Although high intensity interval training (H.I.I.T.) has been around for some years, it is reaching new levels of popularity, thanks to the explosion of interest in sports that require not just muscles, but superior endurance and cardiovascular conditioning such as ultimate fighting, mixed martial arts, and obstacle and survival courses. The basic premise behind H.I.I.T. is to alternate a short bout of high intensity, maximum output cardio, with a short rest period in repeated cycles. The total workout time will be shorter than conventional training, but several studies have indicated that H.I.I.T. produces results superior to other forms of cardio exercise. From reduction of body fat, increases in lean mass, hormone response, and aerobic and anaerobic capacity, H.I.I.T. appears to be a more efficient and more effective way to exercise.

There are different methods of H.I.I.T., but most have certain things in common. They require a warm-up period before, and a cool-down period after. The “rest” period is not inactivity like between sets in weight lifting, but just scaled back intensity of the cardio to the point where you recover from the high intensity interval, and are ready for the next interval. Most methods require approximately 8 repetitions of the cycle in one training session, although this can be adjusted for individual preference or fitness level. One of the more intense protocols is called the Tabata method (named after Japanese Professor Izumi Tabata). This is 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest, and the cycle is repeated 8 times in succession.

The Gibala method (once again, named after the researcher who developed it) is 3 minutes warm-up, 60 seconds of exercise at maximum effort, followed by 75 seconds of rest for 8 to 12 cycles. The Timmons protocol involves 2 minutes of moderate effort followed by a 20 second burst of maximum effort, repeated for 3 sets. There is the Peak Fitness method, with 30 seconds of maximum effort, followed by 90 seconds of rest. As with most methods, this is repeated 8 times.

The Fartlek method, developed in Sweden, is a hybrid between conventional, continuous training, and interval training. After a warm-up period, the person is performing continuous cardio but the intensity level is varied throughout the workout. With Fartlek, there is no true “rest” period but continuos intensity cardio is the baseline, from which the trainer performs the occasional burst of maximum effort. Needless to say, Fartlek is one of the more physically taxing methods, but it produces correspondingly greater results. It is no surprise that variants of the Fartlek method is part of the training regimen of the U.S. Marine Corp.

Supplement companies initially developed pre-workout products to help bodybuilders push more weight in the gym, but most of these formulations, with their focus on energy and nitric oxide production, fit very well into the H.I.I.T. regimen.

A word of caution about H.I.I.T. As it involves repeated bouts of maximum effort, it may not be appropriate for older people, sedentary people, people who are out of shape, or those with cardiovascular conditions or at risk of heart attack or stroke. It may help you get in better shape, but you already have to BE in good shape to do it. It is more suited to experienced trainers, and may not be the best program for beginners. If in doubt, consult with a qualified physician before embarking on any H.I.I.T. program.


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Tuesday, January 28, 2014