High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is everywhere. Gyms run HIIT classes, people can download a HIIT timer on to their phone… it’s a really popular way of training due to its efficiency and effectiveness but unfortunately the more popular it’s gotten, the less it actually looks like an actual HIIT workout.
There seems to be a common thought process which is ” wow, 5 minutes of that was great… so 10 must be even better… and if I can do 10 then lets go for 20!” This is usually followed with “I don’t need 30 secs rest, I can cut that to 20, actually who needs rest, I’ll cut it to 10 seconds” To get a true and effective HIIT session, this is the opposite of what you want to do. Constantly adding more work doesn’t make the workout better… in truth it is probably destroying your chance of achieving the desired outcome and effect of the session.
What I want to do in this blog is give you a little more detail and understanding so that if and when you do a HIIT session, it really counts.
Lets start with the fundamental, the Why; Why is HIIT so effective?
As I said up top, the name of the game is efficiency. You can see great results in less time using High Intensity… if it’s done right.
Good HIIT programming does everything it can to maintain the intensity. If you lose the intensity then all you have is a shorter workout and that just wont get you where you want to be. The point of HIIT is to gain all the fat burning, muscle building, cardiovascular benefits that come from longer workouts in a shorter space of time. Essentially you need to go hard, rest and repeat.
The amount of work versus rest depends on your goal. If your goal is purely cardio/aerobic then longer bursts of effort with shorter amounts of rest are fine. However, if you want to throw some strength gains in their too then you will have to change it up as when you work out for too long, with not enough rest the intensity drops quickly.
So, now you get why it works, lets look at the How; How should you design a HIIT session?
As you can see long HIIT sessions with short rest periods will likely lead to a drop in intensity. The other issue is burnout. Trying to work at that pace and level consistently will just leave you feeling drained.
So, a good starting point for designing a HIIT is to look at the rest time. If you insist on having shorter rest times, you need to also have shorter workouts. Remember, the goal is to maximise intensity (so that you can maximise your results)
A common and effective HIIT timing is 20 secs work, 40 secs rest. Now to a lot of people reading this, this is going to seem backwards as they would have been expecting 40 secs work, 20 secs rest but I wrote it the right way round, trust me.
If you stick to a static work/rest timing for your workout then understand that in the latter rounds you will likely experience some drop off in intensity as you become fatigued.
A great way to program HIIT is to increase the rest as the rounds progress so that you can maintain the same level of output for the whole workout i.e. 20 secs work, 40 secs rest. 30 secs work, 60 secs rest. 40 secs work, 120 secs rest. The idea is that you rest just enough to recover, while being able to maintain maximum output each set and/or round.
As for how long the total session should be, well, that will vary from person to person. You should stop your HIIT session at the point where you notice your intensity dropping. Ideally you should start with a shorter session, to try and avoid the drop off, and as you improve you can increase the length of your session.
Ok, so now we have a how, we need the What: What exercises should be used in a HIIT session?
As has been said many times, the output is High Intensity so the exercises you chose must be ones that can be performed in that way.
The cardio choices are quite straightforward. You could use a stationary bike or elliptical for example and just go hard during the work periods.
Other good cardio choices are Sprinting, Rowing, Skipping, Ski Erg and the dreaded Assault Bike (other bikes are also good but I do love to hate the Assault Bike).
Strength is a little more complex as the weight needs to either be that you can lift it quickly and be explosive or that you can only do maybe 6 to 8 reps (depending on the movement and your timeframe). People often don’t think of strength work as intense but anyone that has done heavy Deadlifts or fast Power Cleans will understand.
Some of my favourite HIIT choices are Kettlebell Swing, Deadlift, Dumbbell Snatch, Slamball, Battleropes and Power Bag Burpees.
And now as we have got our What, we need the final piece of the puzzle, the When; When should I do a HIIT session.
Given the demands on the body you shouldn’t do a HIIT session more than 3 times a week and just as you should build up the length of the session you should also build up the amount of sessions you do.
Start with one session. Do it well and do it right. After a couple of weeks, add in a second session if you feel like you want to. After another couple of weeks add in a third and stop there!
Just as intensity can drop during a long session, trying to do too much too often will have the same negative effect on your sessions, and therefore your results.
No body comp stats this week as Sunday morning is my check in and we were in Devon.
Mon: 12:15pm Total Body Conditioning
Simple yet effective work… the shit that gets yo fit (if you hit it hard enough); 35 minutes of Row, Bike, Ski – 40 secs on, 20 secs off.
Mon: 1pm Upper Body Strength Work
5 x Negative Pull Ups, 10 min EMOM of 3 Strict Banded Pull Ups and 10 min EMOM of 3 Strict, chest and thighs to the ground, tricep Push Ups. Working hard for bullet proof shoulders 🙂
Mon: 1.30pm Strong Leg Programming
After a chat with Kerry a couple of weeks ago where we agreed I was missing weekly leg strengthening sessions, she wrote me a Strong Leg programme and today was day 1. Build to a heavy set of 3 Front Squats followed by 5 sets of 5 at 80%. I was also supposed to do 5 x 5 Barbell Split Squats but ran out of time and the gym was shutting.
Mon: 6:30pm Indoor Cycle Class + 2 mile Run
I got asked to cover a Monday night class which meant a bit of extra bike work 🙂 I chose a favourite playlist, which I put together specifically for cover classes as it showcases most of the key elements that go into making my periodised programme. Gary and the husband did the class with me so we all turned it into a brick session and added the usual post class 2 mile run.
Tue: 1:30pm Pool Swim
This was one of those sessions were everything leading up to it went wrong so I was just not in the mood! I had to hunt around for change for the parking meter only to lose the ticket down the front of my dashboard. I then went to pay for my session and realised I’d left my debit card at home. Once changed I found I didn’t have the right hairband, only my Tough Mudder headband which is too big for my swim cap meaning I couldn’t put my hair up and wear my cap. No cap meant my dreadlocks getting wet which gets heavy fast. In the pool the space was really busy, which in turn meant the lane was busy and given my foul mood I got my head down, did 400m and got out.
Wed: 6:45am Indoor Cycle Class and 2 mile Run
One more go at coaching my Le Tour session. Definitely my favourite session of my programme and given the feedback I got, a lot of the class seemed to feel the same way. The post class run was bloody cold and both Gary and I felt it in the legs.
Wed: 12:15pm Total Body Conditioning
3 workouts split by a 2 minute rest. 1) 10 min partner AMRAP. 1 = 12 cal Assault Bike. 2 = Max Effort Ski Erg 2) 10 min EOMOM. Max Effort Row 3) 10 min AMRAP of something that I didn’t write down and cannot remember! Seriously, I cannot remember what it was so maybe it was so awful I wiped it from memory!
Thu: 9:30am Indoor Cycle Class
Split the sessions today so that I’m doing the same thing in the morning and the evening. This morning we did an old session I created in 2018 all focussed on endurance. 40 minutes split over 6 tracks meaning 3 long ass climbs broken up by some varied sprint work.
Thu: 1pm Pool Swim
I took my time today, made sure I had everything I needed and arrived at the leisure centre in a much better mood than Tuesday. I felt in the mood to swim and was determined to have a positive experience. The aim was to swim an easy mile and I achieved that goal, leaving with a smile on my face 🙂
Thu: 6:30pm Coach By Colour Indoor Cycle Class
Week 10 of the programme. Just two more weeks before FTP test week and tonights offering is a pure interval session. Each track offers a different type of interval with strict RPM and Watt guidance. I was extremely pleased with how this session went as it was way better than I had hoped it would be. Everyone was moaning at the end, so job done I guess. No brick session tonight as on Sunday the husband and I are running The Grizzly and I have a running interval session planned for tomorrow courtesy of Head Coach Toby, and his coach Matt.
Fri: Unplanned Rest Day
So, as just mentioned I had planned to do a running interval session today but I went to Big Crocodile HQ straight from coaching my classes at Nuffield Chichester and ended up staying longer than planned. It was a productive visit with Pam (owner of Big Croc) and not just because I had stopped at Marks and Spencer on the way so that we could try some of their weirdly flavoured Jaffa Cakes (note: the raspberry are much nicer than the peach and passion fruit). We sorted out quite a few things so it was worth missing my run session for.
Sat: Rest Day
Sun: 10.30am The Grizzly
If you’ve never heard of The Grizzly Race it is a brilliant but brutal 20 mile run across the beaches, fields, swamps, hills and cliffs in and around Seaton, Devon. Carl and I ran the race in 2017 but that year the weather was very much on our side and it was a different, nicer beast. This year it truly was a mental and physical slog. I said to Carl at about mile 15 that if I say in August that we should enter the ballot again he had permission to punch me in the face! However, even on the way home I was already thinking that actually, we may just be doing it again. I left my Garmin watch at home charging and it was quite nice to run ‘naked’ as it’s sometimes called and not worry about heart rate, pace etc.
Body Comp Stats Weight: 76.1kg (+0.5kg) Body Fat %: 28.3 (-0.6) Muscle %: 33.8 (+0.4)
Mon: 12:15pm Total Body Conditioning
Come on, you know it by now… Monday = Row, Bike Ski 🙂 Today it was 1 min Row, Bike, Ski, 2 min, 3 min, 4min and back down. No rest and, as those that mentioned this found out, no sympathy either!
Mon: 1pm 20 min Core Conditioning
Another go at Eliud Kipchoge’s core routine (taken from his training camp for the 2 hour attempt) which takes roughly 10 minutes and then 10 minutes of GHD, Sit Up, Russian Twist, V Up work.
Tue: 12:15pm FTP Test (Take 2)
It isn’t really advisable to do two FTP tests in two weeks but I wanted to validate my Ramp Test result with a 20 minute Test and I really wanted to do it on a Concept Two Bike -Erg. Luckily my Coaches recently purchased one and very kindly let me have some quality time with it.
Man, does it burn!!! My test result was very slightly less than last weeks Ramp Test but I kinda expected that so I wasn’t disappointed. I’m excited to see what I can achieve when I retest in 12 weeks time 🙂 Toby and I were going to do a second workout, something called Acid Bath (I will explain more when we do it) but he informed me that we were postponing that joy as he was still a bit broken from his session yesterday. The only good thing about this was that I could go all out on the FTP test without worrying about what was coming next.
Wed: 6:45am Indoor Cycle Class and 2 mile Run
Certain things are becoming routine and coaching my class then heading straight out with Gary for a quick out and back run is one of them. I am a believer in routine being the enemy but my indoor cycle changes week on week and you can’t beat a brick session when preparing for a triathlon.
Wed 1pm PT with my Coach, Kerry
The focus today was on building leg strength and power so say hello to Bulgarian Split Squats, with a barbell. 5 sets of 5, with a little interlude from Toby informing me these were the thing that fucked him up! Obviously I wasn’t doing them anywhere near as heavy as he was, plus I wasn’t doing any of the other stuff he did with it so I was pretty sure I would be ok… and I was. I mean, don’t misunderstand, it was hard work and my glutes were on fire in that way that you are very aware of your ass for the next 24 hours but I was ok.
Thu: 9:30am Indoor Cycle
It was week 8 of my indoor cycle programme; Unbreakable, a tough race – climb – race pyramid session and one of those sessions that I was cursing myself for creating at certain points.
Thu: 6:30pm Double Coach By Colour Indoor Cycle
I hit the training jackpot this evening. Rather than coaching a class then participating in a class I was asked to cover the second class meaning I got to control the programme. The first class stuck to the programme so, second shot at Unbreakable (I was not the only person cursing me this time!) and then I chose to bring back one of my favourite 2019 sessions called Relentless… which is exactly what it sounds like. A brutal mix of racing and hills that simply didn’t let up.
Fri: Unplanned Rest Day
Again, my Friday plans went awry but like last week, because I had coached an Insanity, LBT and Tabata class all by 10:15am I wasn’t too worried. I was also aware that next Monday is Hell Session day so an extra rest day isn’t the worst thing in the world.
Sat: Planned Rest Day
Sun: 7:30am Pool Swim and Coach By Colour Indoor Cycle Class
I made up for my missing swim by hitting the pool early but I guess other people had a similar idea because wow was the pool busy. But, this turned out to be a good thing as I had a lightbulb moment while following an older lady up and down the lane towards the end of the session. I realised that swimming had suddenly got easier and it was simply because I had slowed my stroke.
I remembered things that I had learned a long time ago and clearly forgotten. Its like rowing… power over speed. Unfortunately I figured this out at the end of the session so I’m excited to get back in the pool and test out my re-learned knowledge.
Quick change and straight up to the cycle studio. I had 30 minutes before the class so I got to put in a decent amount of time in the saddle. I wasn’t coaching this class so I was able to just focus on the work and nothing else. My training plan had me doing a 40 mile ride and by the end of the class I’d hit 37 so not too bad at all. Hopefully the weather changes soon and I can actually get outside.