 10:37 pm

I just have to say i have just discovered this blog and i am so so happy to find that there is someone else out there advocating the training and eating principles that i have already followed since i started at 19! I have read pretty much every article already!


anyway i find that if i stick at hard core 1 hour 15 min sessions for a few months, (weights and hiit) i can afford to back it off fora couple weeks with just some good cardio and still maintain what i had, but yep it only stays maintained for a couple weeks then i have to get straight back into it! i think its a refreshing way to train though, because you dont get so burnt out, but still have great results.

Barry February 22, 2010 at 10:43 pm

Hi Rusty. While I’ve been doing steady state cardio before (running at least 6-8k kms for around 5 months), I’m now using HIIT and brief but intense strength training for 2-3 months since I get really bored staying long hours in the gym. I’m much more lean and slim right now, and I also feel that I’m more functionally fit than ever (though I’m not sure if it’s because of my diet or exercise. I use intermittent fasting as my diet). I also feel tired after every workout. I remember the first time I did tabata thrusters, my whole body was shaking afterward and it was a pain to walk. I think it all depends upon the intensity of your workout, be it cardio or resistance training.

Eugene Kan February 22, 2010 at 10:52 pm

I feel that cutting down my rest times and doing non-competing exercises back to back (to illicit a quasi-HIIT style approach), I’ve seen great results from an aesthetics point of view.

That is, if I’m doing an upper/lower body split, on upper body day I may go from incline bench to cleans/high pulls (each for 5 reps at a decent weight) and then rest for 1 minute and repeat.

On lower body day, I might go from heavy box squats directly to straight-leg deadlifts to some sort of deltoid shoulder exercise, and then rest once again for a minute.

Your heart is always working but you’re involving different muscles so you don’t worry about being unable to continue after the minute is up since the break is technically longer than 1 minute.

Kelly February 22, 2010 at 11:11 pm

As usual, you are right on top of it. Most people want to do the least amount of work possible, but get the best results. I’m all for being efficient and spending less time in the gym, but you still have to put the work in to actually get the results.

By the way, I tried the Mode Bodyweight 400 challenge from Mike Roulston this morning. I probably should of started of with a little less. I got through it but it literally kicked my ass! I really liked it though. Thanks for all of the great info!

Kyle February 22, 2010 at 11:52 pm

Another great post Rusty! oh and I was wondering if maybe you could do a post on the training,dieting and conditioning aspects of MMA fighters? I figured that you would enjoy that, seeing as they are among some of the most “in-shape” and all-around conditioned athletes in the world. thanks rusty!

Eric Komans February 23, 2010 at 12:07 am

For me it starts with diet. Training follows fuel. If I’m trying to get lean, my deficit is usually at the higher end of my tolerance.

I don’t excuse myself from deficit when I train, but I also don’t go to the same extent of exhaustion that I would otherwise aspire to.

My workouts are roughly an hour and a half, twice weekly. I don’t have much muscle mass to maintain, but I’m greedily clinging to it with vicious tenacity as I diet down.

Though I hit roughly four hours a week of time in the gym, I don’t necessarily agree with the “four hours per week” maxim. I’m not going to argue against it in any scientific capacity, but I would like to make the point that you cited people who had a certain amount of “physical activity.”

Because of my deficit, my rest times are pretty exaggerated to keep my intensity levels where I like them. My overall workout times meet the maxim, but my actual activity time sans rest is absolutely much lower.

I’m rambling a bit, and I don’t dispute your findings as I have yet to achieve ‘really lean’ status… but I’m working on it. I’m a solid fourteen weeks away from it, but I’m getting there.

Maybe I should have developed some endurance capacity before I started dieting so I’d have the energy for that many workouts! I just feel fried!

Brad Campbell February 23, 2010 at 12:36 am

Hey Rusty – I definitely favor shorter, more intense workouts that can be done with very little equipment and in the comfort of your own home (because lack of TIME is generally the number one excuse for not working out)…but the fact of the matter is you can’t go all-out during every workout, which necessitates some longer, more moderate intensity workouts mixed in.

I agree that HIIT training needs supplemented with some steady state cardio or tempo training – both for recovery ability and maximizing caloric deficit.

Because of these needs and the fact that weight training HAS to be incorporated…I’d say your “4-hour minimum” rule isn’t too far off. And that’s not even accounting for stretching, posture improvement exercises or addressing any other specific needs.

As is always the case in fitness, this would vary greatly based on the person at hand, their diet and individual preferences…

I’m sure you’ll get a fairly wide range of responses…

Great topic, keep up the stellar work.


akit110 February 23, 2010 at 1:15 am

What % of cardio training should be steady state?

I know tabata, intervals, HIT etc are now the golden children of the internet world. But in the real world, am I really likely to see more of a change in body composition from a 150-200 calorie 10 min HIT workout than a 400-450 calorie 30 min steady state one? Will the EPOC or hormonal responses that is purported to give the edge to HIT or interval workouts really that impactful in a real world setting? I know there are exercise physiology studies which demonstrate this but they typically use untrained subjects who do interval training vs very low intensity steady state workouts.

But what those cases where the steady state workouts are done pretty intensely too? I know steady state workouts get a pretty bad rap on the net these days. But in the real world, where I see an athlete able to run, bike, skate, row, paddle at a fast clip for 30-60 minutes, they invariably look lean and fit given their age and gender.

And that pretty much holds true for any sport – the competitive ones – the ones who are able to exercise at a high wattage for their respective event (be it short, mid or long duration) – look pretty darn lean across the board (i.e. low %BF). Muscle development will of course be less as the event gets longer but that makes sense since as the sport would select against larger muscles (form follows function). What do you think?

K1ngebo February 23, 2010 at 1:59 am

The leanest I have ever been was in my competition Soccer days. We practiced 4-5 days a week and obviously a lot of sprinting and slow jogging was involved (6-12 hours a week). I eat less now than then but exercise less as well and i am not as lean. If you really think about 4 hours a week out of the 168 hours in a week, it’s not that much (2.3% of that week). Work and life can make that seem tough but I make it a priority in my life. Great post as usual!

blanco February 23, 2010 at 2:01 am

Very interesting post !
I think the clear differentiator is weather you are aiming at :
– a “good general fitness level” / “cruise control” / most of the year body fat level (let’s say 11-12% BF) which in my experience can be maintained with a moderate level of activity (let’s say 2 20-30mn strength training sessions and 1 HIT per week assuming you walk quite a lot)
– or a peek performance / “summer body” at below 10% body fat which is a completely different game (and, for me at least, hardly sustainable more than a few months in a row)

Most training programs I have seen don’t clearly differentiate these 2 goals, and don’t state clearly what goal they have in mind, while I think the “rules of the game” are completely different.

Thanks for the excellent website by the way

May February 23, 2010 at 2:54 am

Hi rusty,

After seeing your post, i feel even more confused. when it comes to exercise, it does confuse me quite a bit as i do like to work out but i do NOT want to spend my time doing things that is actually wasting my time.

I am a 27 y/o asian woman about 5’1″ and weigh 115 lbs. i currently work out around 3 times a week for an hour and fast twice a week. my goal is to lose another 5-10 pounds. and I want to look lean and firm, especially on my legs and arms (getting ready for summer dresses)

I am basically following eat stop eat + turbulence training instruction so i put my main focus on strength training followed by 20-30min HIIT. (as what i get from them is that boring cardio is simply a waste of time.)

After reading your blog, it seems that you recommend to do cardio to get lean. As i want a leaner leg, should i skip strength training on lower body and do 20min stationery bike after HIIT exercise??

And as getting lean is my goal, should i do more cardio and cut my strength training into once a week ??

women are greedy, i want to look lean and at the same time i want to remain some feminine curves

It would be great if you could give me some instruction to follow as i really do want to utilize my time and effort when i work out.

Thank you so much rusty.

John February 23, 2010 at 3:00 am

I work out every day, and spent one hour lifting and stuff, and 45 minutes running or on the bike. That works 100% for me.

Roland February 23, 2010 at 3:31 am

I think there’s a huge mental benefit to finding your “sweet spot.” Everyone’s is unique, but enough days/times, then making sure that each session actually feels like a complete workout to you is key.

I think that when you workout hard and feel satisfied, you tend to also stick to your diet, which is the biggest aspect. You can burn 400 calories in a so-so workout, but still swallow 800 calories of junk in about 10 minutes if you don’t care. When you just trained HARD, you tend to also eat to plan.

joe February 23, 2010 at 7:13 am

I train 4 times a week also but my workouts last around 3o mins.
Mind you I workout at home and I believe that if I were at a gym my resistance training would take me at least 15mins longer just on waiting time. So I do just resistance training 3 times a week and a body weight cardio circuit once a week, 30 mins also. This works extremely well for me. I mantain 8_10% body fat all year round. But that I control with my food intake.
By the way I am 43 yrs old now. And I have to say I am pretty proud of how I look these days.
Keep uo the good work…Great blog!!!!

wolverine February 23, 2010 at 7:25 am

Fantastic Rusty!! i have been thinking the same thing for a while now, the new work out for 15 mins, dont do cardio etc is just giving some people an excuse not to try hard enough, because the truth is not a lot of people cardio to the point where it becomes detrimental, most people have a sedentary lifestyle so as much cardio they can get in just replaces the inactivity.

gus February 23, 2010 at 7:39 am

my usuall workout in a gym is 3 times per week. then i do strenght training for 30-45 min, followed by 10 min HARD hiit and 10-15 min stedy cardio.

when i used to play soccer it was really easy to keep mysealf lean, now i have to watch more what i eat.

i have also found that the ” sweet spot” is around 4 sessions a week for about a little over an hour each time to get realy lean, while i am on a calorie deficit.

Clement February 23, 2010 at 8:41 am

Rusty, I agree with you that to get into elite condition, the frequency and intensity of your sessions must be upped. However, once you’ve achieved your goal, I feel that maintenance at that level would be pretty easy and requires only maybe 3 30-45min real scheduled workout sessions, a la Turbulence Training, with fun activities throughout the other days. When combined with calorie restriction, you should also decrease your frequency of workouts so as to avoid burnout. For me, I typically follow Eat Stop Eat and Craig’s advanced TT programmes with HIIT substituted with barbell complexes or bodyweight cardio and do HIIT and high intensity cardio on my off-days for maintenance.ย 

These few weeks, though, have seen me exploring other fitness trainers’ programmes. I’m currently a guinea pig in Jon Le Tocq’s 12 week Intense Conditioning 2010 programme, working out 5 times per week. I must say that if you are preparing for a sports competition (soccer, 10km, etc.), his programme really does get you great strength and stamina increases.ย 

When I’ve finished his programme, I’ll be going into John Romaniello’s Final Phase Fat Loss programme. Have you seen it? I think it’s awesome and makes use of cutting edge science and hormonal manipulation, not to mention hyper-intense workout sessions, to blast stubborn fat and break through plateaus. Admittedly, his philosophies are a bit different from Jon (to a certain extent), Craig or you ย – he believes in a g-flux-esque approach and uses Joel Marion’s Cheat Your Way Thin diet, which I’ll probably be getting soon out of interest. However, I’ve seen his programme and it is certainly not for beginners. Already, his programme has been given a ringing endorsement by many fitness pros, like Craig, Eric Cressey, Joel Marion, Scott Colby… I recommend you try it out if you don’t already have it!

Devecque February 23, 2010 at 8:47 am

Hello, Rusty. Nice post, as usual.
Just a quick question. That amount of training is better for someone who’s reaching for muscle tone, right? If anyone is working for bigger muscle, they should rest more, correct?

Thanks for your time =)

Clement February 23, 2010 at 8:50 am

Sorry rusty, I tend to ramble on endlessly without summarizing my point! Anyway, what I meant was, you should separate your programming into a few phases with exclusive goals. The first would be to get into elite shape and the second, to maintain it all year round. If you fall off the wagon a bit, minute changes should get you back on track. Of course, if you are in bad shape, burning fat would be your first goal. This may sound uncannily like the bodybuilder’s bulkin’ and cuttin’ approach, but it certainly is not geared towards gaining blocky chunks of muscle and fat at the same time!

Bubs February 23, 2010 at 10:09 am

I just started the EAS body for life program which is a 6 day a week workout. 3 days a week are for weight lifting for 45 minutes and 3 days of cardio/abs for 45 minutes.

Being a complete newbie to the gym I really like the structure of the workouts.

The question I have for you is about lifting weights and doing cardio on the same day. Everything I have read says that you shouldn’t do both on the same day. Is there any fact to this? Do you think I can combine a cardio day with a weight lifting day and still get the same results?

My goal is turn some of my fat into lean muscle. I’m not trying to get huge or even toned just lose some body fat. My diet is somewhat healthy but has been improving.


IPBrian February 23, 2010 at 10:41 am

I have to say I agree with you completely. I usually get in 4 days of lifting and 2-4 days of cardio (I don’t have the time to do both in one day). I think people really need to take the time to experiment and find what works for their bodies. This is where keeping a stats diary really helps in finding out what works.

Anthony February 23, 2010 at 12:55 pm

Hey Rusty,

I found your website last month and I have thoroughly enjoyed reading and learning about your take on fitness. Starting this week, I have decided to get myself into the best shape possible for my vacation in June.

Iโ€™m 6โ€™1 and 233 lbs. This week, Iโ€™ve just started the ESE style of diet (2 fast/wk) and have also been using your resistance training 2-day split and 25 mins. of HIIT this week (3x/wk). I plan on moving to your โ€œevent-readyโ€ regiment about a month before my vacation. All and all, I have 13 weeks to get in great shape.

I have a couple of questions:

1-Do you think the resistance training split will be enough to get my weight down to at least 200 lbs by that time?

2-How heavy should I be lifting? I used to lift to tone so the weights were a bit challenging but not too heavy.

3-I primarily use the upright bike to do my HIIT training and I donโ€™t use the treadmill because I donโ€™t like the way my knees feel afterwards. Is there a variation of HIIT that I could perform on the elliptical?

4- I was also thinking about incorporating some turbulence training workouts and Stronglift 5ร—5 training into my workout regiment after about 4-5 weeks. Should I? If so, what principles of these workouts should I incorporate?


Chris - ZTF February 23, 2010 at 1:23 pm

This is very true Rusty and a valid post. The truth is to maximum/optimal results I believe you have to be active for about 5-7 hours a week. Now that doesn’t mean in the gym all that time it could be a mic of weight lifting, sports and whatever else gets your sweat dropping! Although for maintaining or just getting in to good shape we can get by with less…..

darrensmooth February 23, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Is this advice for people training to get lean? Does it apply for those trying to gain some mass as well?

Hugh February 23, 2010 at 3:14 pm

I’ve found that 4 hours a week can be very effective, and a HUGE variable in this is diet. We all know that you can train for 10 hours a week and if you eat poorly, you still won’t see the results you want. On the contrary, you can train for less than 2 hours a week and with stellar eating habits, you can look and feel great.

I too have a gym in my condo building and 95% of the time I am there by myself, so there is no waiting time. Therefore, I can bang through a full body workout with warm up, stretch, and cool down in a little over an hour. I’m more of the lean runner type, so this is fine for me.

I also agree completely with some of the other commenters here – what you do throughout your normal day affects you significantly. Do you sit at a desk for 10 hours or are you more mobile? I’m a desk jockey but I try to get up and walk around as much as possible (or at least flex my core while I sit) during the day.

Great overall post!

Antonio C. February 23, 2010 at 3:32 pm


You touched on a subject that has many answers based on the individual’s state of mind and fitness level. I have been seriously working out for 3 years now but early last year I began experimenting with different training philosophies. Each one had good ideas but none met my criteria: limitless fitness levels (no plateaus), improved strength, and improved aerobic/anaerobic capacity, and short workouts (<45m). So, out of frustration I ended up designing a computer program that would generate the workouts for me. Voila! I now have access to limitless workouts with limitless fitness levels.

I agree with you. Three times per week is not enough for me. Four times per week hits the sweet spot. Today, my workouts last no more than 35 minutes (down from 1-hr) but I have more body definition and my resting heart rate is in the 60s (47/m/180). Hell, the other day I put on my Polar FT40 heart monitor to see how many calories I was burning and the results were, get this: 700. 500 from the workout and 200 burned 30 minutes afterwards. It took another hour before my heart rate dropped to resting levels.

I never worked in the fitness industry. However, I can honestly say (after spending buckets of $) that the fitness industry has everyone conditioned to accept 1-hr workouts as the norm. They have everyone conditioned to accept that we cannot get real results in as little as 30 minutes per day. They had me fooled. Like "Neo" in the Matrix I took the red pill and saw that what they have been preaching to us was not the truth.

Love the blog!

Luke M-Davies February 23, 2010 at 4:17 pm

Very very useful post, one which we all need to consider!

As Johnny commented above

“It is the beauty and art of exercise โ€” everyone can discover what works best for them.”
I too believe this is the bottom line, magazines etc go out trying to give people workout x to build your guns but I have learnt that our physiques are so unique and respond in their own unique way, beyond calories in and calories out, there are few hard and fast rules that apply to all of us!

I took a similar road to you Rusty and definitely used to overtrain. We all have different life commitments, and what I like to call ‘Real Life Interruptions’. We should not give our lives to the gym. I feel strongly about this and have offered some tips from personal experience about integrating fitness with your lifestyle and personal relationships ( I know I am dropping a link here but I don’t want others to risk losing the more important things in life in exchange for fitness obsessions, it’s not worth it!
We each have different time constraints – ever since I have commuted to work with a 5 mile run instead of using the train, I have saved lots of time. There are so many ways to stay active and lean (not bulky ๐Ÿ™‚ without having to hit the gym for your split routine workout 6 days a week (which I am not condoning, if you have the time to do that and prefer it that way).

HIIT-lover February 23, 2010 at 7:02 pm

i’ve been doing HIIT on the treadmill for almost 2 years now (off and on). i’m pretty sure i picked it up from fitnessblackbook. at first the restuls were awesome!!now, however, my body is no longer “shocked” by the high intensity intervals. i’ve experiemented with switching up the incline, speed, duration, etc.

my question is: how effective to you think longer intervals all (60seconds on, 60 seconds off)? i’ve been doing short intervals for so longer (30seconds), so i’m tempted to try out the longer ones. but i’m not sure if i’ll get as great results as i did with the 30s intervals. thoughts?

Matt February 23, 2010 at 10:24 pm

Great timing for this post Rusty! I’ve been a reader and follower of your site for ~ 2 years now. While I’ve learned and progressed alot, I’ve always fallen 5-10 lbs short and been a little too “skinny fat”. I’ve just, within the last 2 months, committed to 4 days per week rather than 3, and finally have some visible ab definition. If this pace continues, by May or so I might finally have a six pack(never have had one before). Keep providing the great info!

blanca walls February 23, 2010 at 11:34 pm

I’ve been following your blog, and I agree with you that less than 4 hours/week may not be enough. I’ve been exercising for 4 years already, and I notice that while 3 hrs/week can help at maintenance, I tend to increase body fat with lesser work out. 4x/week seems to be the sweet spot.

Paul February 23, 2010 at 11:41 pm

With me it’s intensity, intensit and intensity in my workouts. I guess it’s the goal that you are after that determines the type of workouts that you want to adopt. If your goal is bodybuilding you simply cannot adopt a crossfitter’s type of workout. If you want a fitness model’s or a Dolce&Gabbana’s runway model’s physique, you simply cannot adopt a bodybuilder’s workout nor can a marathon runner be expected to workout like any of the above or vice versa. So in conclusion whatever the exercise pattern that you would choose according ly to the direction you want to head towards, only two important rules that are common and must be followed religiously is INTENSITY AND NUTRITION.

Deanna February 23, 2010 at 11:58 pm

I don’t want to be another one of those “What a timely post” kinds of people, but, well, it was. I tried to put on weight for a military audition, and succeeded… the unhealthy way. Diet alone hasn’t gotten me back down to where I was, and I was trying the minimal exercise thing, so just this week I started lengthening my workouts. It ends up being about 20 minutes of heavy lifting, 20 minutes of jump rope intervals or sprinting, and then 30 minutes of steady-state cardio, 4 times per week, and then whatever playing or walking is an added bonus. I am also dieting hard, so we’ll see what happens. Honestly, I already just feel better than I have in weeks. The three-stage workout also gets me geared up for the day in a way that a 20-30 minute in-and-out workout just can’t do.

Francesco coli February 24, 2010 at 1:10 am

Hey rusty- I’m in a fast passed business and sometimes go without eating before a workout…now I know why I still have energy when working out on these days….I stubbeled upon this phenomenon by accident but it’s true …. My energy levels are high when fasting … I have started to implement this strategy on purpose now and it’s working …..icalways knew how now I know why..

Tyler February 24, 2010 at 2:55 am

I used to do between 1 and 2 hour workouts too. They were too tiring to continue executing exercises in perfect form.

These days I shorten my workouts so that they are more time-efficient and more intensive. This way I can get more bang for my buck. =)

Raymond February 24, 2010 at 5:27 am

Hi rusty, I recently started visual impact and using the 4 day week 5 day week routine in phase 1 and it really suits me, what I mean is that I can see a positive change in my body shape. Previously I trained 3 days a week but it does seem now too infrequent. 5 days is a bit much and I don’t feel recovered enough, 4 seems just right.
If I train longer Than 1 hour I loose intensity in the excercises, if I train 30 minutes I feel like I haven’t done enough so I will try to train wether it’s weight cardio or both between 45 to 60 min

Ken February 24, 2010 at 5:54 am

Gโ€™day from Australia, Rusty. For me, it depends on two factors: the natural amount I want to eat, and the diversity of my goals. First, let me address food intake. I seem to have a standard amount I want to eat. If I drop too far below that amount, I tend to binge eat to make up the deficit. Physical activity makes no difference to the amount I want to eat. It only changes how fat I am from that eating. If I could eat fewer kilojoules, I could do less exercise and still be lean (I have achieved this for short periods, but cannot sustain the lower intake of kilojoules). Second, let me address the diversity of my goals. If being muscular was my only goal, I could do less exercise. I want to be muscular (within my genetic capability), I want to be lean (look good naked), and I want to perform well at sports that require superb cardio fitness (running, squash, cycling, etc). Looking after the first and third goals (being muscular and fit) takes care of the middle goal (looking good naked). I find it impossible to fulfil these goals without 5+ hours exercise per week. By the way, I am 52 years old. I have visible abs, I play A-grade squash, and I can still out-run most men half my age. Anyone can look good in his or her twenties. Looking good in your fifties takes exceptional planning and application, but it is possible and even enjoyable. Many years ago, I focussed my diet on fat control. In recent years, I geared my diet for longevity, and my fat levels dropped further. I can tell you more about my diet if anyone is interested. By the way, longevity becomes more important to us as we age (funny that). Footnote: this is my first post on any website, ever! So, if you comment, please be gentle with me. Cheers, Ken

Simon February 24, 2010 at 7:36 am

Depends on yours goals and current conditioning I think.
If you’re in good, but not great shape and just want to maintain I think you can get away with less.
If you want to improve strength/mass/leaness etc or maintain at a high level you’ll need more.
I guess genetics play a part too.

Once again it’s about striking a balance, achieving your goals and enjoying your life.
Personally I enjoy working out so I don’t see exercising 6+ hours a week as a sacrifice, especially as the weather here in the UK is utter crap right now.
When summer rolls around the beaches down here (Cornwall) may start to look more attractive than the inside of a qym. Ahh beach, beer, barbeque, women in swimsuits… Hurry up summer!

Simon February 24, 2010 at 7:48 am

Of course intensity is very important too, I can slack around the gym for as many hours as I like, doesn’t necessarily = results.
@Craig Avera, taking a week off can work wonders, both in terms of physical recovery and motivation, after the time off you’ll be chomping at the bit to get back and hit it hard.

Baz February 24, 2010 at 7:49 am

Heh guys and rusty,

just quickly how would you rate swimming as assisting in burning fat? I’m not overweight or anything but I’m around 12% bf and need to get down to 7%. Would swimming benefit me?

F8th February 24, 2010 at 8:02 am

I was following a few paleo sites specifically Art DeVany. I tried the twice a week heavy workouts with walking and playing in between-fun stuff even dance lessons, trapeze etc. I also tried to incoporate more flesh food in my diet. I’ve been a raw vegan for a while so this took some getting used to.

After over a year, I can honestly say that going back in time, the leanest and best shape I have ever been was when I was incorporating both HITT and steady state cardio-hands down! This also took at least 5-8 hours a week of pretty good intensity workouts and very clean diet. I would say that 2 to 3 of those workouts are “cry mama” moments.

You basically have to ask yourself what you can live with to sustain the kind of health, physique you want. Sure, if I want to keep doing fitness modeling then yeah I probably would not be able to sustain low body fat and looking ripped on 3 times a week workout. You have to be honest with yourself and pursue a diet and lifestyle that suits your needs otherwise you’ll be packing your bag a whole lotta guilt trips that will derail your overall health and wellness.

I’m so glad that something has finally said this because everyone and their mother want to believe that you can get lean, ripped and fit by doing very little NOT! This specially goes for women because our bodies tend to hang on those fat esp. if you’re at your child bearing years. As much money Madonna has she still gotta work it big time. This woman spends on average at least 3 hours a day exercising but do you want to look like that or live like that? If yes, then time is of the essence. Someone has yet to discover a short cut to greatness or leanness ๐Ÿ˜‰

What’s an hour a day it’s miniscule compared to the time wasted surfing the net or watching insipid tele shows. I always say no excuses no limits! It’s that simple.

Miss G February 24, 2010 at 8:15 am

Hi Rusty,
I obviously overtrain, going twice a day for 45mins in the morning and evenings whenever I can. I’m a 5ft8 female weighing 135 pounds, so I’m in good shape, but I want to be in great shape! ALL my fat is on my belly! I do mostly cardio, with HIIT and circuits 2x per week when I can, but because I dance 3x per week in the evenings, it does me no good to not be able to lift my limbs after a hard session! Do you have any ideas for me? I find it difficult to control my food intake, which is partly why I spend so much time at the gym (time in gym=time not snakcing). IF would be disastrous since I would definitely overeat after the fast… I really need some help from someone who’s not going to tell me my bmi is fine and I should stop worrying like the trainers in the gym do. Really, really appreciate any advice. Thanks.

Antonio C. February 24, 2010 at 10:06 am

@HIIT lover,

This is what my research on HiiT unearthed last year for me:

I experimented with various intervals and I found that what works for me very well is the “30/15/60” rule. Do something for 30s, rest for 15s. Keep doing this 3-5 times. At the end of that cycle, rest for 60s. Repeat (2nd round). After the 2nd. round is finished, move on to something new and apply 30/15/60 rule again. I’d not do this for more than 30 minutes (start with 20m and work your way to 30m). If you keep your rest periods honest, you will start to feel winded after the 2nd round.

I need to clarify that I do not practice HiiT on any stationary equipment. I practice HiiT using a myriad of exercises aimed at my goal for the day (lower, upper, or core). So, in reality I combined all my fitness goals into a single workout. I can honestly say that the second I get comfortable with the workouts, I generate a new set via my computer program; my body is then working hard to re-adjust to a new load and new exercises. It never gets bored exercising and plateaus are a distant memory nowdays.

Take care,

Ersin February 24, 2010 at 11:38 am

isit better to do cardio after lifting or before?, because when i go to the gym i do intervals first then lifting?

Mindbodygoal February 24, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Hi Rusty
Great post as usual!

My experiences are that the amount of exercise that is needed very dependent on the intensity of the exercise.

For example, my optimal strength gains (for powerlifting) come from 3 sessions per week with one session focussing on heavy squats, one on heavy bench and one on heavy deadlift (all performed for reps of less than 5 and within 80% of my 1 rep max) with assistance exercises thrown in.

I find that training with more frequency than this compromises recover especially for the lower back.

In terms of conditioning, cardio and general physical appearance my favourite way to train is with kettlebells.

The beauty of training with kettlebells is that when done for high reps it totally negates the need to have seperate resistance and cardio workouts as both can be achieved in one hit.

Performing 10 minutes of kettlebell snatching pretty much taxes the entire body while also delivering a very intense demand on the cardiovascular system.

Another favourite of mine is to perform exercises back to back for 200 reps plus with 200 reps equating to between 6 and 10 minutes constant work.

An example of such a routine would be
Kettlebell swings 20 reps
Kettlebell one arm swings 20 per arm
Kettlebell snatch 20 per arm
Double kettlebell squat 20
Kettlebell Single Arm Jerks 20 per arm
Kettlebell Windmill 5 per arm and so forth.

3 ten minute sets would deliver an incredible workout which would see metabolic rate ramped up for hours afterwards.

Years gone by I was a competitive cyclist and after a race my body would be revving for hours.

I get the same physical response from 30 minutes of kettlebell training using a decent weight (for me 20 to 24kg kettlebells) and high reps.

I find 4 * 30 minute sessions for optimal for this type of training and some serious physical changes can be enjoyed as a result (so long as nutition is spot on too!.)

Be Well

Sebastien Rahman February 24, 2010 at 12:58 pm

Even Health Canada has changed their standards on lifestyle health and activity levels. It used to say do active mild to moderate activity 3 times per week for 20 to 30 minutes. Today, they suggest doing 30-60 minutes of moderate activity, 5-6 times per week.

Sebastien Rahman
Personal Trainer Toronto

J. Emory February 24, 2010 at 1:00 pm

I don’t get it. From what I can gather from this website and Adonis effect’s website is that fat loss is simply expending more calories than you take in. So why the mention needing to exercise longer to get the “last 5lbs off”. I mean i get it that to build muscle you have to do resistance.

Shaun February 24, 2010 at 1:13 pm

I agree that over 4 hours a week is necessary to maintain. I’ve been able to stay at 7 to 8% body fat year round for over 10 years straight exercising exactly 4 to 5 hours per week. When I want to go lower (5 or 6% body fat) I jump up to about 6 hours per week and tweak nutrition.

However, I still see most personal trainers and so-called fitness experts promoting metabolic testing and 1 to 2 hour long boring steady state cardio workouts, so although the short-brief trend might be more internet based…people still tend to think that “more” is “better” and that’s just not the case.

I used to exercise 10 to 12 hours a week for over 8 years straight (like you Rusty) and i carried about 14% body fat. I cut my exercise time down to 4.5 hours weekly and started using Get Lean in 12 workouts (similar to Tabata) combined with HIIT and went down to 5% in only 12 weeks exercising HALF as much.

I also would continue to get in debates with trainers about cardio. Most metabolic testing and heart rate training is ALL about fat and calories burned during the workout rather than measuring the EPOC effect of HIIT and GL-12 which has been proven to elevate your metabolism for up to 48 hours after a workout. I had to prove this point once by using ONLY 12 to 15 minute cardio sessions 4 times a week for 8 weeks (nutrition was very clean of course) and took my body from 8.8% down to below 5% with only 48 to 60 minutes of cardio a week…and absolutely no long duration cardio. (which I do think is still necessary…i just wanted to prove my point ๐Ÿ™‚

I share this because its a constant debate and the real answer is balance and synergy. In other words, using HIIT and GL-12 most of the time and throwing in 1 or 2 longer sessions. This is what “primes” our bodies to continually respond.

Bottom line…balance is the key. If you have the synergy of cardio, weights, and nutrition working together you should only need 4 to 5 hours of total exercise per week.

Lastly, isn’t funny how almost all the fitness experts, gurus, trainers, dietitians out there promoting ANY type of exercise or nutrition are typically fat or just not in shape? Hmmmm who should we really be listening to? Guys like Rusty who walk their talk. End of story. ๐Ÿ™‚

Mike February 24, 2010 at 1:28 pm

Off the topic,
I have read in human physiology that if an area of fat cells is warmer, then it is easier for the cells to be burned. I think that is fact. But can it be practically applied?
So I think that is why some say that if use nylons or wide belts around the waist or other body parts, that dont let the skin breath and get colder from the sweat, the temperature is rising in the area and you burn fat.
There is also a company that has special equipment for targeting the fat loss with the same principles.
So you got the point.
What is your opinion about that.

Bill February 24, 2010 at 2:09 pm

Right on with that comment about the need for steady state cardio. For a few months I focused strictly on doing a sprint HIIT workout with no steady cardio. I found that although I got in much better condition endurance wise, I wasn’t losing any weight which is my primary goal. Since I have mixed in long runs with the HIIT first as you suggested in another post I have seen stready weight loss. Keep up the great work on this site, it is cool.

swimfan February 24, 2010 at 2:23 pm

@baz hey! i thought the same thing as you at the beginning of this year. i had been doing HIIT for 2+ years and i figured it was time for a change (tired of the impact on my legs and soreness). so on the first monday of this year i gave swimming a shot, 3x a week for 1 hour each session.

in my experience swimming does not burn as much fat as HIIT running does. i read somewhere swimming burns about 90% of the calories that you would burn running. HIIT running has a weird way of suppressing appetite. but swimming seems to bring out the “hunger beast” in me and as a result i eat way more than i should. a _lot_ more. it may be because of swimming in a colder pool, and warmer body temperature, you are always losing energy. generally i think swimmers carry more bodyfat than runners, for example, at the olympics the swimmers are nowhere near as ripped as the runners are.

but swimming HIIT, like a couple of laps all out, then rest, repeat, is much much more excruciating than HIIT over the same time span, especially when you push yourself your _whole_ body “goes on fire” unlike running where its just legs, so it may burn more calories this way, in the same time span. but its tough to keep that pace, and i find recovery is usually longer too, although now as i gain “swimming strength” my endurance has increased, recovery decreased.

one important thing, i think its very important to learn how to swim properly and efficiently. at the start i just wasnt getting enough of my workouts because i was basically swimming inefficiently, like using 20 strokes when 16 would do, and i would expend more energy than i needed. i began making a list thats evolved to 20 points deep of all technical things to worry about (stroke, timing, breathing, kicking, etc.) from research and personal experience, and only now 7 weeks in have i developed a nice form and rhythm. at the start i was just brutal.

also its harder to incorporate weights into a swimming routine since your arms are tired afterwards, so this may require more planning. but hey, the good news is that you will be able to do chinups easily due to very nice lats!

in conclusion, strict diet+swimming will probably get you ripped, but be wary of the “strict diet” part since it can go all out the window after a few swimming sessions, i know im usually hungry like a wolf.

also please anyone who is a real/more experienced swimmer please correct/criticize/add on to what i have said, i myself am only 2 months in and im always looking to learn more!

LD February 24, 2010 at 3:40 pm

I’ve been doing 5 45 minute sessions / week 30-35 minutes of weight training, and 10-15 minutes of cardio. I’ve been consistently losing 1.5 to 2 lbs per week I think I’ve got another 10 to 15 lbs to lose. I don’t want to go crazy with the workouts because of something you mentioned in another post. If I am going at 100% and hit a plateau then what? I’m only pushing at about 75 – 80%

Hiram February 24, 2010 at 3:41 pm

I agree on the need to add a variety of activity: resistance training, cardio, strength building, endurance, etc. Varying the type of activity keeps your muscles “on their toes” and prevents plateaus, or worse, sliding back.

As always Rusty, another interesting topic to think about — and work on!


Sherah February 24, 2010 at 6:01 pm

Yay, another article! I always look forward to reading them. =) This was an interesting one to read. Of course, I mentally calculated how much I am currently doing per day – I do 3x40min. circuit training, and 3x15m HIIT followed by 20 min. moderate cardio. I am 5’2″ at 125 and 23% body fat, so my goal right now is to lower the body fat. I came in at 3 hours and 45 min per week.

But I guess like you said, for everyone it’s different and we have to find our own sweet spot. What I’m doing is working super for me – steady progress but maybe that’s because I am doing low calorie (1100 per day) whole foods mixed in with the occasional higher calorie day, plus Eat Stop Eat.

Sherah February 24, 2010 at 6:05 pm

Oops, I forgot to mention that my interest was peaked when you wrote that you do your HIIT after resistance exercise. I am tucking that bit of info under my hat for later, possibly if/when I hit a plateau and want to shake things up. Currently I do circuits M/W/F and HIIT T/TH/Sat.

I also have seven children ages 10 & under which of course means LOTS of messes to clean up and busy busy from the time I wake up until I go to bed. So maybe that can count towards the additional 30 min per week that l need, lol!

Rob February 24, 2010 at 8:35 pm

I really enjoy working out so I am probably overdoing it but I’ve had success getting pretty ripped @ 43yrs going 5 days a week, lifting 90 min and HIIT (following your fast/HIIT) for 20 to 30. I agree with the above comment – credibility of fat trainers – I worked with some chubby trainers and never understood – You got to live it!

FitJerks Fitness Blog February 25, 2010 at 7:57 am

Agreed, 4x a week seems to be my sweep spot as well. One thing I’ve found though, if you bump your intensity by reducing rest periods and bumping the weight… my definition and strength gains remain. Proven with my clients as well.

Joey February 25, 2010 at 3:54 pm

I’m a NASM and Yoga certified fitness trainer, played 4 years of Div 1 baseball at Fresno State, and with all that I thought I knew fitness until I met EDT, Escalating Density Training by Charles Staley. You can get cut up in three half-hour workouts a week, it kicks your A#@! Staley claims without even changing your eating habits, you’ll lose 2% body fat in 4 weeks on the previously mentioned regime. I’ve never felt more athletically in shape than when I do EDT training because I don’t have the time to sit in the gym for more than 45 mins.

There’s a well-known study suggesting 20 mins of HIIT per week is better for you than 5 hours/week of 65-75% of max heart rate cardio training. Although, for max gains, cardio, nutrition, and supplementation need to be in the mix as well.

Hope this helps.

Michael Miller February 25, 2010 at 5:12 pm

Hi Rusty,

Everything–diet and training–depends on your goal. Frequency, intensity, duration–all are goal dependent. Three times, in fact even two times, per week is just fine for someone trying to lose fat while maintaining muscle mass. And abs are made in the kitchen. Tabata-this and steady state that doesn’t matter if your diet is dialed in.



Niklas February 25, 2010 at 5:38 pm

I’m 19 years old and I want to be fit and lean but not big and muscular. Can you guys see this video of the actor Levitt and tell me what kind of workouts and what % of BF I need to have a body like that?

Lorena February 25, 2010 at 9:51 pm

I hate this excuse. There is no time for anything if you just make excuses. Where there is a will there is a way. You have to make the time.

Nick February 26, 2010 at 7:08 am

I do about 40 minutes a day 6 days a week. Seems to be working ok for me at this moment in time.

Trainer Momma February 26, 2010 at 3:26 pm

This post is fantastic and I think right on. I’m an hour and 15 min girl myself. Perfect amount of time 3 days a week, then the other 3 I do some HIIT cardio.

Aaron Curl February 27, 2010 at 12:45 am

For the last two months I have been on a maintenance program basically. I have been running 4 miles, once maybe twice a week. Been doing some pushups and pullups a couple times a week. Maybe a total of 3-4 hours total workout time. I have maintained my weight perfectly. I eat paleo and IF is a big part of my maintenance also. Im getting ready to step up the training for spring and summer. For me it takes about 5-6 hours a week to get ripped….6-8%. Im probably about 9-10 now.

Aaron Curl February 27, 2010 at 12:58 am

Wow..yah he is lean…way to lean. I can hardly see any abs…I would say he is 9-10%. Its like he is a skinny fat man. Trust me, don’t worry about getting too big, unless you want to use steroids and/or are 100% mesomorph. Just lift weights and cardio it up.

Jordan February 27, 2010 at 3:12 am

Hey Rusty do you have any thoughts on the new dvd workout from beachbody called Insanity? My brother got it and it looks more intense than p90x but I wanted to see what you thought?

Musa February 27, 2010 at 8:44 am

Hello Rusty,

Great blog you have going here. Its really nice the way you answer peoples’ questions individually. it shows that you have passion for what your blog is about, and that’s so rare these days. Two thumbs up!!

I’m in a bit of a quandry at the moment. Just moved to a new country, don’t know my way around yet, but I need to get in shape. I have a bit of a belly (a combination of late meals, many years of no exercise and beer ๐Ÿ™‚ ), but i wanna get toned and have great muscle definition. I am 27 years old, i’m 6’1″, I weigh 204 lbs and my body fat percentage is 14%.

I have been looking for info for my particular situation, and recently discovered burpees, bodyweight exercices, HIIT and jumping rope. I want to use these methods because I don’t have any equipment, except my jump rope. I may buy a resistance band if you recommend it, but can’t afford more equipment (poor student in a foreign country, Boo Hoo ๐Ÿ™‚ ). I also don’t have much space to work out in (small dorm room on a crowded campus). Also, have a time constraint, have only between 15-20 mins to spend on exercise daily. (SO MANY CHALLENGES!!!)

Can you recommend a program that will let me drop body fat, and get a toned, defined body?

Thanks a mill.


P.S:- I would also like some advice on what to eat. I tend to eat a lot of junk at the moment as I dont know my way around.

Joshua February 27, 2010 at 9:43 am

Hey Rusty,
I just had a simple question to ask. I saw a post on here about food not being a big factor to muscle size. Does that mean if 8-10 reps grows bigger muscles while 3-5 reps is targeted toward strength, I can just do 8-10 reps while eating very little and still get bigger muscles with lower body fat?


matt February 27, 2010 at 10:06 am

@Miss G
1 – Get control of your diet, this is the#1 thing holding you back. (just the basics like eliminating sugar and simple carbs)
2 – Start lifting weights (don’t worry, you wont get “huge”)
if you just do these 2 things I reckon you will notice a massive difference.

Niklas February 27, 2010 at 4:35 pm

Aaron: I think you can’t be skinny fat if your fat BF is 9%.
Skinny fat is when you weigh very little because you have no muscles but you BF is high (i.e. 17%) anyway

Please Don't Diet February 27, 2010 at 7:44 pm

My experience has been pretty varied -I suppose a lot of things can work for me. When I lost the first 65 pounds at the onset of my training regimen, I was doing 5-6 hours a week of 3-cardio/2-resistance. Lately I’ve been experimenting with HIT and HIIT to see if it’s possible to shorten my workout.

As one can imagine, the most important determinant of my fat loss is maintaining a caloric deficit. For my purposes, doing some workout is all I need. The caloric deficit usually does all the work for me. Likewise, when I don’t maintain a caloric deficit, my training is unlikely to hinder weight-gain.

That said, I think the compromise I’m willing to make is a combined training schedule. This is because each type of workout promises different benefits. HIIT spikes your RMR for the following 3-4 days. Steady-state cardio promotes fat loss through significant caloric expenditure. Bodyweight exercises promote functional strength, and resistance training is good for toning and scaling lifts. And then there’s the inherent benefit of variety -it breaks the monotony.

matt February 28, 2010 at 6:31 am

hi rusty,
After hearing almost thousands of fitness gurus i had lately stopped commenting on their sites coz its just a momentary pleasure,, but since last 4 weeks i have been applying your basics and its all “”SO DAMN EASY””. Thank you very much to summarize fitness in just few basics . Frankly speaking i dont understand whats their left to tell in your book.
Thank very much

Matt February 28, 2010 at 3:05 pm

Hey rusty,
Great article. I agree that 4 is near optimal if they are quality enough. I have a real hard time sticking with 6, and 5 is ok but the quality suffers. If two of the workouts are HIIT ones, especially Tabatas (, then even 5 is going to be tough.

Antonio C. February 28, 2010 at 3:55 pm


I got’em. Your brother is right. They’re more intense than the P90X workouts (I own both systems and have done both too, many times).

Insanity workouts are not for “so-so” fit people. If you have ANY physical ailments, don’t spend your money on it; you must already be fit to enjoy this system. Let me put it this way, if you have been neglecting your anaerobic system, you will not finish most of the workouts. Period.

Seth Daley March 1, 2010 at 2:46 am

4 Days @ 1 hour and 15 minutes seem to be the sweet spot for me as well. 3 days at 40 minutes is good for when life gets busy – at least I can maintain and keep my “functional fitness”.

Rez March 1, 2010 at 10:38 am

Was wondering if anyone else is working “Convict Conditioning”. I just started the program. One of the suggested programs is six days a week, but only one exercise each day (there are six total). So even with warmup it only takes about 15-20 minutes per day. Obviously you would want to throw in some cardio during the week.

Some of the exercises are darn tough, especially back bridging and the handstand pushups. You have to work the progressions in the book, and if you can’t do a step then you have to keep working it until you can.

Rory March 1, 2010 at 10:53 am

Hi Rusty, at the moment im tryina lean down so this isn’t a maintaining routine. I’m doing a resistance workout followed by 30 mins steady state cardio on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. On Wednesday and Sunday i do HIIT followed by 15 mins steady state cardio, with Saturday as a rest day.

Would i be better off doing a HIIT + 15 mins steady state cardio combination on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday after my resistance workouts? Then maybe 30 mins steady state cardio on the Sunday, leaving Wednesday and Saturday as the rest days.

This would mean slightly less cardio overall but with an increased HIIT + steady state combination maybe less is more in this case?

If any other posters have an answer to this any help would be greatly appreciated, thanks in advance.

admin March 2, 2010 at 7:00 pm

Wow…close to 100 comments in a pretty short period of time. I will now zip through and try my best to answer as many questions I can in the time I have available. Thanks a ton for taking the time to comment!


I think circuits can still work, but for me they work better for maintenance. If you did them 4-5 times per week instead of just 3 then this would probably be a different story.


Good points on activities outside of your workouts making a difference. I spend my work time sitting at a computer typing…so I need to add in a bit more than someone who walks around a lot for their job.


For a natural protein shake, I have mixed low fat yogurt with a touch of non-fat milk, banana and ice and really enjoyed that.


Nice to hear from you buddy! I don’t think you need a full week off that often. Maybe just 1-2 times per year when you are vacationing. Also…you will probably naturally back down in volume in summer time when you are spending more time in the sun. Especially in sunny California where you live (lucky dog)!


I am a HUGE fan of Craig Ballantyne’s work…one of the coolest and helpful guys online as well. I do like mixing in body weight circuits and shorter workouts during those times when I am short on time. Also…I like to back it down to 3 times per week for a few months each year, just to gain enthusiasm to get back in the gym. I used Craig’s “Crazy 8” Bodyweight Circuit for three months during the winter of 2008 and stayed lean. It really was a life saver because I was working 50-60 hour weeks at my job and 25-30 building this site.


I feel for you…and have gone through periods of time with less time to devote as well. All you can do is all you can do, in that case.


Yeah…Mike’s stuff is great. Resistance bands are really effective if used properly.


Sure…I’ll do another MMA post. Those guys are functionally some of the fittest athletes in the world. As far as aesthetics go a few guys could lose a bit of blubber, but besides that those guys are very well-conditioned.


I think that 10-15 minutes of HIIT and 20-30 minutes of steady state is a pretty good starting point. I completely agree with you that moderate steady state produces results. Half of the reason I like to add HIIT first is that it gets your heart rate and everything primed to get the most out of steady state.


Really well put! I get what you are saying exactly and agree. I like to put in the time during the Spring, so I can go on cruise control during the summer. The below 10% body fat level does take a bit more discipline…and you can hold it with less…for a period of time with less time in the gym.


Yeah…I would recommend dropping direct leg training (at least for now). Do strength training for your upper body, followed by either HIIT or a turbulence training body weight circuit…after that, add in 20 minutes of steady state cardio. Note: If the stationary bike creates a strong lactic acid burn in your legs or “pumps” your legs, use a treadmill instead for your steady state cardio.


I purchased Final Phase Fat Loss (I buy almost every new release)…I am a fanatic when it comes to continually learning more in the fitness arena. I haven’t read through it all the way yet, but what I have seen looks good. John R has an entertaining style which makes it a fun read as well.


Well “yes and no”…it takes a greater volume of lifting to force your body to add more muscle. Recovery is a tricky one. When you are building muscle, you are breaking down the muscle to a certain extent. You want it to recover, but you still want to insure that enough work and volume is in place to give your body no choice but to grow. I still leaning towards 4-5+ hours per week when building muscle.


Doing cardio after lifting makes it more effective in my opinion. Your body released free fatty acids into the bloodstream after intense efforts. They will get redeposited back onto your body if they are not used for fuel. So what I recommend is resistance training to begin the release of the fatty acids…HIIT to insure maximum release of fatty acids into the bloodstream…and then steady state cardio for 20-30 minutes to use that fat for fuel. It works so well, it is scary ๐Ÿ™‚


So if you have 13 weeks…do the 5X5 Stronglifts training now while dropping body fat. So a mix of 5X5 and HIIT and some Turbulence Training bodyweight circuits. Diet hard now, because 30 pounds is a lot to lose in 13 weeks. Also, lift heavy now…and lighten up just right before vacation. I go into a lot more detail about this strategy in my muscle building ebook, but slim down now and increase the volume 3 weeks before your vacation to tighten up your skin around your muscles (for an extra-defined look).


I am so pumped at how popular your site has become! It has been a favorite of mine for a long time. Good point about counting all activities. Sadly I need to do much more than I have been doing outside the gym. One of the things I want to do is take a Krav Maga class. So little time!


In some ways it takes even more time if you are after gaining muscle mass. I agree with Brad Pilon on John Barban about the idea that you need to do more volume and give your body a reason to grow.

HIIT – lover,

Doing 60 seconds on and 60 seconds off is just what you need. It isn’t as fun as the faster 30 second intervals, but it will make HIIT challenging again for you. You can also experiment with walk-to-sprinting ratios.


The workout plan you outlined will work extremely well as long as the diet is sensible. You will likely get lean quickly following that plan.


Yep…I am guessing that you are referring to this post. Yeah…I always have more energy and get better workouts when I don’t touch any calories 4-5 hours before the workout. I do my best to workout in a fasted state whenever possible.


I am glad you decided to make your first post online on my website. Very cool! It sounds like you have a lot to share, so please comment on a more regular basis. It is true that it is easier for people to look good in their 20’s…unfortunately technology has created many activities that involve starring at some type of screen (TV, ipod, computer, video games, etc.). Awesome that you have visible abs at 52 years old…and I would love to hear more about your diet!


Swimming is a tough one…some people think you can’t get ultra-lean from swimming. I can’t tell you from first hand experience, because I have never used swimming as exercise. What I can tell you is that I have seen swimmers with great physiques, surfers, etc. The key is to not eat a ton when you are finished…swimming supposedly increases the appetite more than other physical activities.

Miss G,

More than anything else it just sounds like you need to address diet. It sounds like you are close to your goal. Just bank on 4-6 weeks of tightening up the diet (without going drastic) and you will be good.


I think you will get more benefit by doing cardio after lifting see my comment above to “Bubs”.


That is good to know. I did not know that about Canada. I live about 2 hours from Vancouver and people seem to be a little leaner and heathier (on average) than the people I see in Seattle. I am guessing that Toronto is similar.

J Emory,

The last 5-10 pounds are a different deal than simply losing weight when you have a lot to lose. If the last 5-10 pounds of fat loss were as easy as the first 5-10 pounds …you would see a lot more people with 6 pack abs.


We sound like we are in the same boat. I probably dip above 8% body fat every now and then, but I’m roughly in that same range. Same deal if I want to get to a lower body fat percentage…but I rarely do that anymore…I’m cool with around 8%. Good point about out-of-shape trainers…never understood that trend!


Thanks for the answer on swimming. This isn’t my specialty at all…appreciate it! Your two months experience beats out my Zero months experience. I only swim for fun (and have terrible form).


He is mainly lean and defined just do to low body fat percentage. What you would want to do is a low volume of strength training and a lot of HIIT, cardio, bodyweight circuits, etc. Also…your diet should be pretty dialed in. My guess is that he has a fast metabolism (at his young age) and simply looks like this naturally to a certain extent.


Tony Horton is an innovator in the field of fitness…his stuff isn’t easy, but is very effective. It is trendy for people to knock down programs that are sold on TV or are wildly popular…but Tony knows what he is doing. If you have the dedication to follow his workout, it is one approach to getting pretty darn lean. I don’t know exactly what the DVD Insanity entails, but I am guessing it is solid like Tony’s other products.


Do Craig Ballantyne’s Crazy 8 Body Weight Circuit…I have it outlined for free with a video of Craig on that page. His stuff is great and I never hesitate to recommend it.


Yes…I have believed that for a long time and the guys on the cutting edge of fitness…John Barban and Brad Pilon agree. Note these guys have studied muscle growth in lab settings, created supplements for our industry, etc. This idea is NOT popular in the bodybuilding forums, by the way. If you want to be safe, you can eat slightly more calories than what you burn each day…but you will soon find that this probably isn’t necessary. Both John and Brad are WAY ahead of the curve and my guess is that it will take the mainstream many, many years to accept this idea.


Honestly…either approach will work well. Go for whatever one seems more natural for you.

Thanks for the comments everyone!


Ben T March 2, 2010 at 8:26 pm

dear rusty,

my workouts seem shorter since i do only one exercise per body part, but thats only because i gtg with push ups and pull ups, is it possible to maintain gtg with a strength training routine?

Martin Berkhan March 3, 2010 at 9:37 pm

I went to 5.5% bf by spending less than 2 hrs/week in the gym. I’ve maintained that lean state ever since.

During cutting, the importance of exercise is like a piss in the ocean compared to that of your diet.

Martin Berkhan March 3, 2010 at 9:41 pm

I’ve documented my results at if anyone is interested.

And Rusty: good article. I think we agree on the basic premise, which is that time in the gym should be spent effectively and not wasted (and that most often “less is more”).

renee March 4, 2010 at 10:04 am


i’m 5’4″ 130 lbs. my problem lies in my legs. once upon a time i danced ballet 5 days a week for 2-3 hours each class. i rode my bike everywhere – my dad was a pro-cyclist in his youth so we all knew how to ride before we could walk:). i also played a little soccer in high school. once i hit university pretty much everything went to hell. i went from 103ish lbs in jan to 178 in dec, then crash dieted (VERY BADLY) and went down to 108ish lbs by the the next dec. that was 9 years ago. since then i’ve been wandering around between 115 and 125. however, at the end of last summer weighed 148. i did nothing over the holidays – to hell with dieting over christmas! i did the proverbial new years resolution and have lost 18 lbs since jan 7th. i work retail in a clothing store 35+hrs a week. i walk to work (40 mins 3.5 mph) and on the days when i don’t work nights i also walk home (10 minutes of that walk now REALLY uphill). i go to the gym 3-4 days a week for cardio 40 minutes on the treadmill( jog and walk i’m still building up my endurance), 20 minutes on elliptical and 10 minutes on the bike. i keep my calories 1200-1300. here’s my point: at 5’4″ i have 22″ thighs and 16 inch calves. GRRRRRR!
i’ve lost an inch off my bust and 3.5 inches off my waist but only .5 inches off my legs each. i will say that the fat seems to be melting away slowly. now when i flex my legs i can see the muscle under there with more clarity. you had an article about losing muscle (lord love you for that). any further tips for me? thanks so much.

William March 5, 2010 at 3:24 pm

If you eliminate processed sugars, and eat whole and natural, you can exercise very little I do 2 45-hr weight lifting sessions. 2 cardio sessions of 30 minutes (in summer, instead of cardio I’ll do sprints or intervals).

With reduced carbs and no sugar drinks I don’t have to count calories or freak out if I miss a workout day ๐Ÿ™‚

Fat is melting off of me, and I’v elost my gut.

David March 6, 2010 at 12:11 pm


Lost a little weight recently? Here’s the magic number you need to know to keep it off: 275.

That’s how many extra minutes of exercise per week a study group needed in order to maintain a 10 percent loss in body weight for 2 years. Grab an extra 40-minute walk every day and you’re covered.

More Is More
Unfortunately, when people lose weight, almost half of them tend to regain it within 6 months. But you don’t have to be part of that statistic. Just a little extra physical activity could keep you enjoying your new size indefinitely. But that means more than the recommended 30 minutes of physical activity a day needed to prevent disease. Researchers estimate that most people need 60 to 90 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity on most days of the week — in addition to eating right — to keep lost pounds off.

I shoot for 300 minutes (5 days at 60 min., or a couple days at 90 min. and a couple at 60). I have lost and kept off 75 lbs for over two years this way. I continue to get in better and better shape. I like this blog. Keep it up!

leftfield March 8, 2010 at 8:48 am

‘I went to 5.5% bf by spending less than 2 hrs/week in the gym. I’ve maintained that lean state ever since.

During cutting, the importance of exercise is like a piss in the ocean compared to that of your diet.’

How did you do that Martin, that’s just 20 mins a day 6 days a week or 4 days @ 30 mins, was that just weights maybe 5 x 5 on compounds if so what about your cv fitness, did you add some hiit to cover that?

Sarah March 9, 2010 at 2:52 am

I stick to HIIT and Oly Lifting but I’ve never though to add some extra cardio to lean out. I’ll have to try it!

Lazarus March 9, 2010 at 5:21 pm

Hey Rusty,

No, from experience, I feel I need to hit the gym at least 3 times (I go for an hour at a time) in order to keep a lean look, in terms of muscular definition.

Going less hasn’t lead to more body fat percentage (mainly because I end up eating slightly less), but my form does change slightly.

In terms of actually losing body fat, to me it’s all been about the diet. But that’s also because I enjoy food ๐Ÿ™‚

Tracey March 10, 2010 at 1:28 am

I have the same problem – thick legs that are very strong and muscular but have a layer of fat over them.

I have completely stopped doing any legs lifting exercises, biking, and so on. I am putting all my eggs in one basket (Rusty’s basket) and I am trying the HIIT with SSC.

5 days a week do 15-20 minutews of HIIT and another 20 of SCC afterwards. Do not eat for 4-5 hours before you do this routine and wait to eat for an hour afterward so your HGH levels can rise and you can experience maximum fat burn.

I am also taking 4 weeks off from lifting any weights – lower and upper body. I am trying to thin out and I’m also on a 1300-1400 calorie per day diet.

I have been doing this for a week and I already see a difference, my leg muscles have relaxed a bit and my pants are fitting again. I was really bulking up – never ok. I have also lost 2 pounds in a week.

Good luck to you – try the HIIT with SSC and no eating before or after for the time mentioned above.

Good luck!

Leave a Comment

{ 1 trackback }

Previous post:

Next post: