If I asked you to picture an Instagram fitnessista performing ‘HIIT’ (high intensity interval training), you’d probably be greeted with images of a preened, hardbodied, twenty-something; flashing a pristinely white smile between sets of sit-ups, shadow-boxing and plank holds. But, when scientists talk about HIIT, they’re referring to performing short, repeated bouts of the type of soul sucking efforts that make you question if you’ll ever smile again.
Let me be clear from the start, if the type of workouts that you’ll find in the former category make you happy, don’t ever stop. Compliance is the real science, and nothing is more likely to make you stick to an exercise regime than actually enjoying it; don’t let scientific definitions or smug semantic argumentations ruin that for you.
That being said, if you’re keen to find out what real HIIT feels like, we’ve got a workout for you.
Investigations of HIIT began back with the Wingate Test, where exercise scientists had cyclists perform 30 seconds maximum effort sprints against high resistance, before resting for four minutes and repeating. The key elements here are the words maximum, as in 100%, and the introduction of enough rest to actually repeat that effort again. The same scientists noticed the efficacy of the protocol and investigated various timings, looking for the work/rest sweet spot, drumming up the now famous ‘Tabata’ protocol and many more.
One thing that’s clear is that in order to give the type of effort required to get the most bang for your buck out of HIIT workouts, you need to keep it simple — a fifteen exercise sequence of bodyweight movements may be fun, but transitions between movements and an inability to maintain a high pace before your muscles fatigue all leak precious intensity.
The solution? Pick one ‘cardio’ modality that offers at least some resistance such as: rowing, skiing, riding a stationary bike or hill sprints, and go all out in a series of short, well spaced bouts; and by all out, we mean like your life depends on it.
The following workout is designed to allow you to work up through the gears, reaching a true high intensity effort, before resting long enough to allow you to go another round, and another. That should just about do it.
After a thorough warm-up, pick your poison and get comfortable on your machine of choice.
Start a running clock and go all out for 40 seconds, rest for 20 seconds, and at the beginning of the next minute go hard again, this time working for 30 seconds, before resting for 30 seconds. At the beginning of the next minute, push hard again for 20 seconds this time rest for the remaining 40 seconds. In the final minute of the round, go all out for just 10 seconds, whatever metric you’ve been looking at on your machine (RPM/ Watts/ Mph etc.) aim to hit your highest number in this round; in fact — aim to break the machine.
This 10 second bout concludes round one. Rest for four minutes before repeating the entire protocol in round 2. Rest for another four minutes and repeat for one final round, for a total of around 12 minutes.
Run/ Bike/ Ski/ Row x 3 rounds
3 rounds of
40 second sprint/ 20 second rest
30 second sprint/ 30 second rest
20 second sprint/ 40 second rest
10 second sprint/ 10 second rest
Rest 4 minutes
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