Theory Thursday

“Hiit it!”

H.I.I.T. – High intensity interval training.  It’s all the rage.  We’ve suggested your exercise regime could be much less boring, less slogging away at one medium speed on the treadmill or the exercise bike for an hour in your “fat burning” zone (and more of that in a theory thursday one week!) but what do you replace traditional “cardio” with, and why?

sample of a balanced weekly activity schedule

You heard last week that adding strength training +/- weights is an essential part of a healthy long life.  Two of your weekly workouts for 30 minutes should be strength, not on consecutive days.  Then you’ll add in a rest day to your week – on which you DO NOT sit on the couch of sloth but walk, do yoga, foam roll, play in a sandpit (or something).  You may then still want one day of a run or a bike ride that’s longer, especially if you’re planning a race.

So, you’ve got 3 days left to schedule in some activity and you want to be targeted.  If you’re training for an event you’ll be using those days for interval/hill training but if you’re just remodelling your lifestyle to add healthy things into the gaps you could try “H.I.I.T.” for 2 days.

Don’t forget to save one day for a recovery workout which could be power yoga, ballet or try this one from livestrong

What is H.I.I.T.?

No surprises, it does what it says on the tin.  The idea is “high intensity“.  No messing, this is massive, hard, fast efforts that leave you dripping with sweat and absolutely exhausted.  During a high intensity interval you should reach your “anaerobic zone” – that’s the heart rate at which your body cannot keep up the oxygen supply to the muscles.

How do you know you’re working hard enough?  You can use a heart rate monitor and work it out, but if you’ve got enough energy left to check your HR monitor I reckon you’re not going hard enough.  I find “RPE” or “rate of perceived exertion” to be a better guide (plus, I don’t have a heart rate monitor!)  In the rest periods you should be gently moving at a level that you could carry on a conversation, in the high intensity periods you cannot talk – it’s a “full sprint” “Usain Bolt” feeling.  You’ve done it right if you feel slightly nauseated 😉


The upside is, it’s intervals.  i.e. you’re not expected to go “full out” for any significant length of time.  The intervals range in length but the Tabata regime  is well established. It’s 20 seconds flat out then a 10 second rest period between intervals.

And the really good news?  If you want to be a purist, you do this for 4 minutes only (8 cycles).

How does that work?

Only 4 minutes of exercise?  Really?  Yes, really.  Here’s the science.  In essence, you’re creating an “oxygen debt” by working so hard that your body pays off for the next 24 hours, so you’re still burning calories long after you finish.

The important thing is to absolutely wring every last drop and ounce of effort out in each interval of activity.  Of course you will want to warm up and cool down and stretch, so plan on 20 minutes in the pain cave (I am adding a “faff factor”, too) and 10 minutes to shower afterwards!  So its still a 30 minute aliquot of time to find in the day – but you’ve been looking for that already.


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