#StayWell: 'We gain strength, stability and stamina'

For many people, New Year is traditionally a time to make resolutions. Doing more sport is often top of personal to-do lists. And even though the coronavirus pandemic has severely restricted our desire for exercise, gyms are closed and clubs have had to suspend their activities, we can still be physically active. At home. Without any equipment. Just our own body weight. With 11 exercises in just 11 minutes. Bayer 04 fitness coach Schahriar Bigdeli has designed this special workout programme together with Dr Malte Krüger, the head of sports science at the club. They are exercises our Werkself players do in training. But the programme can also be highly beneficial for the health and fitness of people who are not competitive athletes. To discover the positive effects that can be achieved with this high intensity interval training, who this 11-minute workout is suitable for and how it is structured, we spoke to Dr. Malte Krüger and Dr. Karl-Heinrich Dittmar, medical director and pandemic officer at Bayer 04 as part of the Bayer 04 and Bayer AG #staywell campaign.

Eleven exercises in eleven minutes: That sounds remarkably simple but, as we all know, it demands effort and discipline. Perhaps you've got a few tips for how we can motivate ourselves for this special workout? 

Dr. Dittmar: Working together makes a lot of things better. So, if anybody is afraid they can’t be up for the long haul on their own they can link up digitally with like-minded people or friends. They could start a Team or Zoom meeting, Skype or use one of the many tools that we have learned to value so much during the coronavirus pandemic. But we have also done exactly the same at times with our players when they have been in self-isolation. At the end of the day, it's a question of self-discipline. If these exercises are to be of value over the long term then they have to be done regularly. 

What are the advantages of high intensity interval training? 

Dr. Krüger: This is a combination of power and stamina training. In a relatively short space of time, we can succeed in training the biggest muscle groups and adequately working the cardiovascular system. That means we have above-threshold stimuli that induce adjustment reactions in organs and in the body. We gain strength, stability and stamina. Similar health aspects come into play has with long and less intensive runs. But we are aiming to achieve comparatively positive physiological effects on the cardiovascular system and the whole body through high intensity training over a shorter length of time. There is no problem integrating these 11 minutes into our day-to-day activities. And we are also flexible in terms of space requirements as we only work with our own body weight and don't need any equipment. 

Dr. Dittmar: Overcoming one's weaker self causes problems for many people because they don't think they have time for an involved workout. You can complete our exercises in an – admittedly strenuous and uncomfortable – 11 minutes. Our Premium partner Kieser Training have been successful with a similar concept. And here too with a lot of repetitions of an exercise as possible being completed at high intensity over a relatively short space of time. Our workout saves you a trip to the gym and you don't need any equipment at home other than a chair. 

What health targets can I achieve if I do the exercises properly and regularly? 

Dr. Krüger: We can achieve a lower resting heart rate through regular training of the cardiovascular system. Our body then functions more economically. By providing our muscular system with energy through use and thereby strengthening it, we can ensure proper posture and increased body tension. We have a better sense of balance, do not fall as easily, are more resistant to injury and fitter because the whole bone and ligament structure functions better in tandem with a strong muscular system. We reduce the risk of heart attacks with the activated cardiovascular system cutting down the formation of blood clots or minimising the probability of such deposits. And we release a whole host of endorphins and happiness hormones. 

Dr. Dittmar: These exercises are also good for bone metabolism. If I sit down too much and move too little then it does not help bone development as bones are an organ that requires a massive supply of blood. Bones need weight-bearing exercise. That means the workout can also help to prevent osteoporosis. Another benefit is fat reduction. We burn off nutrients by exercising. If I consume 2,000 calories and only use 1,500 then 500 are stored. Fat is the main way of storing it. The short-term storage, glycogen, is converted into fat. If I regularly do the eleven exercises then I will remove a certain part of the sugar stored in the body. That will not then be metabolised and retained as a layer of fat. 

Dr. Krüger: We can assume this workout will consume around 100 – 150 kilocalories. That is not as much as jogging for an hour. But your body is only under strain for a sixth of the time. And if we do the exercises over the long term then that increases the resting metabolic rate and that means the body needs more nutrients in times of inactivity because the muscular system is strengthened. Energy can also be burnt off at rest. That means the workout benefits us in terms of energy as well. And, last but not least, it strengthens our immune system. We activate our natural killer cells, the white blood cells, which are produced in greater numbers. 

One effect that is particularly important during the coronavirus pandemic… 

Dr. Dittmar: Yes, we should do everything we can for our immune system at a time like this. We can transplant hearts and lungs. And we can use antibiotics against bacteria. There is nothing comparable with a virus. There is only vaccination and that means prevention. Vaccination strengthens and activates the immune system. We can achieve that to a certain extent with our workout. At the same time, the 11-minute exercises are obviously not an alternative to vaccination. 

Dr. Krüger: And, of course, we have to make sure we don't put excessive strain on the body with this high-intensity workout. That would create a so-called open window effect: For a short period of time, we would even be more susceptible to infection if we overdo things. 

Dr. Dittmar: Yes, it's similar to overloading the muscular structure. I can stimulate muscle to make it grow. But if I'm excessive with the stimulus then there is a risk of causing an injury. That means I can simulate a muscle so much that it tears. 

The 11-minute workout is aimed at the 18 to 45 age group. But can older people do the training session if certain conditions are met? 

Dr. Krüger: Of course, there are 46-year-olds or 50-year-olds who are really fit. The workout is not a problem for them. Even 70-year-olds can do it. But, on the other hand, there are people of that age who have not previously done no or very little sport – and the strain for them would be too much. It's difficult to set a limit as the state of fitness within the population varies a lot individually. 

Dr. Dittmar: A very important part of this campaign: We have a responsibility as the initiators of the workout. There is a high probability that people aged between 18 and 45 who feel well and do not have major risk factors, are also healthy. They can do these exercises without any risk to health. Regardless of age, exercises like this are not suitable if you are not well. People who smoke a lot, suffer from metabolic disorders, diabetes, high blood pressure, have heart disease or a history of it in the family, could suffer injury and they should definitely seek advice from their doctors about doing the workout or not. The same applies to everybody who has not done any sport for a long time and is inactive. 

If these questions are resolved: How many times a week should we do the workout? 

Dr. Krüger: We recommend at least twice or even better three or four times per week. Then you will achieve positive effects. But the body adapts. And at some point, the above-threshold stimuli are no longer above threshold because the body has become stronger and more resilient. Then it's time to vary the drills or increase the capacity by doing two sessions of the workout. The intensity in the 11 minutes cannot be increased at any point. 

Dr. Dittmar: But there is no necessity to do all the exercises perfectly at the first attempt. Predefined activities are only idealised activities. Even if I have the target of running a marathon then I would not run 42.2 kilometres on the first day but instead start with shorter runs. The same obviously applies to our workout. But, after a while, it should be possible for everyone within the target group to do the exercises in the prescribed order and intensity without any risks to reap health benefits. 

Why is it important to adhere to the order of the exercises? 

Dr. Krüger: The first exercise, the star jumps, are designed to get the cardiovascular system going and is a sort of warm-up. The pulse is somewhat higher for the following stabilisation drills such as the plank and side plank. They are static support exercises where you can build up body tension that you otherwise often lose during day-to-day activity. With that required body tension, we now move on to the dynamic strengthening exercises. Here we work from the bottom to the top, that means: The stomach muscles come first, then the belly and finally we get the upper body and arms. That makes sense because the muscle groups get smaller as you go up. The triceps group is definitely the smallest and the one that is used most. We also work with our players in the same order. Of course, I could switch between protagonists and antagonists, which means I don't exercise the same muscles twice in succession. We want stimulus to be more intensive. That's why, for example, there are three leg exercises in succession. 

On a scale from 1 to 10: How intense should it be? 

Dr. Krüger: At least seven, at the most nine. We shouldn't get near to tens. That's why we have designed a workout that leaves out the most dynamic and most elastic exercises. Controlled and continuous movement is important when getting down or getting up. There should be no breaks. At the beginning, it makes sense for the eccentric movement, that is the flexing phase when bending the knee or or going down as with press-ups, to last exactly as long as the concentrated movement of getting up and being at full stretch. That does not mean overdoing it. Body tension should be maintained. One thing is clear: If we work to a scale of 7, 8 or 9, we don’t feel well but instead see it as unpleasant. It has to be like that. You can’t go into the next exercise after a complete break. Instead, we test ourselves, have a little rest and carry on although we are still under strain. the aim is to achieve tight timing and high intensity. 

Are there scientific studies that demonstrate the sustainable success of this training? 

Dr. Krüger: Yes, the High Intensity Training (HIT), High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and also High Intensity Circuit Training (HICT) are not passing fads. A number of studies have shown the training methods are suitable according to scientific criteria and can have a positive effect on performance. 

Dr. Dittmar: Here’s an example from our own experience at Bayer 04: We have carried out performance checks on our first team squads for a number of years. One key diagnostic procedure is spiroergometry, a method of performance measurement through the analysis of exhaled gases and assessment of the breathing, heart, circulation and metabolism reactions. In addition, we can very easily work out which players are deficient in which areas. It turns out a lot of players definitely benefit from HIT training. 

Does the HIT training of Lars Bender and Co. differ significantly from the 11-minute workout, which you have designed for a relatively broad target group? 

Dr. Krüger: No, they are exercises that all come from the drills we do with the first team squad too. But, of course, we have selected the type and intensity of the workout in such a way to make it achievable for non competitive athletes. We want to be able to meet the needs of people with different levels of fitness. So we have taken basic exercises that are carried out regularly by the players in a complex form. Either ahead of training on the pitch to get ready or to actively prevent injury. 

Hand on heart: Let us know which exercise made you have to conquer your own inner weakness? 

Dr. Dittmar: (laughs): That’s easy to answer: With the exercises 1 to 11. But I don’t belong to the target group any more as I’m too old. 

Dr. Krüger: I think the press-ups at the end are particularly tough as they can make your triceps hurt a lot.



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