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High-Intensity Interval Training: Not for the Faint of Heart

Exercise
high intensity interval training

If you’re looking to take your workouts to the next level, there is truly no better way than to get involved in High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT.  It should be noted that HIIT shouldn’t be practiced by amateur gym rats or newbie workout enthusiasts.  There are increased risks of exhaustion, injury, or even death if one isn’t properly conditioned to start practicing HIIT.  If you’re at a risk of heart attack or other cardiovascular problems, HIIT isn’t suggested.  For these people, it’s best to have a more prolonged, less intense workout such as walking or jogging.  For the rest of you that are mentally ready and physical capable to take your exercise to the next level, continue readying.  In addition to covering what it actually is and does for us, we’re going to go over some of the ways to get yourself ready for successful next-level training, some safe exercises you can do once you’re prepared, and how to recover from these intense workouts.

HIIT – The What and Why

In essence, high-intensity interval training is just an extreme play on interval training.  Interval training is a cardiovascular exercise strategy used by athletes all over the world to improve endurance and tweak their bodies to perform at another level for short periods of time.  Alternating between workouts that aren’t intended for prolonged activity and rest periods, effectively training the body to manage energy exertion to improve output and performance when not in a rest period.

Following that logic, high-intensity interval training is just a more intense version of the same exercise.  HIIT is not a type of exercise that should be used to build muscle or lose visceral body fat.  In this regard, it’s much less effective than the typical exercises practices we’ve covered before.  HIIT should only be used to improve conditioning, which is why it’s commonly practiced by only the most serious of athletes.  It’s common for those who work out competitively in a team sport, track and field, or weight lifting competition setting to practice HIIT.  If you’re not in to any of those things, it’s unlikely you’re going to even want to participate as it’s not going to do much for you.

Preparation

As we’ve alluded to, nobody should jump in to high-intensity interval training after not doing any real exercise in the first place.  Get your body used to utilizing muscles it hasn’t really had the pleasure of exercising before.  Make sure you’re staying hydrated and start hitting the gym, treadmill, or pool.  Get your endurance up a bit on some long runs and understand where your limits lay.  This can take weeks to months but it is direly necessary for a successful HIIT regimen and routine.  Be sure to regulate sleep and diet in preparation for this new type of training.  For the typical health nut, exhaustion, dehydration, and muscle injuries are most easily avoided by sleep and diet regulation.

Most of us are already familiar with supplements and the way they can help maximize our workouts.  Well, when you’re going to be performing some high-intensity interval training, this is no different.  Though there are a number of supplements that you can take to get the most out of your body and maximize your workouts, none are more important than beta-alanine supplements.  As we’ve talked about before, beta-alanine increases time to exhaustion by reducing acid levels in your muscles, effectively staving off fatigue.  Slowing the production of the acid built up in your muscles due to exercise is essential for the HIIT enthusiast.  Being able to vigorously work out at an intensely high level is monumentally beneficial for conditioning to competitive athletes.

Another, more common supplement that we also extensively covered, is creatine.  Creatine is important to the high-intensity interval training participant because it allows for a faster recovery time both during the rest periods and after the workout.  The rest periods of the workout are just as important as the exercise periods.  Don’t lose focus in the fact that you’re trying to improve the output of your body during exercise and the only way to maximize that is by having effective rest periods.  Creatine will enhance the rest periods of your workout, allowing for more intense and successful exercise periods, effectively improving the overall training session.

The third key ingredient in the formula to a successful HIIT supplement plan is the most common ingredient.  Caffeine can be acquired simply by taking a shot of espresso or having a cup of black coffee a few minutes before the workout.  Caffeine is known to raise our awareness, stave off drowsiness, and improve focus for short periods of time.  Since we’re not looking to try to stay awake to work a double shift at work, caffeine is ideal since it’s only really effective for 20 to 50 minutes.  During this small window of high-alert status within our body, we can get a better and more intense workout accomplished.  If you’re concerned about feeling full or aren’t a fan of the taste of coffee, try out caffeine pills.  It should be noted that their effects will take longer to kick in and often last for over twice as long as a simple cup of black coffee.

HIIT Exercises

The most important part of a successful high-intensity interval training regimen is the set of exercises that you’re actually going to be practicing.  These exercises are going to vary based on what you’re actually going to be trying to accomplish.  For example, it doesn’t make sense for a competitive weight lifter to spend all of his or her time doing hardcore leg training or sprints.   Just as unlikely is the need for a marathon runner to participate in intense weight training.  We must recognize what we’re looking to accomplish so that we don’t waste our time, energy, and effort on the wrong exercises, which would actually be a hindrance to achieving our goal.  Rather than lecturing on the dos and don’ts for each different type of athlete, we’re going to be throwing up some high-intensity exercise ideas and the best ways to practice them.  Pick and choose the ones that you think pertain to you and will help you condition your body for the best output when it comes to game time.  If you’re not familiar with any of the exercises, we’d suggest looking up instructional videos on YouTube.

Squats with dumbbells

  1. Traveling squats – Use your hips when you squat, keep your back as horizontal as you can. Remember to keep your hip angle and spine angle as perpendicular as possible.  If you’re doing it correctly, your chest will be pointed directly down to the floor.  Take a step, perform a squat, take a step, perform a squat, rinse and repeat.  You may step back and forth or side to side, so long as you’re taking steps in between the squats.  Remember to keep the same form the whole time, but try to speed the process and do it quickly.  If it becomes too easy, add some weights behind your head on a barbell.  Perform the exercise for roughly 30 seconds at a high rate of speed then rest for 15 seconds.  Do this three times and move on to another exercise.
  2. Pushups – Hard to think about pushups in an intense training, but they’re perfect for getting more out of your abs and arms. Rather than counting the amount of pushups that you’re doing, do them for 45 seconds straight, as quickly as you can.  Alternate your three sets of pushups with 15 seconds of rest in between.  If you find that it’s too simple to do 45 seconds of pushups, change it to a one-handed pushup or clap-ups.  Do this three times and move on to another exercise.
  3. Burpees – The worst nightmare of intensity training. Burpees are simple to do since they take very little space and work out many different areas of the body.  In addition to being simple to learn, they’re also extremely tiring when doing them at an intensely high rate.  Burpees should either start or finish your training session.  Do them for 30 seconds with 10 seconds of rest in between each set.  Do 5 sets of burpees to get your blood pumping at the beginning of your workout and 4 if you’re going to end the workout on a high note.
  4. Medicine ball chest pass – Perfect for partners or pairs that are looking to go through the hell that is HIIT together. Don’t hurt each other by throwing the medicine ball as hard as you can but pass the ball back and forth doing the typical chest-pass technique as quickly as you can.  30 seconds of this and your arms are going to be begging for a break.  Don’t let them lag on for too long, follow a 10 second break with another round of intense chest passes.  Do 5 sets of this and you likely won’t want to do any more arm workouts for the day!
  5. Treadmill sprints – These are exactly as they sound. How long can you run at a dead sprint?  If you’re a runner, it’s likely that you can do this for quite a while so let’s go ahead and make this slightly more challenging.  Set your treadmill to a pretty impressive incline and run all out for 40 seconds.  Your heart rate is going to get pretty high so make sure you’re monitoring yourself.  Reduce the speed to a brisk walk and reduce the incline if you need to.  Rest for just as long as you sprinted.  At the end of the 40 seconds, your heart rate should be back to where it normally is when you jog.  At this point, it’s time to get back to it.  Set that incline back to an uncomfortable position and sprint for 40 more seconds.  Repeat this process for 5 to 7 sprints.
  6. Sit ups and crunches – Typically we try to get to a certain number of full crunches or sit-ups before our body tells us we need to quit. This is slightly different.  Ignore that feeling and ignore the counting.  Try to do as many crunches as you can in a 20 second period of time.  Sounds easy enough, right?  Now give yourself just 5 seconds of rest and go back to it.  Do this 5 times and your abs will be begging for the end to come!

There are a number of other exercises available to high-intensity interval trainees.  Ask your trainer for some other ideas or look them up on the internet.  Remember that these are just loose guidelines.  You may need to adjust the exercises above to improve the success rate for your personal physique.

Recovery

Rest, hydration, supplementation.  Remember that.  Successfully combining these three practices will ensure a smooth recovery from the most intense training you’ll ever participate in.  Just as the military and professional sports teams understand the importance of healthy recovery for soldiers and athletes, so should you.  Without the proper recovery system in place, you’re far more likely to sustain an injury.  Make sure you’re getting a consistent 6 to 9 hours of sleep each and every night.  Consider getting a 20 minute cat nap in about 30 minutes prior to your workout, waking up just before the body enters REM sleep so that you’re alert and naturally ready for physical activity.  Down a couple cups of water before your nap.  Once you wake and get ready for the workout, the muscles should be receiving the benefits of the h20 you just provided your body.  Take some sips of water during rest periods of your workout.  You’re going to be sweating it out faster than you’re putting it in!  Keep up with your creatine mixed with L-carnitine L-tartrate.  This will help you feel less sore the day after such a brutal workout by decreasing free radical production and reducing muscle tissue wear and tear.  Being sore is no fun so let’s try to avoid it entirely.

You’ve been given all the tools, now get out there and use them!

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