By Jim Vaglica
When I walk into my gym I often see familiar faces walking on the treadmills or methodically cranking away on the elliptical machines. When I finish my workout some of the same people are still plodding on the same equipment. And unfortunately, these people are still carrying the same body fat they had when I joined this gym two years ago.
If you’ve been following the same program for months and you’re not seeing results. Why would you continue to follow the same exact program? No doubt you’ve heard Albert Einstein’s quote “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”
I can’t think of anything more boring than endless low intensity steady state cardio – especially within four walls. I have the patience of a chipmunk, so if I had to spend an hour on a piece of cardio equipment I would probably tie a noose to the pull up bar. Luckily, research has shown that Steady state cardio is not the best way to burn fat and it may even eat away at all your hard earned muscle.
So what ‘s the alternative? Don’t drop the walking entirely. Instead, break it up with a few brief explosions of speed. It may not be fun at first, and your motivation will be tested to the limit. But realize this: You only get out what you put in. And, shouldn’t training feel like this anyway?
High Intensity Interval Training Is comprised of short bursts of all out effort alternated with short periods of low-effort “recovery” time. H.I.I.T. has been around for years and with each new research study more benefits are discovered.
H.I.I.T. has been shown to burn fat while preserving muscle mass, increase growth hormone, greatly improve cardio capacity and increase your metabolic rate for hours and even days after a session. As if all these benefits weren’t enough, I haven’t even mentioned my favorite aspect of H.I.I.T. training. I can get it done in under 20 minutes.
It sounds like magic but my advice to novices: Don’t jump in too quickly. H.I.I.T can be very taxing on the central nervous system. You should ease into it as you would your weight training as if you returned after an extended layoff. I also suggest no more than two H.I.I.T. sessions per week especially if you’re also hitting the weights hard 3 or 4 times a week.
Ready? Then let’s get started
Sprint – Walks
Sprint- walks are the classic example of H.I.I.T. training. First, warm up your body by running at a slow to medium pace for about five minutes. The sprint portion should last between 10 & 20 seconds and the walk portion could last between 20 seconds and two minutes, depending on your fitness level and the progression of your training session. The walk portions tend to increase the further you get into the session. If you choose to do sprint / walks on a track I would suggest that you sprint the straight-aways and walk the curves. You could choose not to travel anywhere and just sprint in one direction and walk back to the same starting point. I do this in the parking lot, at my gym, after my resistance work. In my opinion the most interesting option is to choose a running route on the road. I like to leave my house and run out to a point where I feel I’m sufficiently warmed up. My running route has telephone poles spaced every 100 feet so I use those as my markers. If I choose to sprint for three phone poles that’s the equivalent of a 100 yard dash and it takes me about 15 seconds (OK, so I’m not Hussein Bolt but neither are you) I will then walk for a series of phone poles until I feel I can sprint again.
If you’re not accustomed to sprinting you need to use caution. Sprinting is a dynamic movement and notorious for causing injuries including ankle sprains and tears of the Achilles tendon, hip flexor and hamstring. Most muscle tears are a result of your central nervous system triggering a muscle to contract at the wrong time in a dynamic movement. Give your CNS time to gradually adapt to sprinting. Accelerate in a controlled manor and avoid jackrabbit starts. Don’t try to jump right into sprints at a 100 % effort on your first training session or you’ll find yourself limping home while mumbling all kinds of nasty things about me and my bright ideas.
Hill sprints are one of my favorite H.I.I.T. style workouts. Most likely you’ve got a steep hill within a half mile of your house. In the time it takes you to run to the hill you’ll already be warmed up. Start at the bottom of the hill and run up to the top as fast as you can. The thing about hill sprints is that they dictate the pace of your run. By the time you get to the top of the hill your 100% effort may equate to barely a run or even a walk. Running up hill gives you a tremendous pump in your legs. You then walk back down the hill and repeat as many times as you choose. After my fourth hill sprint my heart feels like it’s going to burst out of my chest. The run back to your house is your cool down phase.
H.I.I.T. Using Cardio Equipment
You can perform H.I.I.T. style training using cardio equipment. I believe it works best on machines where you set the pace such as bikes or elliptical machines. I have tried it on a treadmill but it’s a pain having to press the buttons to change the speed.
If I use a stationary bike I choose Quick Start and I set the resistance to the highest level so it’s difficult to pedal. After my warm up I’ll start my sprint phase by standing up and pedaling as fast as I can for 30 seconds. Then I’ll sit down and pedal for 30 seconds at a slow pace for my walk phase. I’ll continue this cycle for 20 minutes and my legs will be so pumped I can barely walk.
If I use an elliptical machine I choose Quick Start and warm up. Don’t hold the handles that move back and forth or they’ll limit your sprinting speed. You can hold the stationary handles but I prefer not to hold on because it requires a lot of core activation and it will improve your balance. Again, I’ll perform 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 30 seconds at a slow pace. At the end of some of the walk phases I’ll come to a stop and reverse direction. You’ll find that you can’t sprint as fast in reverse but it stresses your leg muscles in a much different manor.
Git ‘er Done
I’ve always been of the opinion that if you really hate doing something then you won’t do it for long so find some way to do it that you don’t hate. I need to incorporate some cardio into my routine and I don’t have the time or patience for long boring sessions. H.I.I.T. has more benefits and it takes less time than traditional cardio but if you’re truly using High Intensity, be prepared for a grueling workout.
Back in 1796 Madame de Stael was asked her opinion of steady state cardio vs. H.I.I.T. and she simply stated “One must, in one’s life, make a choice between boredom and suffering.”
Jim Vaglica is a Strength & Conditioning Specialist, Police Sergeant, SWAT Operator, Competitive / Sponsored Athlete and Writer. Jim also appeared on Mark Burnett’s Epic Adventure Race – Expedition Impossible during the summer of 2011.