Picture the perfect workout:
It would be fast-paced and you’d never be bored.
It would improve conditioning and build muscle at the same time.
You’d burn loads of calories quickly and experience a significant fat burning hormone response.
You’d finish feeling that you’d put in serious effort but you would not feel completely exhausted.
This workout is not just in your imagination. It can be found in successfully designed high-intensity training (HIT) workouts.
Now, HIT or metabolic resistance training as it’s also called, has become very popular to the point where the concept has been diluted so that many people are designing ineffective workouts that leave them without results, injured, or over trained.
This article will help you avoid these pitfalls and tell you how to design successful workouts to improve your body in the least time.
Tip #1: Use work bouts that are short enough to preserve peak effort.
There is a catch to HIT, and this is where some people get lost—HIT challenges your physical capacities. It’s hard. You must overload the body to get it to adapt.
Don’t get scared away by this. It’s not too hard, but it’s important that everyone understand that for HIT (or any training to change how your body looks or what it can do) to work, you have to get some serious work done.
Here’s how to do it:
Work at a high enough intensity so that the body uses the anaerobic energy system and doesn’t shift right into aerobic mode. In simple terms, if it doesn’t “burn” or feel challenging, you’re not working hard enough. This is probably the biggest mistake people make.
Most people should use work bouts that last between 30 and 60 seconds. However, because conditioning levels vary, people who are in better shape may benefit from shorter, more intense work bouts in the 10 to 30 second range, while novices or those with endurance goals may benefit from occasional work bouts up to 2 minutes long.
Tip #2: Use rest intervals that allow you to maintain work intensity.
Short rest intervals allow you to burn a lot of calories in a short period of time but they also elicit a large post-exercise oxygen consumption in which your body burns calories at an accelerated rate during the recovery period.
Short rest leads to a superior hormone response, elevating testosterone, IGF-1, and GH for an elevated metabolism. If programmed properly and cortisol is minimized post-workout, recovery may be accelerated.
First, rest intervals need to be timed with a watch. There’s a place for “intuitive” rest intervals in which you take all the rest you want, but HIT for the purpose of changing your body is not it.
Second, rest intervals should be long enough to allow you to maintain technique and work intensity. Things can get tricky here depending on conditioning level and if you’re doing sprints versus HIT with weights:
Rest periods that are less than a 1-to-1 ratio, such as super short 10-second rest intervals are appropriate for intermediate to advanced trainees, not novices, especially when doing HIT with weights.
Near maximal intensity training, such as all-out sprints on a track, will generally require a work-to-rest ratio of 1 to 8 at the beginning of the program. Over a period of weeks, taper to a 1-to-4 ratio. If you’re sprinting for 30 seconds, your initial rest interval will be 4 minutes, tapered down to 2 minutes as your fitness improves.
Third, rest intervals should generally be active such as slow walking rather than lying on the ground, but in certain situations, passive short rest may be appropriate.
Tip #3: Use sufficient repeats so the body produces lactate.
A primary goal of HIT is to get a lot of work done quickly. The number of sets or repeats you perform should be fairly high.
Workouts should always train the lower body, because these are the largest muscles in the body. Total body routines using classic lifts to engage the greatest amount of musculature are a good choice.
This could be applied in any of the following ways:
There’s no specific number of sets, reps, or repeats that should be completed, but your total work time including rest should generally last between 20 and 30 minutes.
Tip #4: Choose your “best” exercises.
The appropriate exercises to train with HIT should be self-limiting, which means that you don’t put yourself at risk of injury or improper technique when you are highly fatigued. These will vary widely depending on your experience, background, and conditioning.
Novices will benefit from cycling, sled training, and sprinting. With experience, you can advance to HIT with weights, but you need to be able to maintain technique even when fatigued. For example, you could progress to HIT with trap bar deadlifts and leg presses, while continuing to perfect technique on straight bar deads and squats.
Advanced trainees have a much wider range of exercise options. All classic lifts and strongman exercises that require technique such as tire flips can be trained.
For more complex exercises, be sure you fulfill the following conditions before using them in HIT workouts:
#5: Take into consideration stress levels in order to optimize recovery.
A primary goal of HIT is to produce a large metabolic hormone response, notably growth hormone. GH is elevated during and immediately after intense workouts, but at night during deep slow wave sleep is an equally important opportunity for GH production.
If you’re not sleeping soundly, you won’t get the GH release. In addition, stress hormones such as cortisol will be elevated. The HPA axis that governs hormone levels will get agitated, adaptations will be compromised, and you won’t recover effectively.
In simple terms, if you’re under a lot of stress and/or you’re not sleeping well for 7 to 9 hours a night, super intense HIT is not for you. For example, a German Volume Training workout in which you do 10 sets of 10 of an exercise is not a smart move.
Moderate-intensity training, such as the classic German Body Composition workouts in which you work mostly in the 12 to 15 rep range with 30-second rest periods is a better choice.
In addition, you need to consider what other training you are doing. HIT tends to exhaust the central nervous system (CNS) if done effectively, but heavy strength workouts also target the CNS.
So, if you’re training for strength 4 days a week and then doing HIT 2 or 3 times, you aren’t allowing for recovery. Instead, train HIT and strength workouts on separate days; doing 2 HIT workouts a week and 2 strength workouts a week, focusing on recovery (adequate sleep and nutrition) in between.