1. Doing it quick and dirty

    Demi Moore in Charlie's Angels, she's fabulous! Can she keep that body doing it quick and dirty?Working out for only 20 to 30 minutes at a time is not a new concept. For years doctors and the heart association have told us we need that level of moderate aerobic exercise three times a week to maintain a healthy heart. Recently, they found that 40 minutes of walking at a moderate pace as often every week will help you reach the same fitness goals. But working out for 20 strenuous minutes — a quick and dirty regime — to get a truly hard body is a startling new concept.

    The fitness chain Curves, which is not known for strenuous workouts or attracting hard bodies, has offered the “30 minute-circuit” as the centerpiece of their marketing plan for the past decade. While they seem to get results for older women and the overweight, they do not draw the ‘hard body’ crowd.  Friends who have tried Curves have given me mixed reports.
    I mention Curves because — since moving to Atlanta several years ago — I am still searching for a program that works for me. Atlanta has lovely parks that many people enjoy, but I am not park person. I was used to clocking at least several city miles a day in my stilettos. I sadly miss that workout. A variety of factors make it impossible here; suffice it to say that Atlanta is not a walking city.
    I have also been unable to settle into a gym. I tried one when I first moved here, but I quit after two weeks of oversized equipment, big men, and bad smells. Am I spoiled? You bet! In Toronto, I worked out at Christine’s Fitness, an all-women’s gym. It was spotless, with private dressing rooms and special equipment made for women. Large equipment is an issue when you are just five feet tall. It makes it impossible to execute movements correctly.
    Darlings, with no false modesty, I arrived in Atlanta in fabulous shape. Once again I am starting from scratch in a new place with very different options than I am used to. This is a city of professional athletes with private trainers, LA Fitness, and Curves, so I am exploring.
    If you follow the fitness industry you may have noticed quite a few articles recently about high-intensity cross-training. Much of this “new” kind of training is based on a study out of Canada that found that “short bursts of high-intensity sprints known to benefit muscle and improve exercise performance, can improve the function and structure of blood vessels, in particular arteries that deliver blood to our muscles and heart”. The study was led by Mark Rakobowchuk, a doctoral student in the study of human movement at McMaster University and published online in the American Journal of PhysiologyRegulatory, Integrative & Comparative Physiology.
    To those us in search of the perfect workout, it means that trainers have started to develop programs that consist of bursts of high intensity exercise – with and without weights – to replace longer workouts. Most use a combination of squats, lunges, sprints and basic toning exercises done at a very fast pace. Those who have tried it say it is grueling and initially even painful, but effective. This system replaces 60- or 90-minute workouts with 20- or 30-minute stints in the gym.
    Canada is not alone in the research of high-intensity workouts. A Scottish study focused on rehabbing the unfit and ill indicates that this type of exercise can improve your metabolism. According to the researchers in Scotland, the body’s ability to process sugars can get a big boost from regular high-intensity, three-minute workouts, which could reduce the risk of diabetes and cardiovascular disease.
    "What we have found is that doing a few intense muscle exercises, each lasting only about 30 seconds, dramatically improves your metabolism in just two weeks, " stated researcher James Timmons at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, in a news release. The study had 16 sedentary male volunteers use exercise bikes to perform quick sprints at their highest possible intensity, according a report by United Press International. Timmons added that doing any kind of high-intensity workout a few days a week should achieve the same protective metabolic improvements. The study appeared in the journal BMC Endocrine Disorders and is helpful knowledge for anyone looking to stay fit.
    The “Tabata Protocol” is also creating buzz on the fitness scene, as time-pressed new moms, executives, and fitness fiends rediscover the workout system developed by and named after Izumi Tabata, Ph.D., a former researcher at Japan’s National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Kanoya. The head coach of the Japanese speed-skating team developed the “interval” routine, shich consists of six to seven 20-second full-speed sprints interspersed with rest periods of 10 seconds.
    Researchers in Japan tested the system rigorously and found it improved performance. Since then, all kinds of “Tabata Protocols” or workouts have shown up on the web. Some seem sensible, and many do not. Most are similar to the cross-training regimes now being promoted for these new fast workouts.
    Quick and dirty workouts appeal to hard bodies who are willing to put up with a little pain for the gain; they want to cut their time in the gym and still get results.
    Undertaking any intense type of fitness training would be foolhardy and dangerous — if you are not in peak shape. Check first with your doctor and/or consulting an established trainer. All trainers are not equal. It is better to buy a few sessions from an experienced pro than to get a cheap deal from some beginner who may get you hurt. Trust me darlings, cheap trainers are not to be trusted. Beware of mass market gyms.
    I am serious about regaining my pre-Atlanta fitness level. I may have to design a new home program, as my preferred type of “ladies-only” gym does not seem to exist here. But, I am definitely going to add some quick and dirty workouts into my new fitness plan.