OK. Fall 2017 HIIT Challenge, Week 4. If you need to catch up, no big deal (this is a self-paced challenge during Oct-Dec this year, and you don’t need 12-13 weeks to meet its basic goals). Check out Week 1 or browse other prior weeks as needed.
If you’re taking this challenge, you plan to try out at least a few HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) classes at an in-person gym or studio, and experiment with online classes or on-your-own work at home. These are all ways to help you experience how HIIT can combine cardio and strength conditioning, and burn a lot of calories (during and after your workout).
But: a workout doesn’t have to formally be “HIIT” to confer some HIIT benefits. You can/should add some interval concepts into running, cycling, swimming or “traditional” strength training. As architect of your own long-term body-and-soul health, this would be a good example of coming to understand what different workout approaches can do for you, and orchestrating them within your own game plan.
So please read on for my two cents on how to “HIIT-ify” your current workouts.
HIIT-IFY YOUR CURRENT WORKOUTS
This topic of introducing harder intervals into all kinds of training might seem obvious. At one level, it is. Just ask my kids — I’m good at being the Oracle of the Obvious sometimes. You can pay a lot of attention to your fitness watch and be carefully timing intervals…or use a HIIT-app to cue you to start and stop intense phases.
But if you’re like me, a lot of times you don’t want to be this scientific or tech-driven. You want workouts to be more intuitive (see this on “un-quantifying yourself” every now and again). So here are maybe-less-obvious ways to introduce HIIT concepts into everyday workouts, without making a big fuss out of it.
You can use telephone poles or neighborhood street blocks to run intervals naturally. Sprint to the next phone pole or street corner (or the one after next if they’re close together), then slow down to a normal pace (or even slower) to the marker you choose. Then sprint again. Etc. Often, on a five- or six-mile run, I’ll do four or five such cycles of sprinting and resting. I should probably do a few more, and now that I’m writing this, to avoid feeling hypocritical, I will.
In addition to the intensity benefit for your cardio conditioning and calorie-burning, there are two other benefits here. When you sprint, you’re actually using muscles a little differently than for a slower-paced run. You’re pushing off the back foot harder, and moving your legs faster. Thus sprint intervals add a dimension to how running exercises your lower body. Also, there’s a muscle memory aspect of taking steps at a faster cadence…and when you don’t do that much, your body gets less good at it.
Old backpacker’s joke: “You know the best way to get in shape for walking uphill with a pack? Walk uphill with a pack.” Similarly, the best way to get in shape for running a bit faster…is to run a bit faster.
Running OR Cycling.
Hills! Picking out a hilly route is a natural way to add harder segments into a run or a ride. If you’re striving to stay fit and vital as you age, purposefully tackling hills is a great thing to do (here are some ways to keep saying “hell no, I’m not too old to go up that hill!”).
Guys who are in a Masters swim program are consciously doing intervals during most of their workouts. But if that’s not you (and you should still swim sometimes anyway, brother), here are two lower-key ways to get interval benefits during a swim.
For 5-10 lengths during your workout, just go faster. By “faster,” I mean consciously upping your stroke cadence as much as you can without starting to have bad form and thrash around (which actually makes you go slower). You don’t need a timer to tell you you’re working harder when you do this, I promise. Do a hard length like this, make the return length at your normal pace, then do the next length fast again. If/when five cycles of this “doesn’t get it done” for you, work your way toward 10.
Also, you can experiment with reduced breathing frequency to make your oxygen delivery system and muscles work harder. For example, I normally breathe every three strokes — breathe left, left-hand stroke, right-hand stroke, then breathe right, etc. During each swim, for five or 10 lengths (again, with a normal length for recovery) I make this every five strokes. Your body works harder when you do this. And as a bonus, you can focus better on some aspects of your pure stroke form when you’re not throwing in a breath so often.
During any form of strength training, if you limit rest time to 30 seconds between sets, you should start to feel some pronounced intensity effects. As opposed to leisurely toweling off your face, getting a drink of water, maybe bullshitting with some guys or gals around the gym. Just saying, man.
You especially will feel these benefits if you do multi-joint “compound” moves that work multiple muscles and thus demand a lot of oxygen delivery. Moves that qualify here include:
- Bar dips
- Squats (pretty much any form of them)
- Kettlebell swings (especially these!)
- Burpees (really especially these — I think it would be nearly impossible to do legitimate burpees without getting a HIIT feeling)
- Core work
Doing strength training at a higher-intensity cadence, and mainly doing these types of high-energy-demand moves, has allowed me to change my weekly fitness mix. I went down to only three “classic” cardio workouts per week, plus two full-body HIIT-like workouts and a power yoga practice.
To each his own, but this or something like it seems like a good mix for a 45+ guy who wants to blend endurance, strength, and flexibility. And keep his calorie-burn high to manage weight.
Of course, indoor bikes, elliptical trainers, treadmills and other cardio machines have built-in interval programs. So that should make it easy to HIIT-ify workouts using these. But at least for myself, I think it’s hard to make yourself be really intense on these machines. There’s a temptation to be more moderate while you’re watching ESPN or Netflix or CNBC. So to get HIIT benefits here, you need to change mindset and purposefully select a workout profile / level so it’s HARD at the high points and you’re at least a little desperate for the easy interval to come along.
I hope you try one or more of these ways to HIIT-ify everyday workouts. But also try “real” HIIT as outlined in our challenge goals. Via these two means, you can be using “a belt and suspenders” approach to ensure you get intensity into your fitness routine. Questions, ideas or suggestions for other guys going through all this? Use our private Facebook members page.