Quickest way to get ripped for summer?
High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) comprises a series of exercising protocols that alternate intense activity with rest periods. HIIT sessions are short, but they pack a punch and are a great way to get ripped for summer. Elite athletes have used these for decades, to ever greater results. Unfortunately, most of us — recreational athletes, weekend warriors, people who just want to get fit before the summer — well, we’ve been relegated to one of fitness’ most widespread dogmas: if you want to lose weight, improve your cardiovascular health, or if you want to live longer… then steady does it. And they paint such a lovely picture: get into those grey sweatpants that don’t fit you, and drag yourself around the park for hours on end.
Don’t get me wrong: endurance sports are awesome, and on occasion I’ve found myself stranded miles away from home just for the LOLs. However, there’s an exuberance in each one of us that’s just bursting to get out: Go faster! Go harder! Just GO! And there’s really nothing wrong with it. On the contrary, the science is in, and it’s the way of the future.
Ain’t nobody got time for that!
The number one reason people give for not working out is lack of time. There’s no denying that our modern lifestyles leave little room for exercise. Recent surveys by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that almost two in three Australians are overweight or obese. Let that sink in.
HIIT allows you to reap the benefits of aerobic exercise, while keeping your schedule wide open. Sessions can be as short as 4 minutes, such as tabata workouts… with one caveat: you need to go hard. How hard? This is my rule of thumb: are you bleeding out of your eyes? No? Then go harder.
That doesn’t sound safe!
Now, seriously — if you’re bleeding out of your eyes stop working out and go see a doctor!
In the past, one of the main concerns with HIIT is that it could damage the cardiovascular system. During the last decade, diverse studies have addressed this very issue. There is consensus among the experts: HIIT is safe even for patients recovering from heart surgery — unstable cardiovascular disease cases being the exception. In fact, research now turns its eyes to the therapeutic and longevity effects of High Intensity Training.
Almost anyone can practice HIIT safely. However, take a word of caution: if you have any concern about your ability to HIIT, you must consult with a healthcare professional before undertaking any new workout routine.
But I don’t like running…
One of the best things about HIIT, is that it comes in many flavours. You can run, cycle, swim, jump rope, use kettlebells or your own bodyweight. The principles you should keep in mind are: choose activities that use a lot of muscles, and then go hard. Get creative: one of my favourite HIITs is pumping my longboard then cruising for recovery.
HIIT sessions deconstructed
Follow these protocols to get ripped for summer! Each protocol consists of an intense effort followed by a recovery period, that makes one interval. For example, a 20:40 (1:2 ratio), 15 interval HIIT session, would be 20 seconds of intense effort, followed by 40 seconds of rest, repeated 15 times. Such a workout would take 15 minutes, plus a few extra minutes to warm up and warm down.
HIIT protocols follow simple rules. Short efforts — 20 seconds or less — are the most intense. Longer efforts — 30 seconds and up — should not be done at maximum capacity. The resting period should get shorter the fitter you get; a 2:1 ratio is VERY intense. Finally, a session should not last longer than 30 minutes, and shouldn’t be repeated on consecutive days; three times a week seems to be the norm.
A few classic HIITs
Little-Gibala (4:5 ratio, hard but manageable)
Best with classic rock or jazz
60:75 seconds, 8-12 intervals
Playtime: 18-27 minutes
Zúñiga (1:1 ratio, symmetrical and rewarding)
Best with electronica or hip-hop
Playtime: up to 30 minutes
Tabata (2:1 ratio, insane)
Best with black metal or kawaii
20:10 seconds, 8 intervals
Playtime: 4 minutes
Fartlek (speed-play in Swedish, ratio by feel)
Best with your favourite music
It’s by feel but you need to push yourself hard for it to be effective
Playtime: up to half an hour
The problem with HIIT is that, well, if you’re doing it right…it hurts! Music is a great way to stay motivated, and also to keep track of the intensity. Music with a high tempo and a clear beat keeps you on cue, and prevents you from slacking. That way you can get the most out of your sessions and get ripped for summer.
We at FlowFonix have curated a playlist with some of our favourite songs to turn ourselves inside-out. Which tracks did we miss?
Driver, James (2012) HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training Explained. Createspace Independent Pub.
A comprehensive guide, and an easy read. A wealth of examples and protocols.
Cassidy, S., Thoma, C., Houghton, D. et al. “High-intensity interval training: a review of its impact on glucose control and cardiometabolic health” Diabetologia (2017) 60: 7. https://doi.org/10.1007/s00125-016-4106-1.
A fantastic open-source article that reviews all of the literature and concludes the safety and benefits of HIIT. It is wonderfully documented, and despite being a technical read, it’s worth the time.
Batacan RB, Duncan MJ, Dalbo VJ, et al “Effects of high-intensity interval training on cardiometabolic health: a systematic review and meta-analysis of intervention studies”
Br J Sports Med 2017;51:494-503. http://bjsm.bmj.com/content/51/6/494
A meta-analysis that shows that HIIT has beneficial effects on overweight/obese populations.
Kessler, H.S., Sisson, S.B. & Short, K.R. “The Potential for High-Intensity Interval Training to Reduce Cardiometabolic Disease Risk”
Sports Med (2012) 42: 489. https://doi.org/10.2165/11630910-000000000-00000
Very comprehensive and highlights the superiority of HIIT when compared with continuous moderate exercise, at least for several important factors.
Gibala, Martin J.1; McGee, Sean L.2 Metabolic Adaptations to Short-term High-Intensity Interval Training: A Little Pain for a Lot of Gain? Exercise & Sport Sciences Reviews: April 2008 – Volume 36 – Issue 2 – pp 58-63 http://journals.lww.com/acsm-essr/Fulltext/2008/04000/Metabolic_Adaptations_to_Short_term_High_Intensity.3.aspx
An article by Gibala himself. This article highlights the benefits of HIIT in healthy individuals.
Overweight & Obesity. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. https://www.aihw.gov.au/reports-statistics/behaviours-risk-factors/overweight-obesity/overview