Everywhere you look in the fitness media these days, you see the buzzword “HIIT” . Its just another fad craze that adds a slight modification to old tried and true methods. This brings to light a saying from an old martial arts instructor of mine, “Cavemen were kicking and punching”, meaning all the styles of martial arts we have now are nothing more than a derivative of the prehistoric man’s fight for food, survival and procreation. So to that end HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is really nothing more than old fashioned Interval or circuit training with a few modifications. Let’s take a look at the definitions:
HIIT: – is a form of interval training, a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods. HIIT is the concept where one performs a short burst of high-intensity (or max-intensity) exercise followed by a brief low-intensity activity, repeatedly, until too exhausted to continue. Though there is no universal HIIT session duration, these intense workouts typically last under 30 minutes, with times varying based on a participant’s current fitness level. It is said to have gained popularity and therefore its introduction in the 1970’s from Peter Coe, with his introduction of the Sprint-walk-Sprint regiment.
Interval Training: is a type of training that involves a series of low- to high-intensity workouts interspersed with rest or relief periods. The high-intensity periods are typically at or close to anaerobic exercise, while the recovery periods involve activity of lower intensity. Varying the intensity of effort exercises the heart muscle, providing a cardiovascular workout, improving aerobic capacity and permitting the person to exercise for longer and/or at more intense levels. Fartlek is a form of interval training dating back to 1937.
Circuit Training: is a form of body conditioning or Endurance training/resistance training using high-intensity exercises. It targets strength building or muscular endurance. An exercise “circuit” is one completion of all prescribed exercises in the program. When one circuit is complete, one begins the first exercise again for the next circuit. Traditionally, the time between exercises in circuit training is short, often with rapid movement to the next exercise. The program was developed by R.E. Morgan and G.T. Adamson in 1957 at the University of Leeds in England.
Now that you have a better understanding of what HIIT is and more so what it isn’t, you can see some similarities between HIIT, Interval Training and Circuit Training. What originally set HIIT apart as the new go to fat burning tool in the fitness aficionados arsenal was this piece from the definition,
“One performs a short burst of high-intensity (or max-intensity) exercise followed by a brief low-intensity activity, repeatedly, until too exhausted to continue.
Max intensity, until too exhausted to continue. This is where most people miss the benefits of HIIT. I’ve always said you can train hard or you can train long but you cant do both. For example a sprinter cant run his fastest sprinting pace for the duration of a marathon. Nor can a power lifter take his 1 rep max and decide to use it as a 10 rep warm-up. So if you are jumping on the HIIT band wagon be sure you are leaving it all on the table, don’t just go through the motions if your in a HIIT class, or don’t half ass it if your doing it on your own. Truly push yourself as hard as you possibly can, and in doing so you will find it very difficult and nigh impossible to have that workout extend longer than 30 mins. So how do you know if you are giving it all you got?
Great question there are 3 ways i feel are pretty solid indicators, you may have some other form but these will definitely dial in that maximum intensity zone your striving for.
- Puke: One way to know is if you puke during or immediately after your workout. This is your body’s way of letting you know it has reached its limit. I use to run bets with my fellow martial arts instructors, on how many people i would get to puke on our conditioning days. But we all know that’s not a sustainable means of measurement. Sometimes you could have just eaten prior to your workout or possibly be a little ill and not know it, and if your goal is lean muscle mass gains, you just lost some vital macros during that regurgitation session. So what’s another alternative?
2. Fitness Tracker: You could invest in a fitness tracker / heart rate monitor. This will track your heart rate throughout the duration of the exercise and most will even show you at a glance if you are in your training zone. So for instance lets say you are a 30 year old male and you want to train at 90-95 of your target max heart rate. Simple math will tell us that for those 15 – 30 mins your heart rate needs to be sustained at 171bpm – 181bpm. (220 – (your age)* percentage)). So if you find yourself outside that range during your exercise then you know you can push a little harder next time. And if for some reason you cant get in that range then possibly you have some mental hurdles you need to overcome prior to getting into a HIIT regime. Remember the body wont go where the mind cant imagine.
3. Track your progress: I know i sound like a broken record from multiple other post where I’m talking about tracking your workouts or tracking your nutrition. Sadly though this is no different. Lets take a simple hit routine that has 4 exercises each done for 30 seconds at max intensity, and then 4 other exercises done for 15 seconds at 50% effort, and then 15 seconds rest and this circuit is repeated 3-4 times for a total of 12-16 mins. Now if you right down (or keep track of) the number of reps you did in the exercises, you will now have a base line to challenge yourself in the proceeding rounds, or even better then next time you do this circuit. You can continue increasing the reps, activity phase and even decreasing the rest portion. Until you reach a zone where its just impossible for you to complete. You now have a minimum effort level and and failure / maximum. Dial it back a bit and like magic you are working at maximum intensity. After a few session at that level try again to bump it up a notch.
This brings me to my next point of HIIT classes or boot-camps. Now that we understand the definition of HIIT allow me to throw a soft jab at these group style classes. Its my personal opinion that these classes don’t offer the full benefit of what HIIT is designed to do. For a few reasons:
- The classes are always different so that people don’t get bored. This is great for variety but nigh impossible for you to determine your personal progress and ideally maximum effort unless your wearing a fitness tracker
- There are lengthy pauses and rest due to the instructor having to illustrate the movements, not only that but you trying to remember the order and proper form for each one as they arise. This means you are resting longer than you should to ensure maximum effort. If the exercise is to be done for 25 seconds at 100% intensity and you spent 5 seconds getting into position and trying to figure out what to do, you just lost 20% of the intensity.
- They are generally too complex, due to the dynamic of a group setting. Instructors generally choose 4-8 exercises (sometimes more) to try to have adequate regressions and progressions that will suit the entire groups fitness level. This again leads to the problems illustrated in examples 1 and 2.
I want to reiterate I’m not throwing shade on boot-camps and group classes, i think they are great fitness tools and are extremely helpful. I am however in slight disagreement with the ones that call themselves HIIT classes or HIIT sessions I feel this is a misleading title and they are better off being labeled as Group Training, Boot-camps, Interval training or even Circuit Training. OK since I’ve basically told you that anyone advertising a HIIT class is selling snake oil, what pray tell is my solution? Glad you asked, simply create your own HIIT circuit you don’t need any more than 2 exercises (4 maximum and if your feeling superhero-ish). In my next blog I’m going to give you one of my personal favorite HIIT circuits, that can be modified up or down depending on your fitness level, but is insanely simple and best part is you don’t need a gym or a class to do it.