Too good to be true? Exploring the 20-minute workout_lowres

Trainer Hiroshi Futagoishi guides client Kate Palmer through an exercise.

What's the catch?" is a reaction trainer Hiroshi Futagoishi often gets when he tells people about his exercise protocol. It consists of 20 minutes of high-intensity weight-bearing exercise — performed once a week.

  "It's not necessary to do any other type of aerobic activities to get in shape as long as you come here once a week, work out intensely and watch what you eat," says Futagoishi, who works at Supreme Exercise/One To One (735 Octavia St., 504-957-7777;

  During a typical training session, Futagoishi leads clients through a series of weight-bearing exercises. At each weight machine, clients do one set very slowly until they are exhaused. He measures clients' progress not by the number of repetitions completed, but by the time it takes to fatigue muscle groups. By the time they're finished with the set, clients are panting, faces flushed. Their heart rates pick up, adding an element of cardiovascular exercise. When clients say they can't lift any more, Futagoishi steps in, reduces the amount of weight they're lifting and urges them to finish the motion.

  "I help push my clients until physically, they cannot push any more," he says. "Some people call it muscle failure — the point where you can't do any more. If you want to see results, that intensity is key."

  Because of the intensity, Futagoishi says it's necessary to wait a week between workouts so muscles can fully heal. "You're damaging and tearing your muscle tissue when you lift weights," he says. "The harder you work out, the more time you need between the sessions. In between, you're waiting for your muscle to repair and grow back strongly."

  Known by names like high-intensity or super-slow training, the method has been around for decades. "It was used as early as the 1940s," says Randy Burgard, a personal trainer at Elmwood Fitness Center (Elmwood Plaza Shopping Center, 1200 S. Clearview Parkway, Suite 1200, Harahan, 504-733-1600; "In 1982, a study was done on osteoporotic women by Ken Hutchins utilizing this protocol. They showed it offered an additional strength benefit over a more common tempo, which is two seconds to raise a weight, two to lower. Hutchins used 10 and 10."

  Burgard doubts it is possible to achieve health with only one workout per week.   

  "The American College of Sports Medicine recommends resistance training two to three times per week, using anywhere from eight to 12 exercises to work the entire body and at least one set to volitional fatigue (where you cannot complete another rep)," he says. "With cardio, the recommendation is 150 minutes per week. They do acknowledge you can achieve similar benefits by exercising more intensely, maybe 20 minutes per day at a higher intensity. As far as it being a one-stop shop, I think it comes down to 'If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.'"

  Futagoishi says strength exercises performed with adequate resistance and intensity can improve the efficiency of the cardiovascular system. He also says he's not advocating a sedentary lifestyle.   

  "I don't want you to come here once a week and the rest of the day sit on the couch, watch TV and eat whatever you want," he says. "I tell people to be active, but if you don't feel like doing other aerobic activities, you don't have to worry about it. If your main focus is losing weight, just do this and watch what you eat, because weight loss comes from diet mostly."

  Kate Palmer, a client of Futagoishi's for about 10 years, says his workouts keep her in good shape. Aside from activities like walking the dog, they are the only exercise she does. "I belong to a gym; I just don't ever go to it," says Palmer, a business owner who says she can't find time to exercise. "If you work out at the gym, you're waiting on somebody to get off a machine. I've been doing this so long because I can take 30 minutes out of the week. People are skeptical about it; they say 'There's no way.' Then they go, and it's the hardest half hour of their life. It's not fun, but you get it behind you, and you see results quickly."

  For somebody who has never exercised, the 20-minute workout could be a viable way to start, Burgard says. It's also a useful tool for bodybuilders who want to change their routines.

  "It comes down to what you're trying to accomplish," he says.

  Futagoishi learned of the protocol in 1992, when he came to the University of New Orleans from Japan to earn his master's degree in exercise physiology. He had been lifting weights four or five times a week, but was attracted to the efficiency of the technique. "I was thinking, 'This is perfect. I can see the same results with one workout if I really work out intensely and focus,'" he says.

  When people ask Futagoishi, "What's the catch?" he's ready with an answer.

  "I say, 'There's no catch, but every time you come here, it's going to be hard,'" he says, smiling. "It's going to be intense."