Drop and give me 20 (seconds, that is)

Sunni Goodman goes through a workout on the "20 Second Fitness" DVD.
Photos courtesy Spencer Larson
Story by Amy Nicholson
(Standard-Examiner correspondent)
Mon, Apr 23, 2012
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When Tracy Jones of West Jordan was invited to try a program called “20 Second Fitness” — involving short bursts of intense activity that evolve into a 12-minute-a-day workout — before its official launch in 2010, she was skeptical.

“At first, I thought there was no way possible to lose weight by exercising for just 12 minutes per day,” she said.

A person who has struggled with her weight all of her life, Jones had hit her all-time high at 260 pounds when she started the exercise program in her home. She has now lost 85 pounds, competed in two 100-mile bike races, finished three triathlons and participated in multiple mud runs — which she said are her favorite.

Prior to giving 20 Second Fitness a try, Jones had trained for and completed a century bike ride. But, the weight came right back, she said, when she returned to her sedentary lifestyle that includes working full time at a desk job.

Now, she completes her 12-minute workouts six days a week regardless of what other training she has time for. “It is about being consistent. I feel more physically fit from doing 20 Second Fitness than I did from training alone.”

That is exactly the kind of success story that co-creator Spencer Larson had in mind when he developed the program. Larson is originally from South Jordan, but now resides in Las Vegas. He presented a session on his exercise philosophies at a women’s conference in Brigham City last fall.

In June 2009, Larson visited a friend, Dr. Charles Mok, in Michigan and wondered why he seemed to be more physically fit even though Larson was putting in more hours at the gym. Dr. Mok described his intense four-minute workouts, and Larson was intrigued.

Further research revealed the method had been developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo to train Olympic athletes. Tabata’s strategy is to engage in 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times for a total of four minutes.

The workouts

The exercises are simple resistance moves that most people are already familiar with, such as push-ups, lunges and burpees.

Participants are asked to do the exercises at their highest level of intensity. For example, someone who is more fit might do push-ups with one leg off the floor; beginners might do standing push-ups against a wall until their strength increases.

Larson compares it to running a four-minute mile. “You give it everything you’ve got for four minutes and take your muscles to muscle failure, focusing on one muscle group per day.”

When Larson began to implement this type of workout in his life, he saw drastic changes. Even though he had competed in triathlons and said his body was fit enough to run a marathon, he still lacked the muscle definition and tone that he desired.

These workouts helped him lose weight and changed the look of his body.

Larson and Mok became co-creators of 20 Second Fitness to spread the word to others. The program was launched in March 2010.

Busy lives

Time is one of the main draws. “Everyone can find four minutes to work out,” Larson said.

He recommends that people begin with a four-minute workout and increase to eight minutes and finally to 12 minutes when they are comfortable. If they have an exceptionally busy day, they can simply do a four-minute workout, but he strongly suggests at least four minutes, six days a week.

Ken Brockbank, of Sandy, said his busy lifestyle was keeping him from staying as fit as he wanted to be. He is known to travel to 20 different countries and log more than 300,000 flight miles for business travel in a year. Between being on the road and putting in long hours of work, Brockbank said, there are many times that going to the gym for an hour just isn’t an option.

“I always have four, eight or 12 minutes, but I can’t always squeeze in a half an hour. Sometimes I don’t even have 15 minutes,” he said. “If I can make it to the gym, great, but if I can’t make it, I am still covered.”

Any time, any place

Another advantage is portability.

Jones said she never misses a day and takes the program with her, playing a workout CD on her laptop when she travels. “You can do it anywhere,” she said.

Brockbank agrees. “I have done this in a hotel room, a bedroom, on the back of a houseboat and inside a tent,” he said. He has the program on his iPad to take wherever he goes. He has even done the workout in a hotel bathroom so as not to disturb his wife when she traveled with him.

Prior to this program, Brockbank said he swore he would never do a home fitness program. A former body builder and owner of gyms, Brockbank said he loves going to the gym and has a well-equipped gym in his home as well. “I hated home fitness programs,” he said.

He came in contact with a 20 Second Fitness demonstration and decided to take the staffers up on a free fitness test. The test revealed he was more out of shape than he thought. “I thought I was more fit than I really was. I was in denial,” he said.

It was then that Brockbank realized his recent career change, which required extensive business trips, and the long work hours were keeping him from going to the gym as frequently. He decided to give the program a try, and was amazed with the results.

“I have not missed a day in a year,” he said of his six-day-per-week workouts. “I have even done this in the cabin of a cruise ship and if I can do it in that tiny of a space, I can do it anywhere.”

Minor changes

Larson has also developed a food guide with recipes to help people make minor changes in their diet. As with the workouts, he encourages people to take small steps toward lifelong improvements.

“Today, you do what you can. Tomorrow, a little bit more. A month from now, you will be doing so much more than you are today, you will be amazed at how much stronger you are, how much more energy you have in your life, and, probably, you will like what you see in the mirror,” Larson said.

When Jones first started the program, she felt a little frustrated because she didn’t see the numbers going down on the scale. She stuck with it, however, because her clothes were fitting looser.

After two months, the weight began to drop.

At 53 years of age, Brockbank said, making minor changes to his workout routine has had major effects for him, too.

“I’ve always been active in sports. I was always going to the gym and working out. But, I wasn’t in shape. I look and feel better than I have in years.”

To find out more about this program, visit www.20secondfitness.com.

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