Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Amp Up Your Workouts with High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Red Rocks. How's this for an interval workout!?!

  The Holiday Season is here!

  For many of us that means busier schedules, and yummier foods than usual. And if exercising is a part of our regular routine, maybe we should try to get more bang for our buck in the workout department to go along with our hectic holiday lives.

  Or maybe we've hit a plateau, or are bored with our workouts, and are looking to spice things up a bit? Maybe pounding away on that treadmill or bike is getting tiresome? Whatever our workout-complaints are, here are some ways to shake things up a bit!

  These are some tried and tested ways to amp up your workouts, change the status quo, and get your heart thumping: 

HIIT -- (High Intensity Interval Training) is exactly what it sounds like: intense cardio performed in a series of intervals.

Luscher Farms -- my field of choice for sprints.
  What makes HIIT any different, or any better, than your run-of-the-mill cardio? The payoff for a shorter, more-intense workout is that after a HIIT session, your body spends the rest of the day expending energy to recover!

  This is called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), or 'after-burn'. It means that you consume a great deal more oxygen recovering from the workout than you would have if you'd just done a steady-state workout.

  HIIT allows you to burn "up to nine times more fat while sitting on the couch later that night than you would have if you'd spent an hour on the treadmill at a moderate pace." But it has to be intense -- no slacking allowed!

Three examples of HIIT that I use on a regular basis, mostly in my off-season are:
  • Hills/Stairs -- Find a hill, or a set of stairs, in your neighborhood -- something that takes roughly 20 seconds to run. After a sufficient warm up (10-minute jog, for example), perform a series of 10-15 sprints up the hill, or stairs. Walk, or jog back down for your recovery, and repeat. After 10-15 repetitions, finish with a 10-minute cool down (and don't forget to stretch!). This works the same if walking is your preferred method of cardio!
  • Sprint Intervals -- If you can't find a hill or a good set of stadium stairs, surely there's a field or track in your neighborhood! Again, after a good warm up, it's time to hike up the intensity: sprint for 50 yards. Then recover, by either jogging or walking, for another 50 yards. Repeat for 10-15 minutes. I like to do my sprint intervals on a football field because it's a nice flat/soft surface, and the distances are already marked for me. I don't need to look at a watch, I just sprint 50 yards, then recover for 50 yards. No thinking involved, just run! And don't forget your cool down!
  • Machine work -- Both of these workouts can be performed on a treadmill, bike, or elliptical. For hills/stairs, you increase the incline for 20-30 seconds, then return it to normal for your recovery time. For the sprint work, you increase the speed for 15-30 seconds (depends on how hard the sprint is!), and then return it to a comfortable pace for your recovery. Again, these can be done as walking workouts as well!
Tera and I getting ready to run the stairs at Red Rocks.
  The point of interval workouts is to raise your heart rate very quickly, and then during your recovery, return your heart rate to a lower pace. This will increase your fitness level overall (you will recover quicker the more often you do it).

Push Outside Your Comfort Zone
  The trick is that you have to push yourself out of your comfort zone: the more you push yourself during the 'sprint' phase, the better results you will see. And of course, the more 'after-burn' effect you will see.

  Clearly you need to have a good base fitness level to perform HIIT workouts. You can't just jump off the couch, straight into sprint workouts. That's a recipe for disaster. And you should not do HIIT workouts every day. Your body needs time to recover from intense workouts, and should only be done two to three times a week.

  If you find yourself having difficulty maintaining a high intensity throughout your workout (or want to give interval training a try, and you're new new to the working out game), you are better off performing more moderately-paced 'endurance' cardio. But try to push yourself with a few harder minutes sprinkled in throughout the session. This will help increase your metabolism (although not as much as with HIIT), as well as your overall fitness, which may lead to you eventually including HIIT workouts as part of your routine.
High Intensity Interval Training.
Tabata Training -- is a very specific, rigorous kind of HIIT. Tabata is becoming more and more popular because it can be done very, very quickly and it simultaneously improves your anaerobic AND aerobic conditioning. Tabata develops your ability to sustain explosive bursts of strength and speed, along with improving endurance. 

  If you TRULY only have 20 minutes to squeeze in a workout, try Tabata, it'll torch you! I have given it a shot a few times this season, and have found my legs were shot the next day. Something I never feel the day after something like a 40-minute run.

  Again, it is suggested that you have a good, if not GREAT, fitness level for Tabata training -- because if you cannot sustain the intensity, you will not see the results in the short time.

  Any exercise can be incorporated into Tabata training. Pay close attention to the 'sprint' phase, and the recovery phase: notice that the sprint-time is twice as long as the rest-time. The basic outline of Tabata training method is:
  • 10-minute warm up
  • 20 seconds of intense training (all out sprint)
  • 10 seconds of rest 
  • Total of 8 sessions/rounds (making the entire Tabata session 4 minutes long)
  • Cool down and stretch
  True Tabata training is not supposed to last longer than one session.

  Whether you're looking to spice up your workout, or get a more-intense workout, in a shorter time, give interval training a try! Your extra hard work will pay off. And it's always good mentally and physically to change up your routine -- it keeps us on our toes, and forces our bodies to adapt.

  Good luck, and let me know what you think!



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