There has been recent talk about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and the benefits on our fitness levels. This was sparked by a story on the ABC’s Catalyst program at the end of September.
In the program it proved that only 6 minutes a week of Interval Training over a 15 week period increased fitness levels from just above the Unfit category in terms of MVO₂ (maximum volume of oxygen) to just over the Fit category.
HIIT can be used with cardiovascular exercises and/or resistance exercises however in terms of your MVO₂ we look at your cardiovascular system and oxygen intake. VO₂ is the term used to describe the volume (V) of oxygen (O₂) consumed. We work on the maximum (M) volume of oxygen to determine your level of cardio fitness and aerobic endurance. Measurement of MVO₂ is based on ml/kg/min and the higher your MVO₂, the fitter you are. This scientific test is obtained through putting on a mask which directly measures the volume and gas concentrations of inspired and expired air whilst exercising on a treadmill or stationary bike.
Phew – that’s all sounds a bit technical! How can you do a test at home, or outdoors, to give you a general idea of what your MVO₂ is?
There are many ways to measure your MVO₂, one being the Harvard Step Test where you only need a step/bench about 45cm high, a stopwatch and someone to help with the time and measurement of your bpm (beats per minute).
There are many tables that give you a guideline of your fitness levels however you can use this one for non-athletes as an idea of where you sit.
So what is next?
To increase your VO₂ levels and in turn your fitness levels – this includes your endurance performance, the simple answer is doing HIIT once or twice a week mininum, followed up by moderate resistance training once or twice a week and throw in a stretch/yoga/pilates class and your overall fitness will increase over time.
As an example, HIIT was done on Tuesday this week at Tamarama in the Eastern Beaches of Sydney with the TJ Fit crew. We ran up a set of stairs twice (average 45seconds x 2; recovery on the way down). A second set of stairs mixed in with some flat/hill bits three times or the crew had the option to do a longer run without stairs (average 50-90seconds x 3; recovery on the way down the stairs). Enjoying the sunrise, the crew ran on the sand and up a set of stairs 3 times (average 40-50seconds x 3; recovery on the way down to the start point) – the last set we continued onto Marks Park for a bit of endurance (average 2-3mintes each way, including about a 2 minute rest/recovery period).
Running recruits all muscle fibres which is the ultimate way to increase your fitness levels whilst resistance training concentrates more on isolating specific muscle fibres depending on the exercise performed. At Tamarama the TJ Fit crew essentially ‘worked’ for less than 15 minutes over a 45 minute period so for those time poor even once a week can make a difference.
Other ways to increase your fitness levels through HIT training is Tabata Training and Fartlek Training.
I use Tabata quite a bit to mix up a circuit format. Tabata, discovered by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata, lasts for only 4 minutes: work hard for 20 seconds, rest for 10 seconds, do 8 rounds/sets. These exercises can be based on anything! If working on a 20 minute all-body workout this would be 4 exercises.
1. Push ups (shoulders/triceps/biceps)
2. Skipping (cardio)
3. Squats (quads/hamstrings/glutes)
4. Crunch (abdominals)
Keep in mind, the only piece of equipment you need for this particular workout is a skipping rope so if you travel – no excuse.
I use a Tabata Timer app on my phone/tablet which is perfect for me to continue fitness regime while on the road.
Developed in 1937 by Swedish coach Gösta Holmér, Fartlek is a more flexible style of HIIT. It combines endurance and speed into your run. I work with Fartlek with the TJ Fit Pram Pushers using the street lights to mix up the hills and stair work. Fartlek Training doesn’t necessarily give you rest/recovery periods, but ‘ease-off’ periods in your endurance runs. So when I work with the street lights, we run from Maroubra’s Mahon Pool to McKeon Street but from one light to the next we sprint, then ease off into a light jog (our rest/recovery), then off again for a sprint, then ease off, and so on. Using landmarks is a good way, or even on an endurance run that includes different terrain, like the Eastern suburbs coastal walk, you could jog on the flats and small hills but sprint up the stair sections. Fartlek is about adding that burst of energy with high intensity then keeping the heart rate up but on a more moderate intensity level.
In short, High Intensity Interval Training is the go-to form of training to increase fitness levels, burn calories, add years onto your look and your life. Why not try it for a 8-12 week period? Start with the Step Test and compare it with the same test at the end of your nominated period. Combine this with some physical measurements around the torso, to get an overall picture of your results.
Stay active and using what’s in season this month, why not try Pete Evans’ Beetroot Hummus to accompany your Spring BBQ or pre-meal snack.