The One Minute Workout: Book Review

This past year a book was published with a very catchy title.  The One Minute Workout.  Every time I bring up the book I get some form of the same response, generally beginning with a chuckle.  “It sounds too good to be true” or “Ya, ok” are standards.  I can’t say I blame them.  I had heard of some of the research behind the book as it was conducted by one of my professors when I was in university, Dr. Martin Gibala.  However, one minute sounded too much like a gimmick.

I remember when the book came out even radio hosts were talking about it, but they had the same opinion as everyone else that hadn’t read the book yet.  What happens when the minute isn’t long enough?  I couldn’t answer that question.  I assumed go longer but I didn’t have that answer.  Then, I forgot about the book.  Entirely.

It wasn’t until I was on a long drive with an old friend, Matt Stork (who also does some amazing research himself, in the area of music and exercise and he might be the best looking researcher in the game) that the book resurfaced.  We discussed some of the research behind it and after driving for 5 hours discussing how people don’t seem to be able to find time to exercise I went and bought The One Minute Workout the next day.  The entire drive I kept thinking that I needed answers.  It only took me a few days to read. It was a very easy read, the science was to “sciency”. I felt that I could follow along and not have to think too deeply back to my exercise physiology classes because it was explained in a way that most people could understand it.

As I was reading I found myself nodding along while different concepts were explored.  I found I had so many “ah-ha” moments, felt pretty smart for already using some of the strategies and workouts and also at times felt silly for not already knowing some of this information.  In the end there were 3 concepts that stuck out for me.


  1. The rate of energy depletion may be more important than the duration of energy depletion for improving fitness quickly

Gibala’s hallmark study pitted 30 second bouts of all out cycling against slow steady state exercise.  When the results came in they showed the same aerobic adaptations had occurred in both groups despite the steady state group exercises for hours each week versus the interval group only actually exercising hard for less than 10 minutes and in the gym (including rest time) for a fraction of the time the steady group spent.  In very simple terms researchers suggest that the body signals itself to adapt and the signal is stronger when the intensity is increased, whereas the previous notion was that you had to constantly increase the duration of aerobic exercise to illicit improvements in fitness.  While the discomfort is significantly higher during high intensity intervals the time commitment required is nowhere close.

  1. Interval training does not have to be maximum effort

High Intensity Interval Training has gained popularity lately.  While it is effective, it has almost become a gimmicky word and people in the fitness industry (and gym-goers alike) love to spout the acronym HIIT.  Like many other forms of exercise, it has its own cult-like following and HIIT is now synonymous with interval training of all types.  Kind of like how if you train Olympic lifting you must do crossfit, or if you like single leg training you must be a “functional-guy”, or if you take a high-angle, low light bathroom-selfie with your junk barely covered you’re a douche.  (That last one might actually be true)  What this book taught me, or at least reminded me of though is that interval training can come in many forms.  Altering your walking pace between light posts can be interval training.  You won’t feel like taking your shoe off to puke in after but it’s still interval training and sure is beneficial.  Interval training can be effective at many different intensities and durations.  Intervals can range from 8 seconds to 10 minutes, there really is no limit and it doesn’t have to leave you wondering if you’re going to puke, pass-out or shit your pants first, you can feel better and refreshed after interval training.

  1. Interval training is for everyone

The One Minute Workout discusses many studies that involved people that you wouldn’t expect to be partaking in interval training, especially if you only consider interval training to be at maximum intensity.  Interval training has proven beneficial for patients with heart failure, diabetics, the elderly, obese people, elite athletes, you name it and in many cases is no more dangerous than steady state exercise.  I had never considered how powerful interval training could be when it came to improving the quality of life of these “special populations”.


The biggest take away for me however, was that there is no excuse to not exercise.  I mean, there are thousands of excuses but if exercise is a priority then I am positive I can make 10 minutes to fit in a quick workout (a snack, if you will – more to follow).  Trainers always spout things like “don’t find time, make time” and other semi-logical non-sense like that but sometimes you literally just don’t have 30 minutes for a workout or your day gets away from you and all the sudden its 5pm and you still have to eat dinner and do 14 other things before bed time, oh and your child just shit in the tub.  It’s hard to break the notion in your own mind that exercise should be extremely time consuming and you have to struggle to achieve and maintain your level of fitness. It wasn’t an immediate change for me either.  I had to go through a few sessions of only the “one minute workout” and nothing else before I started to accept this and re-evaluate my relationship with exercise.  If I was too busy then it wasn’t imperative for me to get my full 15 minute warm up in, train strength and power for 30 and then condition for 15 more at the expense of being a father or husband.  No, if life got too busy one day then I could get on the bike (in my case a Schwinn Airdyne) and get after it for 10 minutes of interval training, call it a day and be happy with my progress.

My favourite workout from the book is the “one minute workout” protocol.  Warm up for 3 minutes, go all out for 20 seconds on a bike or run up stairs, rest for 2 minutes and repeat two more times.  This amounts to 10 minutes total and only one minute of hard exercise.  The first time I did this workout it took me about 15 minutes to recover afterwards but after only 5 or 6 sessions I was totally recovered and on my way after the 2 minutes rest/cool-down period.  That was what really sold it for me, how fast my body adapted to the challenge and how my endurance had improved blew my mind.  Now I was faced with the question what happens when the minute isn’t long enough? Well, I went harder and continue to do so.  I watch the wattage on the bike and try to move faster and faster knowing that it’s about the rate of energy depletion, not the duration.

I hope this has peaked your interest in this book.  I honestly believe it could save lives from preventable diseases and give back people their livelihood. Not only is it easy to read and educational on an important topic, it comes with 12 workouts that are backed up by science (and not the jade-egg type, the real kind with hard evidence).  They are the actual workouts from the studies presented throughout the book, ranging from the protocols used to help heart failure patients to the high intensity 30 second wingate protocol.  Having the workout protocols alone was worth the money in my eyes.  This book completely changed my views on how to condition for health, fitness and sports.  I hope that if you’re taking the time to read this blog you will also take the time to read this book.  It’s well worth the read.

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