In a recent module of study for the ISSN diploma in sports nutrition, I came across some really interesting research into how effective High Intensity Training can be for training adults to improve their aerobic fitness. Basically you sprint really hard for a short period and you rest for a while before repeating the process a number of times. Research has shown that people can get really fit as a result. It is very effective for people short on time and whilst hard, it can be fun to participate in.
It got me thinking; maybe I could do something similar in school. As I am a primary school teacher based in the north inner city of Dublin, l thought why not use the poor children as test guinea pigs! Irish teachers have very busy schedules trying to accommodate the many subject areas into the week but I figured I could manage to fit the experiment into the timetable as it was not very time intensive.
My 5th class boys were delighted to engage in this science project with them as the test subjects.
Our objective was to see if we could improve fitness levels in the space of four weeks by exercising for only three minutes a day, five days a week. This amounted to only 15 minutes a week and 60 minutes in total.
Initially we needed to get a baseline measure for our aerobic fitness levels. I decided to do a beep test. Children had to run 20m shuttles whilst listening to a beep. The children should have reached the line before the beep. When they pulled out or failed to hit the line before the beep, their score was recorded. I also weighed each student just to see if the daily exercise had any effect on their weight. The children were also asked to give up drinking fizzy drinks as part of the challenge. Parents were encouraged to monitor this and initial a record sheet as they attempted to resist the lure of the sugary beverage. As part of the challenge, they were allowed one day off per week to enjoy an occasional treat and to encourage compliance!
To validate the test, I needed a control group. Another class were summoned to fulfil his role. They were the going to do the pre and post-test but would not do any of the training or dietary measures.
We did the fitness tests on the 7th of January, on the first week after Christmas. The results varied greatly. Some of the scores in the test were scary as they were shockingly low. Many of the kids languished in the lowest category for their own age group and if they were pitted against the norms for 65 year olds or older, amazingly a few were still in the ‘least fit’ for that age group. It was clearly obvious that the children with the most sedentary lives were displaying the dangerous low levels of aerobic fitness. This would obviously potentially pose huge problems to their health as they get older.
We started the training on Monday the 11th of January
Every morning for four weeks at 10.05 we would go down to the yard. The boys would run up and down for 30 seconds and then take a break for 30 seconds. Six bouts of 30 second running were completed each day. The effort was varied. Some boys loved the challenge whilst others found it very difficult.
After a few days, the boys were saying how they felt better after they ran and ‘felt faster’ and ‘fitter’. They still found it difficult as the mornings were quite cold but they persevered. They were getting a break from the class room and were happy to get their extra exercise on yard.
On the 8th February we did the retest. We did the same protocol as before. The boys did the beep test and we measured their weight. I also did the test on the other class to see how they performed compared to their initial test.
Training group: improved their aerobic fitness by 19%.
Control group: improved their aerobic fitness by 12%.
Training group: average weight reduced by 0.01 kg
Control group: average weight increased by 0.6 kg
Both groups hugely increased their fitness levels, but the training group improved by a massive 19% due in many respects to the 3 minutes of exercise a day. The 12% increase seen by the control group was also quite a jump with no ‘formal training’. This is probably due to the fact that the initial test was done immediately post-Christmas. Both groups would probably not have done much activity over this period and were naturally going to be more active in the January period (resuming football training, walking to school etc), thus an increase was always likely.
The weight loss seen by the training group was interesting also. It was good to see that the short amounts of exercise and an emphasis on drinking water and milk resulted in slight weight loss. The objective was not to see if we could lose a lot of weight as the children are growing and increasing weight naturally but it was good to see that some of the kids who were a bit overweight for their height managed to lose some all the same.
Overall, the challenge was a great success. We clearly saw that with only three minutes of exercise a day for four weeks, the children’s fitness levels improved by 7% over the control group. Imagine what each child could do in a few months.
The important message is that short bursts of intense exercise can make a massive impact on aerobic fitness and health levels. Never use lack of time as a reason not to exercise. This applies also to adults as well as children.
I hope to continue and refine this training protocol so I look forward to see how I can improve the training regime and ensure that it is as fun as possible as well as being an effective training tool.