HIIT Workout Guide
Whenever someone has the goal of decreasing body fat, High Intensity Interval Training is very often a big part of their training program. But, there is still a lack of understanding as to why it works, how it should be implemented and why it is superior to long slow duration type activities. Check out the article below written by UFE Figure Pro and Gym of the Year Manager Hannah Bryant, and get some answers...
Why HIIT and not LSD (Long Slow Duration)?
There are many negative effects of excessive LSD cardiovascular work, such as an increase in the stress hormone cortisol, a decrease in natural growth hormone, a lowering of testosterone in men, a decrease in thyroid function and a slowing of metabolic rate. If that wasn’t enough, you then have to consider the “gene signalling” aspect of that type of exercise. Does a marathon runner look healthy and well muscled to you? Well if you are performing say 5 hours a week of LSD cardio, the messages you send to your body are in total opposition to those that you are really trying to achieve. For example, excessive LSD will signal your body to break down proteins for fuel, not build them up and increase lean tissue (why would your body want to increase lean tissue to carry around whilst you run for hours and hours? The lean tissue increase would make that harder on your body, which is why it breaks it down). Your body will react to however you treat it, and adapt (allostasis) to the demands you place on it. The body isn’t primarily interested with you having a 6 pack and big arms, it is concerned with Homeostasis, healthy balance, and is reacts to the demands you place on it to achieve that. Your body is an adaptive organism with 1 primary goal in mind; survival.
From a training program perspective, this means that if your goal is to get lean, lose body fat and maintain a healthy and fit body, then there are certain key messages you want to send to your body:
Increase my metabolic rate – short bursts of intense exercise achieve this; long slow activities mean the opposite, burn fuel slower.
Increase my lean tissue – Muscle is the most metabolically active tissue in the body and responsible for using the most calories, and hence the most fat. If you add lean tissue, you burn more calories every minute. If you lose lean tissue then you burn less.
Optimise natural positive hormones like testosterone, growth hormone – This is best achieved through resistance training and short bursts of intense exercise. Endurance type workouts decrease both of these.
Decrease and minimise negative hormonal responses – you should always be trying to minimise the negative hormones like cortisol, adrenaline and hence control insulin. Cortisol is a natural hormone and at the right levels and right times it is a positive for each of us, helps us repair and maintain good health. Too much however will lead to muscle wasting and excessive fat storage, mainly on the abs for men (ever heard someone say “I wish I could just lose this bit”?).
Scheduling HIIT -
One consideration for the scheduling of your HIIT session is how it will fit with your strength training, resistance work and other elements of your program. One reason why many steer away from HIIT as opposed to LSD cardio activity, is that they feel it fatigues them for their main lifts. An example would be a HIIT sprint session on Tuesday and how that affected a Squat session on Wednesday.
Hannah demonstrates sprint
This is of course all goal dependent; what are your primary targets for your training and why is HIIT the best choice.
Typically HIIT is used to decrease body fat and is completed either on days off from weight training, or immediately after weight training, or on an empty stomach. I advise people to fit their HIIT work into their schedule after they have prioritised their resistance training; I believe resistance training to still be the number one requirement for success in any training program.
As a basic rule of thumb, try to avoid intense HIIT sessions on body parts that you are going to be working with weights in the following 48 hours.
How hard should HIIT be?
This is again I believe a very misunderstood concept about HIIT and training programs in general. I think it comes from the very simplistic “ra ra” old school approach of working as hard as you can at every single session. “Hard” has no measure or definition, and is generally the type of language used from a very uneducated coach (a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing) or an ego driven trainer who’s marketing pitch to you is “I will smash you up”. Great!!!
These type of programs without any measure and coaching practices are in my opinion the biggest cause of burnout and negative type symptoms, long term weight gain, depression. If you ever see a woman working out like crazy charging around the gym being shouted at, with skinny bony arms and huge thighs and glutes, grey faced, drinking caffeine, eating zero carbs and married to the cardio every day, you are probably witnessing this happening right in front of your eyes. The glutes and legs will never get better, as she will be dealing with some very high estrogen levels, and well into phase 2-3 of her adrenal burnout. It’s a tough road back from there, and many never make it, they end up very overweight and on medication for depression, thyroid or whatever else their GP can think of.
HIIT in my opinion should be focussed around the 75-85% intensity range at the hardest part. I don’t believe it is possible for people to go 100% at every workout, in fact I recommend that only 10% of their training year be spent in that top end zone. It simply isn’t effective, the damage done is too severe and the body cannot repair well enough. You have to have an understanding of the GAS curve, and then how the nervous system responds to exercise, its sympathetic and parasympathetic branches, before you can start to effectively design programs.
Remember, the body is an adaptive organism, it is designed to take some stress and repair and grow from it. But, if that stress is too high and it cannot repair, then you can get into serious problems.
HIIT training should therefore be pitched around that “hard but not a killer” type level. That is where you will make the most gains. It will then also serve as a type of “Restoration” from the high intensity work the previous day.
And remember, what is the intent of training? Adaptation right, to make improvements, whether that be bigger, smaller, or just happier. Are you getting what you want and deserve from your training right now? If not, you probably don’t have a good enough program.
Empty Stomach HIIT Best?
Again, this is totally goal dependant, but as most people are using HIIT as a way to get leaner, then yes, I really like HIIT completed first thing on an empty stomach. I often complete HIIT workouts after a period of fasting, using Branch Chain Amino Acids or Leucine and Glutamine prior to that session. You are never going to perform at your best whilst you are training without fuel, but if your goal is to decrease body fat, then I do think this is the most effective method.
A Typical HIIT Workout –
I try to get some variety into my HIIT sessions, I like to use the great outdoors, bodyweight circuits, throws, jumps, all sorts of activities. Typically, if I am performing 3 sessions per week, then that session will stay the same for the entire training month, 4 weeks, then I will change it (Periodisation) for the new month to support my other training goals.
I also increase the intensity over a 3-4 week period, so my body is constantly having just enough stimulation, not too much too burn it out.
Below are 3 actual HIIT workouts that I complete myself:
Warm up, 10-15 minutes of core temperature work, mobility and prehab with some Central Nervous System awakening type movement.
Workout 1 – Rope Battles and tyre flips.
30 seconds of rope battling, rest 30 seconds. 30 second of tyre flipping, rest 30 seconds.
Repeat for 20-30 minutes.
Workout 2 – Tempo Sprints and Agility
Same warm up as above.
Set up agility sprints with cones, such as the letters “W” and “M”, for a course that covers around 50-60m total. Complete a set (approx 15 seconds) rest, 30 seconds, repeat.
Workout 3 – Medicine Ball Workout
Same warm up as above.
Using a 3-6kg medicine ball and a wall to rebound, perform 30 second of activity, with 30 seconds rest using the following exercises:
Kneeling overhead wall throw.
Push press to wall.
Low to high med ball wood chop.
Scoop from squat to wall.
HIIT applied to Sports Specific Goals –
If you are playing a sport then match your HIIT training to the movements and time frames of that event. For example, if you play rugby, then some type of pushing or wrestling activity for a period of 10-15 seconds, followed by a recovery would be a good example. Tyre battling is a good example here.
For football or sports that require change of direction and agility type movements, then running through obstacles, focussing on hip mobility, stride patterns, deceleration speeds is a really good option.
In this sense, you can both work to improve at your sport whilst achieving the fat loss targets that HIIT works so well for.
In Gym HIIT Sessions –
There are of course many much simpler HIIT workouts that can be carried out on the Bike, Ergo, Versa Climber, Treadmill etc. As a general rule, if you are starting to exercise using HIIT, then focus on a 1:2 work to rest ratio, and decrease the rest time, or increase the work time, until you achieve the 1:1 type ratio. HIIT is very effective at increasing general fitness, so this is a very sensible natural method of progression. Target a 75-85% heart rate figure at your periods of work, and then watch it lower as you rest between sets.
*Note – Remember to put your HIIT workouts in a place where they don’t detract from your main strength lifts.
HIIT training is a superb tool for natural athletes and anyone who wants to decrease body fat and sustain that long term. It provides a time efficient, varied and fun opportunity to speed your progress without any of the negative reactions that LSD type cardio may bring.
If you want to add some science to your training to speed up your gains, please contact me to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hannah Bryant is a UFE Professional Figure Athlete, lifetime natural and Manager of Winners 2000 Torquay, the National Gym of the Year 2012. She also works with clients as a Personal Trainer and Holistic Lifestyle Coach and teaches group classes to adults and juniors. She has over 15 years of experience in the fitness industry and is currently in training for the UFE Professional Show in Canada in November. Her website can be found at www.hannahbryant.co.uk, and she is available l for online coaching, consultation or Training Camp packages at her gym in Torquay. Twitter - HannahUFEpro.