I remember hearing about a credit fitness class, that was offered when I was in college. At the time, I “worked out” in the college gym, so in my mind I had no “need” for such a class. The truth is that my “cheese scone-induced-carbohydrate-fog” prevented me from realizing that the class was exactly what I needed!

This fitness class was not only challenging, it also taught its students the latest, and most effective, fitness techniques. Ultimately, this class guaranteed spectacular results for any student committed to staying consistent with the program. I had friends who took the class and on more then one occasion they returned to the dorm, doubled-over, and gasping something under their oxygen-deprived breath – “Freaking Fartleks!!”

Fartlekis a word I never tire of hearing or saying. It is of Swedish origin: FART- Speed and LEK- Play. “Speed-Play.” My dorm-mates were not swearing, as I had originally believed, rather they were describing the intense running workout they had just been required to perform. In today’s world, the practice of Fartlek Training could be considered a form of High Intensity Interval Training.

HIIT photo 1

What is High Intensity Interval Training?

Put simply, High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is a short workout that alternates high intensity segments with low intensity segments. These workouts are typically between 5 to 30 minutes long, and the interval length varies depending on ability and philosophy. HIIT workouts are also known as Tabata, Gibala and Timmons and, of course, the above mentioned Fartlek.

NOTE: It is important to distinguish between HIIT workouts and traditional Interval training. Interval training  involves alternating hard and easy segments but there is an important difference. The power segment in traditional interval training is 65-80% of maximum output. The power segment during a HIIT workout is approximately 85% maximum effort or above.

Seriously, how much effort?

We are talking about maximum output, gut-wrenching effort – the kind of effort that can induce involuntary grunting, groaning and/or screaming just to complete it.

To be a true HIIT workout:

  • Your maximum effort has to be above 85% output.
  • You will feel a burning sensation in whatever muscles are exerting force.
  • You will have a very hard time even finishing the segment.
  • You will keep glancing at the countdown although it is torturous to see how much time is left.
  • You will be very, very, out of breath at the end of the segment.
  • It will take the full rest period to approach any sense of recovery and even then you will likely still be breathing really hard.

Why would you ever subject yourself to this?

Originally, the concept of High Intensity Intervals was inspired by elite athletes. These finely-tuned machines were looking for a way to get that extra edge from their performance – the HIIT workouts provided that. Practicing a HIIT workout two to three times per week increased agility, strength, endurance and speed when tested across several different sports. These results were not being obtained with regular training. Numerous research studies have examined the HIIT concept and benefits are prolific. Now we can take the science behind HIIT workouts and translate the application to the average, gym-going, population.

What is the bottom line?

  • Improved athletic capacity
  • Improved glucose metabolism
  • Improved fat burning
  • Heightened resting metabolic rate or Afterburn
  • Faster and more effecient  then traditional workouts

AFTERBURN: the concept that a workout can generate increased oxygen consumption long after the workout is over. This increase in oxygen use is often called an “afterburn”. Afterburn has huge impacts on strength development, and weight management. A properly performed HIIT workout (85% or higher of maximum effort during intense segments) has more “afterburn” then a traditional workout, even when the traditional workout burns more calories during the workout.

 Let me break it down for you.

HIIT workouts will help you achieve a leaner and stronger body at a faster rate, then sitting on an elliptical machine for an hour.

 Don’t believe me? Look at this picture of identical twins – Otto was a professional long distance runner and Ewald was a professional sprinter. Not hard to tell who had a stronger, more fit physique!

HIIT photo 2

So how the heck do I actually do this HIIT workout?

The good news is that a HIIT workout can be performed anywhere – with or without equipment. You can perform the segments running stairs, walking trails, on a treadmill, elliptical or even a rowing machine. Any kind of cardio workout can be transformed into a HIIT workout. Even common exercises like jump squats, burpees, chin-ups and push-ups can used provided as long as you apply maximum effort during a segment.

So, you first have to pick your poison (activity) and then set your intervals.Here is an example.

HIIT photo 2

Truthfully, I am not a complex individual. My HIIT profile reflects that.

Here is my general HIIT workout.

  • Warm up. (5-10 minutes)
  • Pick the number of segments I want to perform. (I change it every time I do a HIIT. See my Surprise Your Body Blog.)
  • Randomly pick my rest cycle duration.
  • Make the workout no longer then 30 minutes.

Here is my actual HIIT workout from today:

One minute segments with 30-second rest periods:  (1) mountain- climbers (2) medicine ball throws from overhead to the ground. (3) jump rope and (4) jump squats. Repeat the cycle four times.

 I wish I had followed my dorm-mates along to those torturous, Fartleking fitness classes 25 years ago. If I had, my struggle with weight over the years may have been very different. I encourage you to implement some version of a HIIT workout into your workout regimen. It is faster, and more challenging and it yields exceptional results!

Share your HIIT workout with my other readers!

Caution: Use judgement when starting a HIIT workout format. Work your body into the concept SLOWLY and of course don’t try any new workout without consulting YOUR health care provider. Please workout with a buddy in case you fall down, and or, have a lung collapse from exertion. Most importantly have fun and flex your killer biceps after you are done because they will look awesome. 

List your greatest HIIT below!