Home Posts tagged "Interval Training" (Page 2)

The Best of 2009: Guest Submissions

This week, I've already featured our top articles, product reviews, and videos of 2009.  I was also really lucky to have some bright minds as guest contributors this year, and today I'll feature a few of their submissions. The Rocker Inferior Capsule Stretch - This excellent submission from physical therapist Tim DiFrancesco shows a shoulder mobility exercises we've used with some of our guys with excellent results.  It includes some great videos like this:

So What Does a Pitching Coach Do, Anyway? - I love this guest blog from Matt Blake, a great pitching guy with whom I get to work daily.  It just goes to show you that there is a lot more to understand than mechanics when it comes to developing elite pitchers.

21st Century Nutrition: Talking Shop with Dr. John Berardi - This was more of an interview than a guest submission, but let's be honest: JB provided most of the content here!  He discusses the future of nutrition and the success of Precision Nutrition.


The Be-All, End-All Throwing Program from Your Favorite Snake Oil Salesman - Here's another post from Matt Blake.  I like this one because it's entertaining thanks to the cynical tone that kicks it off, but educational because of the justification for that cynicism.  It's classic "info-tainment."

Real Activation: Modifying a Classic Core Movement - Jim Smith is perhaps best known for being a true innovator when it comes to exercise selection, and this post was an excellent one for that very reason.

Interval Training: HIIT or Miss? - A great guest submission from Mike Boyle; enough said!

Building Vibrant Health Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4 - Eric Talmant presented a comprehensive look at his involvement with Metabolic Typing(R).

Thanks to everyone for the time they spent on creating these pieces, and the expertise they shared!

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Summer Interns Gone Diesel…well, okay, not really diesel…Part 3

And then there was Roger "Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun" Lawson.  He doesn't get a new nickname because in this second go-round, he still couldn't manage to get the entire medley into one clip because my memory card actually filled up.  Consider yourself forewarned: this isn't pretty. I'll give him some style points for the outfit, but the repeated spills and bellowing during the overhead keg lunge walks made me feel like I was watching a rhino give birth at the zoo - while standing on one leg.

The good news, however, is that Roger requested a chance at redemption, so we agreed to let him try to improve his time with a Thursday night effort.  We'll post it tomorrow.  Any predictions on what his next time will be (this one was 7:40).

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Summer Interns Gone Diesel: Installment 2

It's time for another intern end-of-summer finale.  Alex went the other night, but tonight, it was Phil "Gunzzzz for Hire" Gauthier's turn to work his mojo on this medley (his effort put him in second place, just behind Alex's time). Phil also completed the Maximum Strength program with some big gains in size (over ten pounds) and strength while fixing up a bum shoulder this summer and turning himself into one heck of a coach.   Some credit goes out to Phil for: a) doing this circuit after he'd already trained lower body easlier in the day (including a HUGE front squat personal best) b) rocking his high school colors (Go Maynard!) and NOT wearing a Power Rangers t-shirt and spandex (watch the video; you'll understand) c) naming a professional hockey player as his emergency contact ("Sorry, Mom!") d) doing better push-ups than in the first go-round f) giving us an even better frame of reference from which to appreciate just how bad Roger got dominated later this afternoon (more on that in a future blog; stay tuned)... So, without further ado...

Give our man a little love in the comments section!  I know you're out there, Maynard!

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Summer Interns Gone Diesel: Installment 1

Earlier this year, I introduced you to the "before" videos of our summer interns.  Needless to say, they weren't pretty. The good news is that they've gotten a lot better over the past three months, and to prove my point, we'll be featuring each of them individually over the next few days.  First up, we've got the guy who went from Alex "Nash and Burn" to Alex "Straight Nash, Homey."  Over the summer, Alex added 12 pounds to his frame, and some serious poundages to all his lifts (don't have the numbers in front of me, but let's just say that we were all stunned to see him front squatting 300+ pounds the other day).  He got 3/4 of the way through the Maximum Strength program. Below, we've first featured his original video, and then the subsequent video from just a few days ago.  First, I should mention that we put the cage/net back up in our facility, which effectively shortened the sled distance - so we just added some sledgehammer and kettlebell swings at the end.  Second, you'll notice that the weights on the sled are on the front, and not the back; this subtle change in positioning makes the exercise exponentially harder (especially on the floor and not the turf).  Third, you'll notice that his push-ups look a heck of a lot better, particularly with a ton of fatigue.  Fourth, he doesn't look like a newborn horse when doing the overhead lunge walk with the keg. Fifth, he doesn't stop at all to rest; he just crushes it.  Sixth, and most importantly, chicks want him, and dudes want to be him.

The Before: Alex "Nash and Burn"

The After: Alex "Straight Nash, Homey"

Alex has already moved back to Minnesota to start a new job; we're really proud of all he accomplished and wish him well.  Give our boy some love in the comments section.

Tonight, the rest of the interns have their "final exams"...

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The Opportunity Cost of Your Time

I'm sure a lot of you took economics back in the day - either in college or high school (or both).  I don't know about you, but one concept that stuck in my mind - besides the fact that one of my professors was a ridiculously annoying Yankees fan - was that of opportunity cost.  Rather than define it myself and risk missing an important component, I'll defer to Wikipedia: "Opportunity cost or economic opportunity loss is the value of the next best alternative forgone as the result of making a decision. Opportunity cost analysis is an important part of a company's decision-making processes but is not treated as an actual cost in any financial statement. The next best thing that a person can engage in is referred to as the opportunity cost of doing the best thing and ignoring the next best thing to be done. "Opportunity cost is a key concept in economic because it implies the choice between desirable, yet mutually exclusive results. It is a calculating factor used in mixed markets which favour social change in favour of purely individualistic economics. It has been described as expressing 'the basic relationship between scarcity and choice.' The notion of opportunity cost plays a crucial part in ensuring that scarce resources are used efficiently. Thus, opportunity costs are not restricted to monetary or financial costs: the real cost of output forgone, lost time, swag, pleasure or any other benefit that provides utility should also be considered opportunity costs." I see opportunity cost all the time in the world of training - both in clients/athletes and their trainers/coaches. On the fitness side of things, we know there are certainly exercise modalities that yield more effective results than others in the least amount of time.  In fact, this was the entire premise behind Alwyn Cosgrove's Hierarchy of Fat Loss article. If you want to get stronger, bigger, and more athletic, you're better off doing squats than you are leg extensions. If you only have an hour to exercise and your goal is to get stronger, drop body fat, and improve your overall fitness, then you're probably better off skipping the Hip-Hop class and instead going to the gym to do: 5 minutes foam rolling

5 minutes mobility/activation drills 30 minutes strength training 15 minutes interval training

5 minutes post-exercise flexibility

All of these modalities can be individualized, whereas a group exercise class is more one-size-fits-all.  So, if you have imbalances or injury concerns, the individualization is a major benefit.

Plus, the added benefit is that you're much less likely to get tortured on by your friends if you lift heavy stuff and push the sled than you are with Hip-Hop class. Just throwing it out there.  That's just a purely hypothetical example, though...

You'll see a lot of really business-savvy trainers who are always reading personal development books, but never actually pick up a book or attend a seminar to learn how to train people.  They are really just good salespeople in  revealing and/or tight workout clothes.  In fact, if you search Google Images for "personal trainer," photos like this are just about all that you get!


The opportunity cost of their time is that they could have spent time becoming better trainers instead of just prioritizing something at which they're already effective.  Or, perhaps they're better off hiring a good trainer to take that duty over so that they can best leverage their selling.

Likewise, you'll see some trainers who are great at assessment, programming, coaching, and getting results, but clueless on the business side of things.  These people need to be reading more business books and attending seminars on how to run a business effectively.  And, as with the previous case, they should consider collaborating with someone who has good business know-how so that they can leverage their strengths.  I actually do a lot of this myself at Cressey Performance; while I'm about 80/20 training/business, having Pete as our full-time business guy allows me to spend more time specializing in various contexts to expand our market segment. Just some food for thought.  I'd encourage you to look at what you do on a daily basis, and consider the concept of opportunity cost as it relates to your fitness and professional development.  I know I do it all the time. New Blog Content Things I Learned from Smart People: Installment 1 Random Friday Thoughts Things I Learned from Smart People: Installment 2 Have a great week! EC
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Intern Hazing: Installment 2

Today, we've got the first ever Cressey Performance Intern Hazing Poll.  Here's how it works.... Posted below are three videos of our interns getting dominated by a delightful assortment of torturous exercises.  We really didn't expect them to look good doing this, but hey, that's the whole point, right?  Anyway, you, the readers of EricCressey.com get to rank the interns from 1 to 3 (1=first place, 2=second place, 3=third place) based on the following criteria: 1. Artistic Mastery 2. Fashion (nice shoes, Roger) 3. Proximity to Vomiting 4. Time to Completion 5. Number of breaks in action 6. Inferiority to Mike Roncarati, the most diesel CP intern of all time, who could eat these kiddies for breakfast (way to be, Mike!) 7. Inspiration (someone out there was having a bad day until they watched these videos and realized that things could have been a lot worse). Voting will be closed Monday night, June 15th at midnight.  The winner really won't receive anything, but futility is really the name of the game anyway.  Oh, feel free to suggest some torture for next Thursday for these guys. Without further ado, the candidates: Candidate #1: Phil "The Thrill" Gauthier

EC Commentary: He plays the grunting card nicely.  Good speed...compared with a 12-year-old girl's performance on this medley.  Push-up technique was probably the best of the bunch, although I don't think it's going to get him any Cirque Du Soleil tryouts. Candidate #2: Alex Nash "and Burn"

EC Commentary: Admittedly, I was stretching out one of our pitchers while he was doing this, so I'm shooting from the hip on his on-camera presence rather than relying on my experience on Thursday.  Eyewitnesses reported that he demonstrated the worst push-ups in CP history.  I would have liked to see a jog back to the sled after finishing the overhead keg lunges, too.  I will give him some credit for not losing his breakfast, as the omelet and oatmeal was flying after pushing the sled last week.

Candidate #3: Roger "Double Your Pleasure, Double Your Fun" Lawson

(Note: Roger took so long that the first camera's battery died, and we had to rush to grab a second digital camera in the office.  There was a good two minutes of grunting, sweating, and weird spasm-like movement during this brief hiatus)

EC Commentary: Roger certainly took the grunting to a whole new level; in fact, was he crying at one point?  I think I actually heard him blurt out, "My mother didn't love me, and I never learned to read!"  I can't be sure, though.  I'll give him some style points for managing to get caught in the batting cage net like a tuna; that was graceful.  He also earned some drama points for the repeated collapses on the keg lunges, not to mention an artistic mastery bonus with the swift sniper roll during the sled-to-keg transition.

So what do you think, world?  Cast your votes as replies to this blog, ranking these guys from 1 to 3 (1 being the best).  And, don't forget to suggest some torture for Installment 3.

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Strength and Conditioning Programs: Rethinking Interval Training

Rethinking Interval Training I love interval training, but one of the problems we commonly run into - particularly if someone isn't prepared physically to sprint, or doesn't have a place to do it because of weather restrictions - is that repetitive, low-amplitude motions are our only options.  In other words, it has to just be cycling, elliptical, or stairclimber.  While slideboard work, medicine ball medleys, barbell complexes, and sled pushing definitely help to work around these problems, when it comes down to it, many of them still don't give certain folks the variety they need in their exercise programming.

In our Building the Efficient Athlete seminar, Mike Robertson and I spoke about the law of repetitive motion: I = NF/AR In this equation, injury equals the number of repetitions multiplied by the frequency of those repetitions, divided by the amplitude of each repetition times the rest interval.  While you can attack each of these five factors differently (and I will in a future newsletter), the take-home point with respect to today's discussion is that simply increasing the amplitude - or range-of-motion - in one's daily life can reduce (or eliminate) the presence or severity of overuse conditions. For that reason, I often substitute one or both of two different training modalities for client's interval training. The first is dynamic flexibility circuits with little to no rest between sets.  In this scenario, we program 2-3 different mobility/activation drills for each inefficiency the athlete displays, and then combine them in a series of drills.  Ideally, as many of these drills are done in the standing position as possible.  Let's say a client has poor thoracic spine mobility, a horrific Thomas test, bad glute function, and poor hip external rotation.  Here's what his circuit might look like: a) 1-leg supine bridge b) wall hip flexor mobilizations c) 3-point extension-rotations d) cradle walks e) overhead lunge walks f) walking spiderman with overhead reach g) yoga push-ups h) 1-leg SLDL walks (you can find videos of many of these exercises in the Assess and Correct DVD set, and I'll have more information on the rest down the road)

Is this circuit going to completely "gas" an athlete?  Absolutely not.  However, it is going to make him/her better in light of the inefficiencies I outlined above - and you don't have to leave the gym exhausted to have improved. The second option is to simply take a series of resistance training exercises with a corrective emphasis (sometimes integrates with the drills outlined above) and put them in a series of supersets.  For these exercises, the load utilized should only be about 30% of 1-rep max.  I outlined this option a while back in my article, Cardio Confusion. Here's an example I used with an online consulting client recently: A1) Overhead broomstick walking Lunges (3x10/side) A2) Push-ups (3x12) B1) Face pulls (3x15) B2) Body weight only reverse lunges (3x10/side) C1) 1-leg SLDL Walk (2x6/side) C2) Band external rotations - arm adducted (2x15/side) D1) Behind-the-neck band pullaparts (2x15) D2) Bowler Squats (2x10/side) This series is preceded by foam rolling and a dynamic flexibility warm-up, and can be followed by more "traditional" interval training. Like I said earlier, I'm still all for both traditional and non-traditional interval training.  Initiative like I outlined above, though, can serve as a nice change of pace and work in corrective exercise while keeping the heart rate up.  Be as creative as you'd like and you'll see great results; the sky is the limit in terms of the combinations you can use. Enter your email below to subscribe to our FREE newsletter:
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The “Saving the Shuffler” Sale

Earlier this week, I introduced you to the "shuffler," a breed of endurance athlete that seems to be everywhere in Boston this time of year.  And, skilled trapper that I am, I actually managed to catch one last night to: a) rescue her from herself, b) learn more about how we can diagnose and treat this shuffling epidemic in the endurance training community c) even help charity in the process. In fact, promising to help her out with her charitable deeds was the only way I could cajole Steph Holland-Brodney into doing this interview from the cage we keep her in at Cressey Performance. I'm not normally this sarcastic with our clients, but Steph's the most tenured of the bunch, having been with me since I first moved to Boston in the summer of 2006 as she prepared for her first Boston Marathon.  She's put up with my bad jokes and stuck with me through two facility moves.  With two Boston Marathons under her belt - and one more on the horizon - it's been interesting to watch the shift in her mindset over the past few years. Maybe it's been Tony's mind-numbing techno music that's gotten her to come to her senses.  Then again, I can't explain how that would have happened, as that garbage drives me crazy. Or, maybe she got a pack of carb goo that had passed its expiration date.  Nope, that can't be it; simple sugars make people dumber, not smarter. My hunch is that there's a lot more to it - and that's why I think an interview with her will tell an awesome story.  Check it out. EC: Okay, let's get right to the meat and potatoes.  When did you start running, and more importantly, why? SH-B: You eat potatoes?  Sorry, I'm easily distracted. I ran here and there through college and graduate school, but never more than three miles.  After I had my second child, I needed to lose that infamous and annoying "baby weight," so started running again.  I bought this Oldsmobile of a double stroller and it took me longer to get them both in it than my runs took.  I was running on the morning of September 11, 2001 when my mom died as her plane was hijacked.  I wasn't home to see any of the images live.   In many ways I am thankful for that. Over the next few years I became more serious about my running; it was my escape.  After completing some 5k and 10k races, I decided that I wanted to tackle The Biggest Enchilada of them all (you know, to honor my Mexican heritage.)  When I saw that Boston Medical Center was a charity for the Boston Marathon, I applied immediately.  The Good Grief program at BMC helped me so much after my mother passed away.  It was a no-brainer. EC: How has your training program changed in that time period?  What have you added? Subtracted? SH-B:  I used to view lifting as "supplemental" and my "cardio" (yes, I was a Step Aerobics and Spinning instructor) as the core of my training.  That has totally changed.  I used to be a cardio 4x/week and lift 2x/week chick.  Now, I lift 3x a week and do cardio three times. At least one or two of those times is interval work.  I used to whine (well, I still do, but it's definitely a more angry whine) when I had to lift heavy.  Now, I get pissed off if I don't hit a goal.  I mean, what 5-2 marathon midget gets off on trap bar deadlifting 225?


EC: Whine?  You?  Never.  I'll just say that there were a lot of us that were pretty relieved when you uttered these words and they became the photo-worthy quote of the year at CP :

We Saved Her!

Anyway, though, it's been my observation that roughly 80% of those who follow the cookie-cutter marathon training program they're given develop some sort of an overuse injury prior to the marathon.  I think the hardest part about this is that it's impossible to really "fix" any lower extremity issue when an individual is still running with such high mileage.  You've had your share of aches and pains along the way; what have you're your strategies for dealing with them, and what have they taught you? SH-B: Marchese and Morgan torture, lower mileage, my foam roller, and a proper warm-up.  Soft tissue work is a must.  I see John Marchese and Tim Morgan every other week.  I tell them that giving birth to two kids was less painful then their treatment.  Those 45 minutes of torture though are so important. Like the CP staff, they were adamant about lowering my weekly mileage and replacing some of my runs with interval work and even some bike work.  The foam roller and I have taken our relationship to an entirely new level.  And the terms "ankle mobilization" and "glutes activation" have taken on new meaning in my life. EC: Now, I've come to appreciate that we've turned you into a training snob.  You appreciate a good training environment, and loathe watching people do moronic stuff in the gym.  What are three things you've seen/heard among endurance athletes that made you want to hole them up in the Big Dig? SH-B: So easy.  Do yoga.  Do yoga.  Do yoga.  No, wait: do hot yoga. EC: You're right; that was too easy.  What else you got? SH-B:  Add more mileage, "I don't have time to strength train," and going carb crazy before long runs and forgetting about protein.  Brian St. Pierre has taught me a tremendous amount about carb/protein ratios and the breakdown of fat in your system.  And the importance not only of the pre-long run meal but the post run nutrition also.  If he tells me one more time about quinoa or kiwis.... EC: Speaking of good training environments, at Cressey Performance, there's something known as the "V-Hour" - and those who train during that time period are known as the "V-Club."  While I came up with the name, you're undoubtedly the president and events coordinator for the group.  So, I figured you could best articulate the mission of this esteemed group of ladies.  Oh, and just what exactly does the "V' stand for? SH-B: Oh Eric, you just want to make a mother of two and teacher say VAGINA, don't you?  Clarification, I'm not the president.  I am social director.  Let me just say that last night at CP, the last three clients there were ALL women.  I have trained with you for almost 3 years and that has never happened.  When I started with you I was your only female client for quite some time.  Slowly, more women started to jump in on the madness. Let's face it, V Club Members are versatile; we have to be.  We're married, single, confused, all ages.  Some of us are professional athletes, some of us are endurance athletes and some of us just like to lift heavy stuff.  We must tolerate the same rotation of three CDs all of the time, having Brian yell across the crowded gym for all to hear, "Stick your ass out more," and Tony walking around with his Tupperware full of beef, broccoli and guacamole saying things like, "Atta girl!"  And let's not even get into you. We've got to be witty and be able to dish it out.  Have good taste in music and know how to rock a pair of Seven Jeans.  We are a tiny percentage of the clientele.  We support one another in our quest for CP greatness.  And our favorite activity is of course making fun of the staff. EC: Okay, let's talk fund raising.  For whom are you raising money with this year's marathon efforts?  And, how much have you raised in recent years for that cause? SH-B:  This is my third year with Boston Medical Center.  Their mission is "exceptional care without exception."  That pretty much sums up my mom's mission in life.  Over the past 2 years I have raised $10,000.  This year I need to raise $3,000.  I have about $2,200 left to go. I just have to say this.  When I was first referred to you, I saw my time with you as maybe a six-week stint.  I needed "corrective exercise."  Never did I think that my entire philosophy on training would change - or that I'd make such great friendships.  I look more forward to my CP sessions than I do my runs.  A half hour at the track doing sprint intervals kicks my butt more than a "medium run." You guys really have turned me into a training snob and I am so thankful for it.  Before this ends, I have one request.   Can one of the interns vacuum my cage? EC:  I'll see what I can do.  Thanks for taking the time; now, let's raise some money for a great cause. Boston Medical Center has helped loads of people like Steph, and while I think they deserve the donations regardless, I'm going to sweeten the deal.  Here's the scoop: Make a donation of $20 or more to BMC HERE by next Thursday, March 26 at midnight.  Then, forward your receipt to me at ec@ericcressey.com.  In exchange, I'll send you a coupon code for 20% off ANY purchase of: 1. Magnificent Mobility (e-manual and CEU package available) 2. Building the Efficient Athlete DVD Set (CEU package available) 3. Inside-Out (e-manual and CEU package available) 4. The Ultimate Off-Season Manual 5. The Art of the Deload 6. The Truth About Unstable Surface Training 7. The Indianapolis Performance Enhancement DVD Set (CEU package available) 8. Bulletproof Knees (CEU package available) In your email, just let me know which product(s) you'd like to purchase.  As you can tell, if you purchased a bunch of these products at once, a simple $20 donation could save you hundreds of dollars in products.  A huge thanks go out Bill Hartman and Mike Robertson for generously agreeing to help out with this promotion. Here's that donation link again: https://www.kintera.org/faf/donorReg/donorPledge.asp?ievent=294905&lis=0&kntae294905=C0E17F6614F64DF5BBC0DB96BF2D3283&supId=246743102 Thanks for your help in supporting this great cause! EC
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Weight Loss and Distance Running

It's that time of year in Boston.  The "shufflers" are out in full effect. For those of you who aren't familiar with a "shuffler," it's an individual who has recently taken up distance running as a means of losing weight.  As the weather gets nicer and the Boston Marathon rapidly approaches, you can spot shufflers out in droves all over Boston.  They shuffle for a number of reasons: 1. They believe that shuffling at 2.5mph is actually more effective than walking at 2.5mph. 2. Usually, they're about 80% of the way through the marathon training programs that were provided to them, and as a result, most are suffering from IT band problems, plantar fasciitis, Achilles and patellar tendinosis, sciatica, and a serious case of "whatthehellwasithinkingsigningupforthis-itis." 3. Because they never learned to sprint, they run with zero hip flexion (check out Newsletter 77: Sprinting for Health for details). 4. They are simply trying to finish their exercise in the most efficient way possible.  In other words, complete the task with as little discomfort as possible. And here, we have the problem.  Sally takes up running because she thinks she'll lose some body fat.  And, initially, she does lose weight because - to quote Alwyn Cosgrove - it's a "metabolic disturbance" compared to doing nothing.  Moving burns more calories than not moving. However, over time, that activity injures Sally and fosters bad movement patterns, meaning that she'll miss more exercise sessions down the road.  And, she quickly starts searching for the most efficient means of completing her runs, so her body gets more and more efficient - meaning that it burns fewer calories to accomplish the same task.  Whether it is three miles or 13 miles, it's always about just finishing.  Quantity always takes precedence over quality. With March Madness upon us, pretend you're watching a basketball game where you have two teams: Team A wants to win, and Team B wants to simply get through the 40 minutes of the game.  Team A dives for loose balls, full-court presses, and hits the boards hard.  Team B watches the clock.  Who burns more calories?  Team A, no doubt - because they get lost in their performance. Back in college, did you learn more in the graded courses, or the ones that were simply pass-fail?  And, as I asked in Maximum Strength, do you get stronger when you "train" or "work out?" This, to me, is one more reason why interval training outperforms steady-state cardio on top of all the other reasons (e.g., excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, reduction of overuse injuries) that we already know.  There is not a single effective exercise modality out there in a non-beginner population that works simply because one shows up and finishes.  The outstanding success loads of folks have had with Warpspeed Fat Loss is a perfect example; Cosgrove and Mike Roussell challenged them to be just a little bit better at each successive training session - either with loading or number of sets completed.


If you are going to distance-run (and aren't a competitive endurance athlete), focus on going faster, not fine-tuning the art of pacing yourself when grandmothers are passing you with their walkers.  Pacing yourself doesn't even work at all-you-can-eat buffets; everyone knows you get full too fast and never live up to your gluttony potential.  And, as I always say, if it doesn't fly at all-you-can-eat buffets, it just ain't right. If you're going to interval train, your goal is to go faster each time.  More watts, more steps in a given time period, more ghastly stares from the lady reading a magazine on the leg press, whatever.  Mike Boyle had some great thoughts on this front in a recent submission HERE.  As long as it is quantifiable and you're busting your hump to compete against your previous best, I'm happy. I like the idea of camaraderie and/or competition with others in interval training, too. For example, our staff did this 16-yard x 16-trip sled medley three Thursdays in a row - and each time, it was a little faster (meaning that we had fewer rest periods between sets):

Later in the week, I'll be back with more thoughts to keep this headed in the right direction. New Blog Content Random Friday Thoughts Barefoot Training Guidelines Big Bench to Bigger Bench Stuff You Should Read All the Best, EC

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Interval Training: HIIT or Miss

Today, we've got a special guest post from Michael Boyle of StrengthCoach.com.  This is some fantastic stuff - definitely one of the most comprehensive articles I've seen on the topic of interval training

Interval Training- HIIT or Miss?

I think every fat loss article we read espouses the value of interval training for fat loss. In fact the term HIIT (for High Intensity Interval Training) is thrown around so much that many people just assume they know what it is. However, among all the recommendations I see to perform HIIT, very few articles contain any practical information as to what to do or how to do it. I have to confess that I stumbled into this area somewhat accidentally. Two different processes converged to make me understand that I might be a fat loss expert and not know it. In my normal process of professional reading I read both Alwyn Cosgrove's Afterburn and Craig Ballantyne's Turbulence Training. What struck me immediately was that what these experts were recommending for fat loss looked remarkably like the programs we used for conditioning. At the time I was reading these programs, I was also training members of the U.S. Women's Olympic Ice Hockey team. It seemed all of the female athletes I worked with attempted to use steady state cardio work as a weight loss or weight maintenance vehicle. I was diametrically opposed to this idea as I felt that steady state cardiovascular work undermined the strength and power work we were doing in the weight room. My policy became "intervals only" if you wanted to do extra work. I did not do this as a fat loss strategy but rather as a "slowness prevention" strategy. However, a funny thing happened. The female athletes that we prevented from doing steady state cardiovascular work also began to get remarkably leaner. I was not bright enough to put two and two together until I read the above-mentioned manuals and realized that I was doing exactly what the fat loss experts recommended. We were on a vigorous strength program and we were doing lots of intervals. With that said, the focus of this article will be not "why," as we have already heard the "why" over and over, but "how." How do I actually perform HIIT? To begin, we need to understand exactly what interval training is? In the simplest sense, interval training is nothing more than a method of exercise that uses alternating periods of work and rest. The complicated part of interval training may be figuring out how to use it.  How much work do I do? How hard should I do it? How long should I rest before I do it again? Interval training has been around for decades. However, only recently have fitness enthusiasts around the world been awakened to the value. The recent popularity of interval training has even given it a new name in the literature. Interval training is often referred to as High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and it is now the darling of the fat loss and conditioning worlds. Truth is, you can also do low intensity interval training. In fact most people should not start with HIIT but LIIT. HIIT may make you vomit if you don't work into it. Research Background In case you have been in a cave for the last decade let's quickly review some research. A recent study, done in Canada at McMaster University and often referenced as the Gibala Study after lead researcher Martin Gibala, compared 20 minutes of high intensity interval training, consisting of a 30 second sprint followed by a four minute rest, with 90 to 120 minutes in the target heart rate zone. The result was amazing. Subjects got the same improvement in oxygen utilization from both programs. What is more amazing is that the 20 minute program only requires about two minutes and 30 seconds of actual work. A second study that has become known as the Tabata study again shows the extreme benefits of interval training. Tabata compared moderate intensity endurance training at about 70 percent of VO2 max to high intensity intervals done at 170 percent of VO2 max. Tabata used a unique protocol of 20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest done in seven to eight bouts. This was basically a series of 20 second intervals performed during a four-minute span. Again, the results were nothing short of amazing. The 20/10 protocol improved the VO2 max and the anaerobic capabilities more than the steady state program. Further evidence for the superiority of higher intensity work can be found in the September/October 2006 issue of the ACSM Journal. Dr. David Swain stated "running burns twice as many calories as walking." This is great news for those who want to lose body fat. I am not a running advocate, but we can put to rest another high intensity (running) versus low intensity (walking) debate. Do the math. Swain states that a 136-pound person walking will burn 50 cal/mile and proportionally more as the subject's weight increases. In other words, a 163-pound person would weigh 20 percent more and, as a result, burn 20 percent more calories. This means that expenditure goes from 50 to 60 calories, also a 20 percent increase. Swain goes on to state that running at seven mph burns twice as many calories as walking at four mph. This means a runner would burn 100 calories in roughly eight and one half minutes or about 11 calories a minute. The walker at four miles per hour would burn 50 calories in 15 minutes (the time it would take to walk a mile at four MPH). That's less than four calories per minute of exercise. Please understand that this is less a testament for running and more a testament for high intensity work versus low intensity work. More intensity equals greater expenditure per minute. Interval Training Methods There are two primary ways to performing interval training. The first is the conventional Work-to-Rest method. This is the tried and true method most people are familiar with. The Work-to-Rest method uses a set time interval for the work period and a set time interval for the rest period. Ratios are determined, and the athlete or client rests for generally one, two or three times the length of the work interval before repeating the next bout. The big drawback to the Work to Rest method is that time is arbitrary. We have no idea what is actually happening inside the body. We simply guess. In fact, for many years, we have always guessed, as we had no other "measuring stick." Heart Rate Method With the mass production of low cost heart rate monitors, we are no longer required to guess. The future of interval training lies with accurate, low cost heart rate monitors. We are no longer looking at time as a measure of recovery, as we formerly did in our work-to-rest ratios. We are now looking at physiology. What is important to understand is that heart rate and intensity are closely related. Although heart rate is not a direct and flawless measure of either intensity or recovery status, it is far better than simply choosing a time interval to rest. To use the heart rate method, simply choose an appropriate recovery heart rate. In our case, we use 60 percent of theoretical max heart rate. After a work interval of a predetermined time or distance is completed, the recovery is simply set by the time it takes to return to the recovery heart rate. When using HR response, the whole picture changes. Initial recovery in well-conditioned athletes and clients is often rapid and shorter than initially thought. In fact, rest to work ratios may be less than 1-1 in the initial few intervals. An example of a sample workout using the heart rate method for a well-conditioned athlete or client is show below.
  • Interval 1 - Work 60 sec rest 45 sec
  • Interval 2 - Work 60 sec rest 60 sec
  • Interval 3 - Work 60 sec rest 75 sec
  • Interval 4 - Work 60 sec rest 90 sec
*In a conventional 2-1, time based program the rest period would have been too long for the first three intervals, rendering them potentially less effective. The reverse may be true in a de-conditioned athlete or client. I have seen young, de-conditioned athletes need rest up to eight times as long as the work interval. In fact, we have seen athletes who need two minutes rest after a 15 second interval. In the heartrate method the rest times gradually get longer. Th first interval is 1-.75 while the last interval is 1 to 1.5, The Problem with Formulas At least 70 percent of the population does not fit into our age-old theoretical formulas. The 220 minus age formula is flawed on two key points: it doesn't fit a significant portion of the population, and it is not based on research. Even the developer of the now-famous formula admits that his thoughts were taken out of context. The more accurate method is called the Heart Rate Reserve Method or Karvonen formula. Karvonen Formula (Max HR- Resting HR) x %+ RHR= THR Ex- (200-60) x.8 +60 = 172 The key to the Karvonen formula is that it looks at larger measures of fitness by incorporating the resting heart rate and is therefore less arbitrary. However, the two twenty minus age formula will suffice for establishing recovery heart rates. Interval Training Basics The longer the interval, the shorter the rest period as a percentage of the interval. In other words, short intervals have a high muscular demand and will require longer rests when viewed as a percentage of the interval. Fifteen second intervals will need at least a 2-1 rest to work ration. Three to one will work better for beginners. Interval Rest Recommendations (Work-to-Rest Based) - 15 sec. Beginners at least 45 sec (3-1), more advanced 30 sec (2-1) - 30 sec. Rest 1:00 to 1:30 (3-1 or 2-1) - 1:00. Rest 1:00- 2:00 (2-1 or 1-1) Just remember, as the intervals get longer, the recovery time, as it relates to the interval, may not need to be as long. In other words, a fifteen second sprint may require 30-45 seconds rest but a two minute interval may only need to be followed by a two minute rest. Aerobic Intervals? The biggest benefit of interval training is that you can get a tremendous aerobic workout without the boredom of long steady state bouts of exercises. In fact as the Gibala study demonstrated, you can get superior benefits for both fitness and fat loss by incorporating interval training. If the heart rate is maintained above the theoretical 60 percent threshold proposed for aerobic training, then the entire session is both aerobic and anaerobic. This is why my athletes do almost no "conventional" aerobic training. All of our aerobic work is a by-product of our anaerobic work. My athletes or clients can get their heart rate in the recommended aerobic range for 15 to 20 minutes, yet in some cases, they do only three to five minutes of actual work. Modes of Interval Training Although most people visualize interval training as a track and field concept, our preferred method of interval training is the stationary bike. Although I think running is the theoretical "best" mode of training, the facts are clear. Most Americans are not fit enough to run. In fact, statistics estimate that 60 percent of those who begin a running program will be injured. In a fitness or personal training setting, that is entirely unacceptable. Females, based on the genetics of the female body (wider hips, narrower knees) are at potentially even greater risk. Physical therapist Diane Lee says it best in her statement, "You can't run to get fit. You need to be fit to run." Interval training can be done on any piece of equipment. However, the most expeditious choice in my opinion will be a dual action bike like the Schwinn AirDyne. The bike allows, in the words of performance enhancement expert Alwyn Cosgrove, "maximum metabolic disturbance with minimal muscular disruption." In other words, you can work really hard and not injure yourself on a stationary bike.


Fit individuals can choose any mode they like. However, the bike is the best and safest choice. In my mind, the worst choice might be the elliptical trainers. Charles Staley, another noted training expert, has a concept I believe he calls the 180 Principle. Staley advocates doing exactly the opposite of what you see everyone else in the gym doing. I'm in agreement. Walking on a treadmill and using an elliptical trainer seem to be the two most popular modes of training in a gym. My conclusion, supported by Staley's 180 Principle, is that neither is of much use. Interval Training Modes in Detail Running
  • Maybe the most effective method but also most likely to cause injury.
  • Shuttle runs (running to a line and back repeatedly) have both high muscular demand (acceleration and deceleration) and high metabolic demand.
  • Running is relative. Running straight ahead for 30 seconds is significantly easier than a 30 second shuttle.
  • Shuttle runs produce more muscular discomfort due to the repeated acceleration and deceleration.
  • Running for the average gym-goers is impractical as a fairly large area is needed.
Treadmill Running
  • A close second to ground based running in both effectiveness and unfortunately injury potential.
  • Getting on and off a moving treadmill is an athletic skill and can result in serious injury. Therefore, treadmill interval running is probably not for the average personal training client.
  • Treadmill speeds are deceiving. For example, 10 MPH is only a six minute mile yet can feel very fast. However, 10 MPH is not a difficult pace for intervals for a well-conditioned athlete.
  • High quality interval treadmills should be able to go to 15 MPH.
  • For treadmill running, first practice the skill of getting on and off the moving treadmill (The author assumes no responsibility for those thrown on the floor attempting this. Do not try this in a normal health club, where the treadmills are packed in like sardines. You must have room to fall off without striking an immovable object).
Additional Treadmill Drawbacks
  • Lack of true active hip extension may under train the hamstrings.
  • In treadmill running, the belt moves, you just stay airborne. Treadmill times do not translate well to running on the ground. This may be due to lack of ground contact time.
Treadmill Recommendations
  • Time based. Try 15 seconds on with 45 seconds off at 7 MPH and 5% incline. For safety, decrease speed and increase incline.
  • Heart rate based (max HR of 200 used for example). Try a 15 second sprint at 7/5 and simply rest until the heart rate returns to 120 beats per minute. Rest is rest, don't walk or jog or your heart rate will lower slowly.
Stationary Bike
  • Dual action bikes like the Airdyne produce a higher HR. This is due to the combined action of the arms and legs. There is no better affordable option than the AirDyne. Although they require periodic maintenance they are the perfect interval tool as they do not need any adjustments to belts or knobs when interval training. The fan is an accommodating resistance device. This means that the harder you push the more resistance you get back. If you have large fan AirDyne, purchase and install windscreens. Most athletes and clients dislike the large fan AirDynes as they are unable to work up a sweat without a windscreen.
  • This is probably the best "safe" tool.
  • Requires limited skill.
  • Limited potential for overuse injury.
Stationary Bike Recommendations
  • Same time recommendations as for the treadmill. For the AirDyne, set the top display to Level. For a well-conditioned male a 15 second sprint should be level 12-15. Do not go all out as this will seriously undermine the ability to repeat additional intervals. Well-conditioned female athletes will be Level 8-10 for 15 seconds. Levels should be adjusted down for fitness level and up for body size. Larger athletes or clients will find the bike easier.  Large fan AirDynes (older models)  will have slightly different work levels than the newer smaller fan models.
  • Slideboards provide the best "bang for the buck" after the AirDyne. However, in a fitness setting there is a skill requirement. Clients must be warned that they may fall and potentially be injured. This may sound stupid but be sure to inform the client that the board is slippery. I can't tell you how many clients have stepped on a slideboard and remarked "this is slippery". Remember what they say about assuming.
  • The slideboard provides added the benefits of a standing position and getting hip ab and adductor work.
  • Slideboards are also great for groups. No adjustment are needed, you just need extra booties. We order 4 pair for every board.
  • Safe in spite of "experts." Some so-called experts have questioned the effect of the slideboard on the knees; however, there is nothing more than the anecdotal evidence of a few writers to support this theory.
Climbers and Ellipticals
  • The key to using any climbing device is to keep the hands and arms off of the equipment. This is critical. Just put a heart rate monitor on and keep the hands of and watch the heart rate skyrocket. If clients complain about lack of balance, slow down the machine and develop the balance, but don't allow them to hold on.
  • The StepMill is the least popular, and as Staley points out, the most effective. Think 180 again. If it's popular, it's probably not good.
  • Conventional Stairclimbers are easier to abuse than the StepMill. Many users ramp up the speed while allowing the arms to do the majority of the work. As we mentioned before, keep your hands off the rails.
  • The elliptical machine is most popular because it is easiest. This is nothing more than human nature at work. Discourage your clients from using an elliptical trainer. If they insist, let them do it on their off days.
Research continues to mount that interval training may improve fitness better than steady state work. The big key is not what to do any more but, how to do it. For maximum effect, get a heart rate monitor and go to work. One warning. Deconditioned clients may need three weeks to a month of steady work to get ready to do intervals. This is OK. Don't kill a beginner with interval training. Begin with a quality strength program and some steady state cardiovascular work. The only good use for steady state work in my mind is preparing an athlete or client for the intervals to come. References:
  1. Resistance Exercise Reverses Aging in Human Skeletal Muscle." Simon Melov, Mark Tarnopolsky, Kenneth Beckman, Krysta Felkey and Alan Hubbard PLoS ONE 2(5): e465. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.
  2. "Short Term Sprint Interval Versus Traditional Endurance Training: Similar Initial Adaptations in Human Skeletal Muscle and Exercise Performance Journal of Physiology Sept 2006, Vol 575 Issue 3.
  3. Effects of moderate-intensity endurance and high-intensity intermittent training on anaerobic capacity and VO2max. Tabata I, Nishimura K, Kouzaki M, Hirai Y, Ogita F, Miyachi M, Yamamoto K. Department of Physiology and Biomechanics, National Institute of Fitness and Sports, Kagoshima Prefecture, Japan.
  4. September/October ACSM Health and Fitness Journal. Dr. David Swain Moderate or Vigorous Intensity Exercise: What Should We Prescribe?
Michael is a Boston-based strength and conditioning coach and the editor of StrengthCoach.com. You can purchase Mike's products through Perform Better. The above article is based on the best-selling Interval Training DVD filmed  in 2007.
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