So here we are at Part 2 of our HIIT series. As with all my 2 Part articles, I recommend checking out Part 1 if you haven’t already. You’d be missing out on a bunch of info on the physical benefits of HIIT and also some technical info involving how HIIT affects our athletic performance, especially endurance.
If you have read Part 1, then you’d know that HIIT offers tremendous physical benefits, not just for athletes. It torches body fat much faster than just steady state cardio. Done properly, it increases our VO2 Max, which is the most oxygen we can consume at a given amount of time. We also increase your capacity to go harder for longer periods of time.
We’ve also discussed that HIIT does not replace steady state cardio by any means. Matter of fact, steady state cardio has at least one advantage over HIIT when it comes to our endurance. The volume of blood that the heart can pump in a given amount of time cannot be increased with just HIIT alone. Steady state cardio increases this attribute and with more blood pumped, the more oxygen and nutrients gets to out muscles and the more wastes can be carried away by the blood.
So what else does HIIT do for us? And can any exercise be used for HIIT? How do we go about incorporating it into our training
program? We’ll be going in-depth into the answers to these questions and more.
No matter the profession we’re in, having sound mental health and resilience is a definite plus, if not a requirement to have. And what bet
ter way to develop mental health and resilience than putting ourselves through regular session of HIIT? As said before, if performed properly, HIIT is guaranteed to leave us gasping for air and wiped out for at least a few minutes, depending on our recovery rate.
In terms of a character trait, the word “grit” has a special meaning to me. It is often associated with toughness, perseverance, and having whatever it takes to achieve our goals regardless of obstacles. I personally feel drawn to this characteristic not because I have lots of it, but because I want to develop as much of it as I can. I’m sure that many of us feel the same way.
Let’s use Tabata as an example on how HIIT can help us develop this trait. (If you don’t know what Tabata is, read about here). When we first start out, we’re feeling fresh, energetic, ready to kick butt in the workout. The first half of the workout we’ve been going at it like a wolf, 100% intensity with no let up during the 20 second intervals.
Here comes the part where our grit is tested. The muscles are burning, the lungs are on fire, and every little movement sends signal to our brain to STOP. We were able to get through interval #6 going as hard as we could. At this point, the 10 seconds of rest feels like 0.5 seconds. We’re starting to wonder if an ambulance may need to be called.
This is the point where our grit gets developed. At this point, we feel our tank is empty and our bodies are wrecked, yet we still have work to do before the session is completed, what will we do? It is definitely easy to stop and think and we’ve done enough. Sure, we have definitely accumulated some physical benefits from the workout even if we stop here. But if we stop now it’s actually detrimental to us on a mental level. How so?
Taking the scenario from the previous paragraph, let’s say we decide to stop before the workout is over. We had completed most of the workout, but did not finish. At first it’s a relief, mainly because the physical discomfort starts to subside as soon as we stop. We’re no longer in agony, and felt that we still got a good workout in.
If we were to do this each and every time we do HIIT, we’re essentially training ourselves to give up when the going gets tough. Basically, every time our bodies are in discomfort or when we feel it’s too much to keep going, we’ll feel that we should give up.
That’s obviously not what we want is it? But that’s exactly what’s happening each and every time we stop before the session is over. If we had set out to do a certain number of sets, intervals, reps, or whatever scheme we have for our HIIT, then follow through no matter how tough it feels. Not only are we developing our mental grit, we’ll be reaping benefits for our physical bodies as well as described in Part 1.
NOTE: Please consult your physician before starting any exercise program or HIIT. There’s a difference between pushing yourself to develop mental toughness and overdoing it to the point of having a heart attack. Make sure that you are healthy enough for HIIT prior to trying it.
Right after we’re finished with a session of HIIT, we don’t see the benefits right away. We may feel the discomfort in our wrecked bodies and lungs, but the benefits remains to be seen. And the next time we do another HIIT session, we may not have felt much improvement either. Traditional cardio is nowhere near as intense, so slow improvements are expected. But with the chest-burning HIIT workouts, it may be discouraging to not see positive feedback after a session or two.
However, the act of keeping it up also plays a role in developing our mental grit. This will keep us going during other pursuits in life that may not provide constant feedback. Take for example starting a business. A lot of careful planning and strategic thinking and hard work needs to go into a business. Researching the market, adapting to economic changes and emerging technologies, pitching to investors, etc. all require a lot of dedication and grit, often times with no income of any kind at the beginning stages. Some of the most successful business owners failed over and over until they got it right. And guess what it was that kept them going?
I personally didn’t feel right about not finishing the Murph Workout that I attempted on Memorial Day in 2016. I failed to complete the pull-ups and that really bugged me, to the point that I’m going to work on my pull-ups more than anything else and retest myself with this workout before next year. I should’ve stuck with it no matter how long it took and toughed it out. But I missed the opportunity to strength my mental grit and I know I’d been better off if I had completed the entire workout.
Not Running-Still HIIT?
Some of us may have read that unless we are using running as the exercise for HIIT, we are not doing HIIT properly. This is based on the opinions that some have regarding how the benefits of HIIT were studied by scientists. Most if not all studies conducted on HIIT used running or cycling as the exercise of choice. The subjects were to perform either exercise at 95%+ intensity at intervals and their results were tracked over weeks.
The results included fat loss, VO2 Max increase, and the other benefits we discussed in Part 1. So from this, some who read those studies believe that only those exercises performed at those intensities and intervals can provide the resulting benefits. I personally think it’s pure nonsense. Let’s take a look at what the benefits include:
- Increased endurance
- Increase oxygen intake
- Increased mitochondria density
- Enhanced Mental grit
- Increased fat loss
There are more benefits than what I just listed but I think we can all agree that these benefits are not exclusive to runners or cyclists alone. So a simple analysis of what the benefits of HIIT are, we can see that a variety of exercises can be used to attain those benefits.
In fact, it is advantageous to use different exercises for HIIT instead of the same ones all the time. As stated before, the mitochondrial density of the working muscles are increased with HIIT, which translates to that muscle group going harder for longer, or increased muscle endurance. So with target exercises, we can improve the endurance of specific muscles groups by working them using HIIT, hence the need for a variety of exercises.
I agree with those that say sprinting or cycling is the best form of HIIT, because they are naturally very high in intensity and engages your entire body. But the criteria that needs to be met to benefit from HIIT is not necessarily the exercise we use per se, but the intensity, timing, and difficulty level. Now if we’re trying to HIIT using wrist curls only, I don’t think the benefits will extend beyond that of our forearms, so play it smart.
Incorporating Into Training
HIIT is quite simple to incorporate into your training really. A few rules to follow when designing a personalized program:
- Avoid doing HIIT on consecutive days
- Multiple HIIT sessions per day are not recommended
- Avoid using exercises with high risk of injury if failure occurs (barbell exercises)
- Make sure you are healthy (injury-free, illness-free, etc.)
- Get plenty of rest
These pointers are geared towards beginners and those that don’t feel too sure but want to try it out. The most important thing is to be safe and avoid injuries. The last two points applies to all of us no matter our fitness level.
I really want to stress the last point because due to the nature of HIIT and the intensity, it is very taxing on your CNS. So you will be tired when it comes time to go to sleep. Make sure you get all the rest you need to recover.
That’s a wrap for the hype on HIIT and how to go about it. Please leave your comments in the section below. How have you benefited from HIIT? What are your favorite exercises for HIIT? Anything in particular that you’d like me to write about? Have at it!