31 Days to a Better Body : Day 10 – Do (hi)IT!
Almost any blog post or article you read on HIIT cardio or high intensity interval training training will show you pictures of a marathoner and a sprinter side by side with a caption that says “Who do you want to look like?”. Since, I don’t think it’s helpful to compare and each athlete is AMAZING in their own right I’ll share a little personal story.
Over 3 years ago, I decided to train for a figure competition. At the time of my decision
I was clearly insane, I had already lost about 15 pounds and had about 20 more to go to be “stage ready”. I joined an online support group of figure competitors most of who were getting up at 6 am to do hours “EMC” (steady state Early Morning Cardio) every week.
I tried it a few times and decided, no. There had to be another way.
During my research I came across these articles, The Final Nail in the Cardio Coffin, by Rachel Cosgrove and A Case Against Cardio by Mark Sisson. They changed my training life and I’ve never looked back.
I trained for those first two figure competitions keeping a very clean diet (it’s never just about the training) and doing very very little steady state cardio.
Intense interval training.
Intense interval training is periods of intense exercise alternated with periods of recovery (low or moderate intensity exercise). Example: 30 seconds of sprinting alternating with 15 seconds of walking. When you push yourself to your max, as in I can’t sprint any faster or my legs will fall off, during the “intense” periods it becomes high intensity interval training.
For the sake of this post, I’m going to call it IIT for intense interval training.
Why do IIT as opposed to an hour on the treadmill?
Sanity. Hours on the treadmill or elliptical? No thanks.
There is research that supports the idea that you can get slow roasted results in microwave time. In the Gibala study, researchers from McMaster University took healthy college students (not athletes) and put them in two groups. One group exercised on stationary bikes for 90-120 minutes at a sustainable pace (steady state cardio). The other group rode the stationary bikes like bats out of hell for 20-30 seconds and then rested for 4 minutes. They repeated this interval 4-6 times which added up to 3-4 minutes of intense exercise. Both the steady state crazies and the high intensity group followed their specific protocols – 3 times a week for 2 weeks. The study showed that each group achieved almost identical improvement in endurance but the high intensity interval group did it in less time. Way less time! Can I hear a holla!
Before the Gilbala study, there was the Tabata study which you may remember me mentioning when I finally got the nerve to try Tabata for myself. In the Tabata study, the high intensity interval group showed greater improvements in their aerobic (with oxygen – the energy system that steady state cardio uses) capacities and anaerobic (without oxygen – the energy system that HIIT cardio uses) capacities than the steady state crazies. The steady state crazies didn’t show any improvement in their anaerobic capacity.
High intensity interval training boosts metabolism for hours after your workout. HIIT cardio increases excessive post oxygen consumption (EPOC), often referred to as the “afterburn”, more than steady state cardio. After exercise your body uses oxygen to restore and repair the body back to it’s resting state and this takes fuel, hopefully, in the form of fat.
Of course, intense interval training is not the be all end or a miracle (there are no miracles) in the quest for a better body. In fact, when you put the intense in intensity, it could be argued who is in the crazy camp. Not too mention that it can carry a greater risk of injury if too much is done too soon. (So be patient and start slow, Speed Racer. Oh and get that ok from your Dr. before you begin.) When used correctly, intense interval training is just another tool in the tool box but it’s a good one.
Do you prefer high intensity intervals or steady state cardio?
Hugs and High Fives,
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