On our flight home from the Florida Keys, seated directly behind me, was a man. A large man with a whopper of a cold. The man spent the entire two hours sniffing, hacking and otherwise sneezing his face off.
Because he was sitting in the very last row of the aircraft, his infected mucous had nowhere to travel but forward (aka, the back of my neck and into my airways). And because cabin air is so efficiently recycled (go green!!!), I’m pretty sure I was inhaling his infected mucous about every 10 minutes or so throughout our two-hour flight.
Exactly 48 hours after our flawless landing, I felt a tickle in my throat, and a twinge of fatigue. Now I sit with watery eyes, a runny nose, a cup of chamomile tea and a box Puffs Plus. Thank you very much, Mucous Man.
But my post isn’t about any of this. It’s about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).
The only reason I tell you about Mucous Man and my subsequent illness is because it’s totally affecting my ability to focus, to think, to string together words to make sentences.
I keep looking at the same word word word word word word before the meaning sinks in. I keep reading the same sentences over and over. I keep reading the same sentences over and over. I keep reading the same sentences over and over.
And I keep thinking I just want to climb into bed and call it a nightie-night.
But no. Come hell, high water or snot, I will not forsake Fitness Friday. I may, however, plagiarize large portions of this post so it makes sense. Or worse, I may cease making any sense at all.
Alrighty then. With that said, let’s talk about HIIT: a method of cardio vascular work out that I did NOT do today or yesterday because I was too busy wiping my chapped nose. But it is a method I have used on and off for about 10 years.
One of the key benefits of HIIT is preventing any type of fitness plateau. This is beneficial because with other types of work outs, your body will eventually adapt and stop producing weight-loss benefits. HIIT is designed around pushing your body to constantly adapt and keep it guessing. It does this by providing periods of intensity, alternating with periods of rest and recovery.
A primary difference between HIIT and traditional cardio workouts is in the amount of time needed for the workout. Excluding warm ups and cool downs, a HIIT lasts no longer than 20 minutes. This may seem like a very short time, but believe me; if you do the workout correctly, you will feel like you are going to die by the end of it.
Because it is a very demanding type of activity, you will not want to jump into it unprepared. If you are injured, severely unfit of have a medical condition, please see your doctor first. But if you are an otherwise healthy beginner, you can begin doing HIIT for a shorter period of time (15 minutes) at a modified pace.
Intensity for HIIT is measured on a scale from 1 to 10 of perceived exertion. That is, how intense the workout feels to you. For example, 1 is pretty much standing still, 5 may be a light jog and 10 is running for your life, as if a large man is chasing you trying to sneeze his infected mucous on the back of your neck.
If you are a beginner, you will not want to start out jumping from a 1 to a 10 in your first workout. Instead, it would be much kinder to your body if you work your way up gradually from a 1 to maybe a 7 or an 8 by the end of your HIIT.
Remember, an 8 for me will not be the same as an 8 for you. For me, it may mean a moderate run. For you it may mean a fast walk. No worries. Just learn to read your body so you know what your absolute limit is.
One thing that helps me find my 10 is to picture someone (say, a large mucous-producing man), screaming in my ear to go as fast or as hard as I can. Your 10 is literally your top limit—as far as you could push yourself, even if someone were screaming in your face to take one more step or push out one more rep.
You can do HIIT with almost any kind of cardio. As the saying goes, the best cardio workout is the one you will do. My favorites are walking outside and jumping on the elliptical in my basement. But you could also do this with cycling or on a treadmill. The important thing is to engage as many of the major muscle groups as possible.
Here is a graph showing what actually happens during a typical HIIT work out. This particular graph was developed by Bill Phillips (creator of Body For Life). And if you’ve been around Fitness Fridays for any time, you know how I love me some Body For Life
This is basically how it works:
*Start with a 2-5 minute warm up at level 2. For me, this would be a regular walking pace. (not shown in this graph)
*Go up to level 6 for two minute (a brisk walk)
*Go up to level 7 for one minute (walking as fast as I can with all major muscle groups engaged)
*Go up to level 8 for one minute (a jog)
*Go up to level 9 for one minute (a run)
This is one complete “Set”
*Drop back down to level 6 to recover for 2 minutes and repeat the set 3 more times.
*On the last set, instead of ending on a 9, you push yourself all the way to a 10. As hard as you can push, as if your life depended on it.
Finish with a cool down (because you will be gasping for air and certain you saw a bright light, a long tunnel and possibly the pearly gates).
*Always stretch (which will decrease your chances of injuries).
Drink plenty of water before and after your workouts.
Combine your workouts with a healthy diet, rich in fruits, veggies, whole grains, and lean proteins, while low in saturated fat and sugar.
Alternate HIIT with strength training for maximum benefit. If you are a woman who is afraid to start lifting weights, check out my previous post The Myth of Bulking Up.
Here is a great weigh-busting work out schedule ala Body For Life, which shows how to alternate HIIT with strength training:
Day 1: HIIT
Day 2: Strength Training, upper body
Day 3: HIIT
Day 4: Strength Training, lower body
Day 5: HIIT
Day 6: Strength Training, upper body
Day 7: Rest
Even if you don’t add strength training, do not do HIIT on consecutive days. Your muscles need time to rest and recover.
For a brief demonstration of proper weight-lifting techniques, check out this video of me lifting.