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High Intensity Training and the Range of Motion machine

Monday, February 23, 2009 Posted by Travis Saunders

If you have ever read Popular Mechanics, or Discover, or any other remotely "sciencey" magazine, then you have probably come across the full paged ads for the Range of Motion (ROM) machine. I'll admit, I have wanted to try one for years! From what I can tell, the ROM has two major components - a rowing machine (the side of the machine with the seat) and a stepper (the portion behind the seat). The ROM ads are interesting for several reasons; the machine looks different from any piece of fitness equipment I have ever seen, the machine costs a lot of money (over $14,000 USD), and most importantly, they claim that you can get fit by exercising just 4 minutes a day! Forget about long hours in the gym, forget about active transportation, 4 minutes is all you need!

Ok, well, maybe not. From what I can tell, a typical workout on the ROM involves 4 minutes of exercising as hard as possible. The makers of the ROM claim that this can result not only in improved cardiovascular fitness, but also in reduced fat mass. As you might guess, I am pretty skeptical about a product that claims that you only need 4 minutes of high intensity exercise to stay fit. However, I was surprised to find that there is a reasonably large amount of evidence suggesting that high intensity training (typically done in several 20-30 second bouts of near-maximal cycling) has been reported to result in dramatic increases in cardiovascular fitness and even insulin sensitivity in lean, healthy individuals. There is some evidence that high intensity training may increase overall metabolism throughout a 24-hour period, but again this has never been demonstrated in obese individuals.

I did come across a very interesting paper from a recent issue of the journal Circuluation, which suggests that exercising at a very high intensity may be more beneficial than low intensity training in reducing both body fat and metabolic risk in individuals with the metabolic syndrome (a pre-cursor to both diabetes and heart disease). However, this study did 4 separate 4-minute intervals within a 40 minute workout - far more than the 4 minutes prescribed by the ROM. In fact, one of the key studies cited by the makers of the ROM as proving that this type of high intensity training increases metabolism included 30-minute aerobic sessions as well high intensity sessions taking much longer than 4 minutes (the warm-up alone took 5 minutes), making it difficult to extend these results to a single 4-minute continuous high-intensity burst on the ROM.

Despite these limitations, it is possible that high intensity training, and machines like the ROM, may be of benefit to some individuals. As I mentioned earlier, high intensity exercise has been linked to increased fitness and insulin sensitivity. In fact, high intensity training (in conjunction with longer aerobic training) has been used by elite athletes for decades precisely because it elicits adaptations that are not achieved through long aerobic sessions alone. Further, high intensity training may inhibit post-workout caloric intake (I can't stomach food for an hour or two following an intense workout), and it may even result in increased energy expenditure post workout. However, there are also risks - as Peter mentioned in an earlier post, jumping straight from a sedentary lifestyle into high intensity training may be a recipe for disaster. And to date, there is little evidence suggesting that performing such short bouts of exercise alone can reduce body fat levels in obese individuals. And let's not forget - it costs fourteen thousand dollars! Think of how many rowing/stepping machines you could buy with that amount of money. Or gym memberships. Or high quality food. Or personal trainers. In fact, you could finance most of a Kinesiology degree with that much money!

I am personally very interested in the way that exercise intensity influences health and fitness. In fact, I am currently overseeing a study which examines the influence of exercise intensity on health risk in overweight men. However, I am far from convinced that high intensity sprint training is the best way for most people to get fit. In the end, the greatest health benefit of the ROM may be due to its pricetag - if you spend $14,000 USD for a piece of exercise equipment, wouldn't you think twice before skipping your next workout?

Travis

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9 Response to "High Intensity Training and the Range of Motion machine"

  1. SamuraiMark Said,

    Big believer in intensity over volume. 4 minutes does sound like a stretch. I started following FIRST running programs last year and am a complete convert. Have read lots of great t-nation articles that talk about the importance of intensity in training as well.

    Posted on February 24, 2009 at 1:06 PM

     
  2. Travis Saunders, MSc Said,

    Intensity is certainly important, but I don't want to give the impression that it's all about intensity (I'm very much a fan of Arthur Lydiard's training methods). For optimal running performance you really need a mix of volume and intensity. But if you are limited by the amount of time you can spend training, I agree that high-intensity training is the way to go, especially as a short-term strategy.

    When it comes to health though you really need a long-term strategy, which ideally would be a mix of both high and low intensity workouts.

    Posted on February 24, 2009 at 4:19 PM

     
  3. SamuraiMark Said,

    What do you think about replacing low intensity workouts with higher intensity cross training that allows rest for previously worked areas?

    The training I have been doing lately includes 3 high intensity running workouts per week ("high intensity" being relative to my ability and relative to the workout), and two or more cross training/crossfit workouts.

    Every week I do intervals, a tempo run, and a long run, all of which are relatively more intense than what would be prescribed in a more typical running program.

    To be clear, this training includes volume as well, volume appropriate to whatever distance you are training for. It really just forgoes the typical "easy run" found in most running programs for fewer, more intense, workouts each targeting one or more of your "running factors" (speed, economy, VO2max, LT etc), plus cross training that allows you to continue training while resting your running fleshware.

    The recommended cross training is anything that takes the weight off your legs ... cycling/spinning, swimming etc. Though I must admit, I've been very slack here, and when I do cross train, it's usually full-body crossfit or a few hours at the dojo.

    Posted on February 25, 2009 at 12:38 PM

     
  4. Travis Saunders, MSc Said,

    @SamuraiMark

    I think it comes down to your goals, and what you enjoy. I also find that what people define as 'intense' varies quite a bit, and our training plans are probably more similar than we think.

    I personally enjoy doing a training program with lots of Long Slow Distance (LSD), and 2-3 hard workouts a week. I like to do my hard runs very hard, and my easy runs very easy. I'm not sure I understand exactly what your personal training plan is, but if it works for you and you enjoy it, then I think you are making the right choice. I personally believe that a doing a load of high volume at a very easy pace is the best way to develop elite runners, but it's not going to be any good to anyone if they don't enjoy doing it.

    Posted on February 25, 2009 at 11:06 PM

     
  5. SamuraiMark Said,

    Thanks for the input Travis. Always good to get different perspectives. If you are interested, the programs I have been following are outlined in these RW articles:

    http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244--8257-2-1X2X3X4X5X6-7,00.html
    http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244--9369-1-1X2X3X4X5X6X7-8,00.html
    http://www.runnersworld.com/article/0,7120,s6-238-244--11816-0,00.html

    And their main site:

    http://www.furman.edu/first/

    Cheers,
    Mark

    Posted on February 26, 2009 at 9:39 AM

     
  6. Travis Saunders, MSc Said,

    Thanks Mark, I will definitely check out those links. I haven't heard much about FIRST running in the past, so I'm curious to see what it's all about :)

    Posted on February 26, 2009 at 2:08 PM

     
  7. SamuraiMark Said,

    The ROM machine has a cameo in Macauly Culkin's movie "Richie Rich". Odd product placement.

    Posted on March 15, 2009 at 12:56 PM

     
  8. HolfordWatch Said,

    Dr Harriet Hall of Science Based Medicine posted a good overview of the Range of Motion machine.

    You seem equally unimpressed by it - and with good reason.

    Posted on April 9, 2009 at 12:15 AM

     
  9. Anonymous Said,

    14k is crazy if you intend to buy it, but I pay 40 dollars a month for a little gyn down the street and get unlimited use of the ROM machine. I'm not obese. But I've got lots of body fat and it immediately starts in on your body fat.
    The other thing that I noticed. After a couple of weeks, there was a serious improvement in my endurance. Before using the ROM machine, there's no way I could run 3 minutes non-stop. Now I can run 15 minutes without blinking and I have asthma.

    After doing more research, I read that some people have used the ROM to help prepare them to climb Mt.Everest or other "extreme' activities.

    If you're looking for that endorphin rush that you get from a good hard run, you won't get that on a ROM machine. But if you're looking for an effective program that you can stick to, this has helped me lose weight, fat and inches.

    Posted on March 5, 2010 at 11:02 AM

     

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We are PhD students in the School of Kinesiology and Health Studies at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. Our research focuses on the relationships between obesity, physical activity, and health risk. This blog is our attempt to consider the many "cures" for obesity that we read about on a daily basis. Enjoy.

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