Navigating the Wild West of Interval Training | An Excerpt from my bestselling book, Becoming Vitruvian Man
In my book, Becoming Vitruvian Man, I dissect one of the most talked about topics in the last few years- interval training. I called this chapter “Navigating the Wild West of Interval Training” because there is so much conflicting information about it.
Enter the principle of High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT.
This is the new school of training, it has put concepts like CrossFit on the map. Trainers who are using these principles, along with regular strength training are having the most effective results with their clients and teams. Period.
HIIT training is about getting the most out of the effort you put in. It’s about performing all out bouts of either one or a series of exercises, followed by a short rest, for repeated rounds. HIIT is challenging, but it is not designed to break you down, it’s designed to build you up!
The magic of HIIT doesn’t happen during training, it’s what happens after you’ve finished. With long, steady distance cardiovascular exercise (traditional cardio), your body burns a certain amount of calories during the training session, then quickly returns to its regular metabolic rate. When we perform HIIT training, in any of its many variations, once we’ve stopped training, our metabolic rate remains elevated for the next 24-48 hours. This is known as Exercise Post-Oxygen Consumption, or EPOC. This is the fat burning secret that is missing in traditional cardio. It’s also why HIIT should not be performed on successive days.
So, what constitutes HIIT? Well, that’s complicated.
We are currently living in the Wild West of HIIT (or metabolic training, whatever you want to call it). There are people out there doing training sessions until they are lying in heaps on the ground. In my opinion, that’s not fitness, that’s torture.
Having said that, HIIT is challenging. It’s designed to burn large amounts of energy (calories) in short period s of time, creating an oxygen deficit which is being paid back for the next 24-48 hours. EPOC, remember?
HIIT training isn’t for everyone. If you are deconditioned, you’ll need to ease into training in this manner. Also, if you’re coming off of an injury or layoff from training, you’ll need a gradual progression in volume and intensity. And if you’re new to exercise, also plan to do less, not more!
We’re going to take a look at some options for training, as well as learn the nomenclature for this type of workout in the next section.
Sprinting is probably the best exercise that almost nobody does. If you want to engage all of your skeletal muscles maximally, you should sprint. Sprinting is not jogging. It is not running. It is a maximal effort, all out run for speed, covering either a specific distance, or for time.
I highly recommend that sprinting be performed no more than once per week, as an intensity technique to really get your nervous system firing as effectively as possible. Perform sprinting for either time (10-20 second repetitions) or distance 100-200 meters), for 5-10 repetitions. The time between sets can either be 2-3 minutes, or heart rate based (perform the next repetition when your heart rate has returned to 120 beats/min).
Sprinting doesn’t only need to be performed through running, however. You can sprint using a rowing machine, on a stationary bike, in a pool, or using a VersaClimber or stepper as well. The sky’s the limit.
A complex is performing a series of exercises using a particular strength training tool (barbell, dumbbells, kettlebell, medicine ball, bodyweight, etc) in succession, for either repetitions or time. Complexes may be short or long in duration (1 min-10 mins). They can be low or high in repetitions (60-100+ reps), and they can be few or many exercises (3-20). All complexes have one thing in common-they use lighter weights and move quickly from one exercise to the next.
The weight of a complex, regardless of tool used, is chosen based on the exercise that you can move the least amount of weight in. For example, if you are performing a kettlebell complex that involves swings, cleans, lunges, presses, and triceps extensions, you would choose the weight based on the triceps extensions, as they are the most difficult exercise (smallest muscle group) and will require you to use the least amount of weight.
Complexes should be logical and progress using full body movements, from large muscles to smaller muscles, and lower body to upper body, and push to pull. It takes a bit of thought to put complexes together, but once you’ve got a few working for you, it’ll really be a valuable tool in the toolbox.
COMBINATIONS OF TOOLS
Just like it sounds, this method combines different modalities to make up a training session. For example, sprinting followed immediately by a couple of bodyweight exercises (either for reps or time), then repeat for a number of rounds. I’ve given a couple of examples below.
SESSION 1-Sprinting and Bodyweight
9 reps of: 20 second sprint, 10 burpees with pushups, and 10 situps
*This concept is a play on the Hurricane concept, created by the great Martin Rooney, CEO of Training for Warriors, and former Olympian!
SESSION 2-Bodyweight and Kettlebells
10 round of 10 reps/exercise, 1 minute between rounds of:
-Kettlebell Overhead Triceps Extensions
The combinations are limitless, and your imagination (and intelligent application of movements, sets, reps, and rest) are the only limiting factor. You don’t need a lot of equipment, just your brain, a plan, and a place to do it!
There are a ton of resources with WODs (Workout of the Day) suggestions. Amazon is a great resource for downloadable content onto your smartphone or tablet, with thousands of WODs.
(This entry is an excerpt from my book, BECOMING VITRUVIAN MAN, available for download on Amazon Kindle)