Every Saturday morning, 100 people pack the gym or parking lot at Life Time Fitness in Plymouth, Minn. and we sweat it out in a class I teach called High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. HIIT is a way to improve your cardiovascular fitness level and burn more calories while spending less time in the gym. Sounds good right? Well, the key words to focus on are high intensity. Don’t be fooled by thinking that shorter workouts mean easier. HIIT training is not for the faint of heart. It’s intense, sweaty and doesn’t last long—but it works. In fact, I have an entire program devoted to HIIT style workouts.
The key to HIIT training that makes it different from basic intervals is that high intensity intervals involve maximum effort not just a higher heart rate. So to differentiate from plain old intervals you have to push yourself to the max during the work portion followed by a period of recovery. This type of athletic challenge has been proven to enhance cardiovascular fitness and athletic capacity, increase lean muscle mass, boost metabolism and help you shed pounds. There are many ways to create high intensity intervals by changing the timing of the work vs. rest. However, my absolute favorite type of HIIT is Tabata Training.
Tabata intervals can be incorporated into riding a bike, running, exercises using your body weight, plyometrics and strength training, but there is one variable that doesn’t change—the formula. A Tabata interval consists of eight cycles of 20 second all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of recovery totaling 4 minutes. You can do as many Tabata intervals in a row as you’d like but for most fitness enthusiasts, if you are going full out effort, 20-30 minutes is max.
Tabata is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata who discovered that he could shorten the training time and vastly improve fitness levels with a specific HIIT regimen. He worked with the Japanese speed skating team and developed a timed interval program as described above. His research challenged the notion that you need a lot of time and miles under your feet to see results.
My HIIT Class (Tabata style) consists of body weight exercises, strength exercises, calisthenics and plyometrics. I recommend starting with light weights the first few sessions to figure out your limits. During the 20-second work portion, you have to go all out so you should try for as many reps as you can without compromising form or range of motion. In my class, I verbally coach my members to figure that out. The funny thing is often newbies will keep working through the 10 second rest segments in the first Tabata interval due to their adrenaline kicking in … but quickly realize they are gasping for air and will be flat on the floor if they don’t use their 10 second rest segments wisely.
Sample of a 45 minute HIIT Class using Tabata Intervals
Basic athletic warmup up = 7 minutes
8 Tabata intervals = each interval is 4 minutes. Total time = 32 minutes
Cool down and stretch = 6 minutes
Sample Tabata interval:
- Work Cycle 1: 20 sec-Squat w/ overhead press
- Rest Cycle 1: 10 sec
- Work Cycle 2: 20 sec-high knees
- Rest Cycle 2: 10 sec
- Work Cycle 3: 20 sec-pushups
- Rest Cycle 3: 10 sec
- Work Cycle 4: 20 sec-burpees
- Rest Cycle 4: 10 sec
- *REPEAT Cycle 1-4 again for Cycle 5-8
As a fitness instructor, it helps to have a timer to be accurate with the intervals. When verbally coaching my class, it’s hard to keep track of time which is why I use the Tabata Pro App on my iPhone or iPad. For $2.99, it’s been worth the money. Many of my members have downloaded it onto their phones so they can take HIIT class on the road. The only thing you need to do a HIIT workout is your body and a way to time your intervals. Check it out on itunes.
I’ve given you all the tools, now to try a Tabata workout on your own. So as they say … HIIT it HARD!