Hey, if it’s good enough for The Body, it’s good enough for our bodies. We try the buzz workout to help release muscle-building and immune-supporting nitric oxide

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When supermodel and wellbeing guru Elle Macpherson recently detailed her daily health and fitness regime, one of her go-tos caught our eye: Zach Bush’s 4 Minute Workout, which she religiously completes every morning, she says “to stimulate nitric oxide”.  

Bush is an American doctor who specialises in internal medicine, endocrinology, and palliative care, and his workout is one of a growing number of nitric oxide workout videos on YouTube, although he is believed to have come up with the concept.

It begs the questions: what is nitric oxide? Why is Elle, who is one of a new breed of women biohackers, so taken with it?  

What is nitric oxide and what are the benefits of nitric oxide?

  • It's not laughing gas. Nitric oxide is definitely not to be confused with nitrous oxide aka laughing gas.
  • You make it naturally in the body and it helps build muscle. Nitric oxide is a molecule that promotes vasodilation, ie increased blood flow. “When you start to exercise, you release nitric oxide,” says Bush. “It opens up blood vessels and increases oxygen and nutrient delivery to the muscles, to increase the opportunity for muscle build.”
  • Our bodies store it for when it's needed. Nitric oxide is stored "primarily in the lining of your blood vessels and is released throughout the day when you need it,” says Dr Joseph Mercola, another American medic who’s a fan of the nitric oxide-promoting workout (check out his nitric oxide explainer video here).
  • It decreases as we get older but this workout can boost it. “As we age, our nitric oxide production decreases and this exercise regime is a way to circumvent that.”
  • It has tons of other health benefits including immune function. The benefits go beyond building muscle. “Nitric oxide thins your blood so helps lower the risk of clots, strokes, heart attacks. And it improves your immune function,” says Dr Mercola . 
  • Nose breathing promotes it. Dr Mark Burhenne, a sleep specialist and proponent of nose breathing (as opposed to mouth breathing) says: “the sinuses release a huge boost of nitric oxide, a molecule that plays an essential role in increasing circulation and delivering oxygen into cells. Immune function, weight, circulation, mood, and sexual function can all be heavily influenced by the amount of nitric oxide in the body," he tells US journalist James Nestor in his best-selling book Breath: The New Science Of A Lost Art.

What is the 4-minute workout that Elle Macpherson swears by?

Dr Zach Bush’s 4 Minute Workout deploys the body’s 16 biggest muscle groups. For maximum benefits, he recommends you do it three times per day, as nitric oxide builds back up again after a few hours, and the more you release it, the better. The routine is very simple to follow (see images below) and comprises:

  • 10 squats. Pay attention to your form and get as low as you can.
  • 'Marching' arm lifts, x10. Start with your arms by your side and quickly move one up 90 degrees to shoulder level, lower, then do the other arm a bit like marching. Keep legs still.
  • 10 star jump-style arm movements. Don’t move your legs though.
  • 10 overhead arm presses like you are lifting a dumbbell.

Do four rounds. We told you it was easy.

That tingly feeling at the end of your fingertips when you finish is, Bush says, the “nitric oxide effect. It’s dilating your blood vessels, oxygenating everything in your body, building muscle for the next couple of hours.”

Our 4 Minute Workout review 

@vwyoga I tried The 4 Minute Workout that Elle Macpherson does every day to stimulate nitric oxide in the body for supporting innune function, muscle building, sleep and more The workout was created Dr Zach Bush MD. Its not meant to replace your normal workout but is an add in with health benefits. #ellemacpherson #fyp #workout #nitricoxcide ♬ Sunroof - Nicky Youre & dazy

Victoria Woodhall put it to the test: "Confirmed, it really is easy and you don't need to be in workout kit to do it. I loved it as an 11am and 4pm desk break. It was a great way to loosen up the shoulders and fire up glutes and quads, which can switch off and become lazy when you are sitting for hours and perk up the mind. The 4-Minute Workout makes a great form of exercise snacking and does get you quite warm. As a breath coach, yoga teacher, and a bit of a biohacker I'm already sold on the benefits of nitric oxide and nose breathing and so this is right up my street."

Don’t assume that the 4-Minute Workout is all you need to do to keep fit – don’t cancel that gym membership just yet. On its own, it is unlikely to offer enough cardio exercise for anyone with any kind of base level of fitness. See it as a Brucey Bonus add-on to your usual routine o And don’t forget you still need some stretching and some strength training in the mix with your cardio.

Finally, eating lots of leafy vegetables and beetroot boosts your nitrate levels – and nitrates are what the body turns into nitric oxide. Consider that yet another reason to eat your greens.