Get Fit In As Little As Two Hours a Week

By: writers

Like most time-pressed women who juggle their career, errands, family and friends - and much more - many firefighters scramble to find the time to exercise on a regular basis. But there is a difference between them and us. Firefighters have to stay fit to do their jobs. So Discovery Health Online asked Michael Stefano, author of The Firefighters Workout Book: The 30-Minute-a-Day, Train-for-Life Program for Men and Women, for his recommendation on the most efficient way for busy women to get in shape and stay there. We asked him to keep three goals in mind:

  • Losing or controlling weight
  • Building muscle strength
  • Boosting overall health (with our society's emphasis on looking good, we sometimes forget that a key benefit of regular exercise is that it protects us against the progression of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, type II diabetes and some forms of cancer.)

Alternate Cardiovascular and Strength Training

According to Stefano, you can accomplish all three goals by doing a 30- to 45-minute cardiovascular workout on Monday, for example, and strength training the following day. The strength training should consist of eight or 10 short bursts of intense effort (sets) performed in a series or circuit at least twice each week. This alternating workout program "will give you a two-for-one bonus of both fat burning and toning," he says. The end result is four or five workouts weekly (including cardio) "that can be as little as two hours of total exercise each week."


Insist on Intensity

Getting results is more a matter of how intensely you exercise than which exercise you choose to do. Stefano explains: The benefits of cardiovascular or aerobic exercise depend strictly on the heart and breathing rate achieved during the activity.

Ideally, you need to elevate your heart rate to between 60 or 70 percent of your maximum heart rate for about 20 or 30 minutes at least three days a week. (The simplest way to do this calculation is to subtract your age from 220. The result is the maximum number of times your heart can beat in one minute; take 60 or 70 percent of this number to obtain your target heart rate.)

The more intensely you train (without working above 85 percent of your maximum heart rate), the less time you'll need to exercise to get the same results. Walking, jogging, swimming, bicycling are all good fat-burning exercises when done at your target heart rate.

Similarly, the point of strength or resistance training "isn't necessarily how many sets you do, or how often you lift," says Stefano, "but how intensely you train while adhering to perfect form. This intensity level is relative, varies with each individual, and depends on many factors, including age, sex, and current level of fitness."

Stefano says the top resistance exercises for improving muscle tone are the captain's chair for abdominals, squats for the buttocks and push-ups for the arms, shoulders and chest. See the next page to learn more.


Working in Intervals

The "Interval" Workout

Greg Florez, spokesperson for the American Council on Exercise and chief executive of, agrees with Stefano that you can accomplish a total body-conditioning workout in 30-45 minutes. "The key issues are working large body parts in a strength program and getting the correct intensity in both the cardiovascular and strength training portions," he says.

To do this, add a strength exercise approximately every two to three minutes to your cardiovascular workout. In other words, stop jogging, stair climbing or doing the elliptical trainer and hit the mat to perform 12-15 push-ups. Then immediately resume your cardiovascular exercise without rest. Continue doing intervals throughout the cardio routine to work your way through the major muscle groups in your body - shoulders, back, chest, arms, hips/buttocks and legs.


Intervals Increase Caloric Burn and Fitness

Interval training can help break up the monotony of jogging on a treadmill for 30 minutes, but more importantly, it can help you maintain a relatively high level of intensity, which increases the number of calories burned and helps to build your overall fitness level. "That is why interval training is so valuable," says Florez, who suggests doing one such workout each week as well as varying your normal cardio routine to add a bit of speed, incline or distance. Perform your cardio workout three to five times a week at a minimum of 20 minutes per session.

Quality is the goal when doing the strength portion of the workout. The 12-15 repetitions should be hard enough that you could not complete any more without compromising form and correct posture. When you pass that level, you should increase the weight/resistance.