Story by: Khaled Allen, Fitness Consultant for Body & Seoul, Photos by: courtesy Body & Seoul
With summer approaching, you may be worried about the extra pounds you’ve put on after months of inactivity. Tallying up how many hours of exercise you’ll need to get back into shape, it’s easy to be on the verge of giving up when considering the momentous task before you.
Traditional workout routines can take up to two hours, given that you work every weight machine on the floor before hopping on the elliptical. New studies are showing, however, that shorter, more intense exercise is actually more effective at burning calories, conditioning and shedding pounds. These higher intensity workouts can take as little as four minutes a day, and rarely exceed 20 minutes.
High-intensity interval training
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is actually nothing new, but it has only recently begun to be utilized in the mainstream fitness world. Martial artists, boxers, wrestlers, sprinters and cyclists have always used this technique in their training to condition themselves for the high power outputs necessary for their sports. The convenient side effect has always been the development of impressive physiques and simple weight maintenance.
This method of training, also known as circuit training, basically involves alternating between periods of high- and low-intensity activity. Some methods use a complete rest in place of the low-intensity interval. This structure allows you to maintain a much higher work rate during the high-intensity portions than you would if you maintained a steady state, as with jogging. The limited rest periods force your body to learn to recover faster by breaking down energy stores quickly. The overall result is a heightened metabolic rate, meaning you burn more calories all day, assisting with weight loss.
Some of today’s most popular fitness programs use this model, with some examples that include P90X, CrossFit, kettlebell programs and most MMA and boxing programs. A local gym offering HIIT training is Body & Seoul with their FightFit program.
You can use any kind of movements you like in a HIIT session — bodyweight moves (those which only use a person’s own weight as resistance, such as pull-ups) are popular. Generally, you should try to use movements that involve large muscle groups: Pushups and broad jumps are good choices; bicep curls are not. As a result of their fast pace and the potential for technique breakdown, if you do decide to use weights, make sure they are weights you know you can handle safely even when fatigued.
Most interval sessions are meant to be performed in 5 to 10 minutes. One of the most popular (and most intense) interval protocols lasts a mere four minutes. The longer ones go up to 20 minutes. Between the repetitive movements, quick pace and the fact that the exercise stress is being compressed into a short time frame, these workouts should rarely, if ever, go past 20 minutes.
Benefits of interval training
The most notable benefit of interval training is the fact that the workouts can be done in a very short amount of time. Being able to do a workout in only 10 minutes eliminates any excuses you can come up with. The fact that they are actually more effective than traditional training routines doesn’t hurt either.
Another benefit is that most interval sessions can be done with minimal equipment. The accelerated pace means that you can use nothing but your body and still be totally exhausted when you finish. The equipment that lends itself well to interval sessions is also fairly minimalist: kettlebells, light dumbbells, barbells, sandbags and medicine balls.
Interval training is most effective when used as a conditioning workout, meaning that it trains your body to put its energy stores to use in an efficient way. Done well, interval training will burn a lot of calories very quickly. This has the effect of elevating your base metabolic rate, which is a much better indicator of weight loss than simple calories burned during a workout. It also means that, throughout the course of the day, you will be burning more calories than you normally would.
Interval training can also be used for gaining strength, though it should be noted that it will not be as effective as a focused strength routine using high weights and low reps. You will get stronger on an interval program, but your gains will stop after a while.
Tabata Sprints (four minutes)
The Tabata protocol is named after Izumi Tabata, a Sport and Health Science professor who in 1996 found that four minutes of intense activity improved speedskaters’ ability more effectively than their usual long, slow training programs. It’s a brutal four minutes, so be conservative your first time and listen to your body.
The program: Eight rounds, 20 seconds each, sprinting as fast as you can, separated by 10 seconds of total rest. Make sure you start your sprints immediately when your rest is finished.
If you decide to use a treadmill, keep the belt running between sets, but be very careful lowering yourself back on for each interval. The belt won’t let you slow down when you’re tired, so start at a pace you can comfortably handle.
This workout can be done at home or in a hotel room, even if you only have 10 minutes to spare. You can also add other movements if you want. Match the more difficult or complex movements with low reps, and the simpler ones with higher reps.
The program: For 10 minutes, perform as many rounds as possible with good form. You should slow down and take short rests to ensure good technique.
Five squat jumps
30 second plank hold
Khaled Allen is a fitness Consultant for Body & Seoul. The fitness advice in this column is the author’s and does not represent Groove Korea. — Ed.