The Truth About The 3 Minute Workout

Double Ski Poling
Double Ski Poling

To be honest, this blog has made fun of people who undersell the required amount of WORK actually required to get verifiable results from any exercise program… like the fellow who talked about “10 Minute Workouts” and quoted a scientific paper that noted that FIFTEEN “10 Minute workouts” per week were in order! You can see that here! 

Dr. Schwartz, though, wanted to develop exercise systems convenient enough, fun enough, and “accessible” enough to people just “crawling off the couch” would WANT to work out, even if it were just for a few minutes at a time! He mentions just that much in his patent filings and other places.

The truth is that workouts as short as THREE MINUTES could have a beneficial cardiovascular effect! 

They simply were not meant to be the “entire workout plan” … but part of a larger program as we’ll see…

In Dr. Schwartz’ interview with Parker Reed, he made this comment:

“The researchers at Pitt’s Labs have identified three minutes as minimally necessary for collecting reasonable cardio response, but longer, of course, is welcome.  My own Longstrength stuff can go on for half an hour, but is frequently longer and typically totals around an hour per day.”

Did you catch that? While he preferred to work out an hour (total) per day for his own workouts, based on actual research, he and the team at Pitt came to realize that cardio response from the body could “kick in” very quickly if sufficient whole body effort were put forth!

In his first book Dr. Schwartz envisioned people using “microworkouts” of 3 to 5 minutes throughout the day as part of an overall workout strategy. On page 214 of “HeavyHands:The Ultimate Workout” in the sidebar titled “A typical HeavyHands week”, he talked about using 3 five minute “microworkouts” per day along with one 20 minute session in the evening as an example for people trying to average 30+ minutes per day of total panaerobic activity.

The problem for most people is knowing how to structure a short, 3 minute workout for maximum effectiveness!

But once you know how to structure a 3 minute workout you can do it several times throughout the day like Dr. Schwartz suggested and/or add it on as the “finisher” for a longer workout so you end, essentially, with a “sprint”.

The danger is that you’ll TRY TO DO TOO MUCH and injure yourself.

It’s not uncommon for folks who know that those three minutes must achieve a genuine cardio response to “go crazy” and choose the hardest exercises! Unfortunately once you injure yourself this way, you have only succeeded in giving your “lazy self” a good reason never to exercise again. 

Whatever calories you may burn using this technique, it’s not worth it if you do exercises may be positively DANGEROUS for many novices – those folks just “crawling off the couch” so to speak, especially for someone already having bad knees, a weak back, or any other weak bodily structures.

Some of those dangerous exercises are popular ones found on many youtube videos that trumpet their effectiveness for fat burning!

We’re talking about the “Jumping Lunge”, the “Burpee” and the “Jumping Squat” in this case. Yes, while you’re able to perform these, they can get your heart pumping quickly… but the risks for many people are just too high, at least when starting out.

Here’s a further problem. When we do the SAME workout too long, the effectiveness of the exercises can diminish over time. Doing a variety of exercises that work the muscles from slightly different angles is the key to the best overall development and for relief from potential boredom with an exercise routine.

So what’s a person to do to properly structure a short “anytime/anywhere” 3 minute microworkout?


1. Focus on exercises you can do with little or no equipment. For us, of course, that means HeavyHands, IsoTonoMetrics, ordinary bodyweight exercises, or possibly a suspension trainer.

2. Think in terms of “6 Square Feet”. You want to have a repertoire of movements that could be done in a motel room – or at your own house or apartment too… maybe even things you can do in your “pajamas”!

3. Consider intervals. As Dr. Schwartz noted, these allow you to work harder than you could if working continuously. The brief breaks for a few seconds let you recover enough to keep up a good pace. They even work in a 3 – 5 minute “microworkout”.

4. Think “sprint”. Obviously the typical sprint violates concept #2… the rule about “think in terms of 6 square feet”. But we’re not talking about the 100 yard dash here, but a controlled yet quick tempo and low impact whole body activity to get your heart pumping while moving all four limbs, even without resistance… like the “Jumping Jack” (aka “side straddle hop”).

When Dr. Schwartz talked about those 5 minute microworkouts, he assumed they’d be in an enclosed space and punctuating a regular workday.

For that reason in the section quoted above, he recommended a form of “jumping” in place while raising hands overhead or to the side while using HeavyHands.

Frankly that may be a bit too much for some people’s knees or back just starting out!

Another favorite of Dr. Schwartz might be used profitably instead: Double Ski Poling (see image above). This single exercise is perhaps the best for gaining a powerful cardio response in “6 square feet”. You can learn more about this exercise in Dr. Schwartz’ books that can still usually be purchased at Amazon.

To build up to heavier weights – or oddly enough if you don’t have weights – one variation that can be done with a set of heavier weights for your hands is called Vertical Lifts.

Unlike the Double Ski Pole, begin a Vertical Lift with your legs spread beyond shoulder width (the arms go outside the knees for skipoling but inside for this exercise). Bend the knees and reach forward as far as possible. Touch the floor with your weighted hands if you’re able. Now straighten back up in a controlled fashion straightening back and legs to come upright. As you do, curl the weights up with your palms facing each other (hammer grip style), bring them to shoulder height and press overhead. For some extra work, lean slightly backwards pressing the weights back at an angle to activate your abdominal muscles too. Learn more about this in the article here:

You don’t have to do these super fast… you can probably get a good cardio workout with more steady and controlled moves. But vertical lifts like these are one exercise that even people with bad knees may be able to do safely, assuming your doctor has approved of you exercising! (In fact, one thing you’ll find is that the more muscle groups you use, the slower you can go and still get a solid cardio response!)

So what if you don’t have weights available? Try the Vertical Lift as an IsoTonoMetric exercise. Do alternating curls and presses with one arm as you resist with the other arm. This variation too can leave you breathless!

Some students of Dr. Schwartz like John McKean might perform the Vertical Lifts with a resistance band. Some “ISO” practitioners are exploring the use of “VRT” or “Virtual Resistance Training” to add resistance during the Vertical Lift. Choose the one(s) best suited to your style of training!

This post is too short to go into other possible variations for 3 minute workouts.  And you should have more than one exercise plan in your “toolbox” that you use for these three minute workouts so that you don’t cry from sheer boredom!

There are dozens of worthwhile exercises and combinations in pays to know to allow you to have sufficient variation when you have to squeeze in a workout. The best “library” of such moves and instruction on how to properly perform a “3 minute workout” is probably Mike Whitefield’s course called “Bodyweight Finishers”.

You may not “buy” all the assertions made about nutrition, intervals, etc. Dr. Schwartz was always agnostic about the proclamations of some “diet gurus” and he managed to lose a great deal of weight. He likewise had his own theories about exercise length. And he would also caution readers not to over extend themselves too quickly… remember “first do no harm”!

But it’s likely you’ll find the variety of exercises helpful in devising your own routines. Dr. Schwartz always interacted with other fitness teachers to see if he could improve his own techniques, as should his students.

Don’t be afraid to experiment either with the length of any recommended interval! If you’re just starting out, you may need more time to rest between “bursts” of activity. That’s between you and your body. It’s ok to start with longer rest periods and gradually decrease them as you are able!

As a HeayvHands user or IsoTonometrics practitioner, once you see those suggested routines, you’ll automatically know how to increase their intensity so that you never outgrow their usefulness!

With those caveats being made clear, anyone seeking to learn new exercise combinations that could be used for short, three to five minute panaerobic “microworkouts” will definitely find some interesting exercise combinations in Mike Whitefield’s “Bodyweight Finishers”.  So check it out as a possible resource. Your purchase will help sponsor this blog. If you decide it’s not for you, no problem. We’ll see you here again soon with more resources for building panaerobic fitness!

Mike's 3 Minute MicroWorkouts helped him lose 75 punds!
Mike’s 3 Minute MicroWorkouts helped him lose 75 pounds!

2 thoughts on “The Truth About The 3 Minute Workout”

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