Tag Archives: high-intensity interval training

Up-Tempo Training is Best

1 Apr


Seated Cable Row

One of our preferred strategies when training athletes (and virtually every other client) involves minimizing rest intervals among and between sets.  Maintaining an “up-tempo” pace  — keeping the heart rate up during a workout — results in continuous improvement, regardless of fitness level.

There’s no need to be in the weight room all day.  Most of our clients’ sessions are about 45-50 minutes in duration, and there’s very little “down” time.  They get in, get their work done, and get out (and recover).

We’ve found that agonist-antagonist paired sets (working opposing muscle groups — pushing and pulling — e.g., the bench press and row) are a great way to maintain an aggressive workout tempo, improve workout efficiency, and reduce training time, while not compromising workout quality.  In addition to strengthening muscles, this strategy strengthens and stabilizes joints and helps prevent injury.  Our athletes and clients perform the paired exercises, back-to-back, completing all sets with as little rest as they can manage, then rest for one minute before proceeding to the next pair of exercises.

We also vary our training programs, changing exercises weekly, while ensuring that each session is a total-body workout.  Performing different exercises for similar muscle movements is important to keep workouts challenging.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is another terrific way to maintain an efficient, up-tempo workout.  HIIT involves alternating high- and low-intensity exercise over a pre-determined period of time.  We like a ratio of 1:3, high-intensity to low-intensity, as a benchmark, depending on the athlete’s/client’s fitness level.


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Improve Your Cardiovascular Endurance and Fitness With This Workout

17 Sep

Here’s a challenging, efficient cardio circuit for you to try.  Basically, it’s a one-mile run consisting of progressively longer distances and rest intervals.  Please note this workout is not meant to be done at a “light jog” pace.  Push yourself to maintain as aggressive a pace as you can manage for each interval.

After an appropriate warmup, do the following:

8 x 50 yards — 15 second active rest interval (keep moving; walk, light jog, etc.) between sprints; 30 second rest interval upon completion of all 8 sprints

4 x 100 yards — 30 second active rest interval between sprints; 60 second rest interval upon completion of all 4 sprints

2 x 200 yards — 60 second active rest interval between sprints; 2 minute rest interval upon completion of both sprints

1 x 400 yards — cool down until breathing normally

You’ll notice I’ve described all the runs as “sprints.”  That may or may not be realistic, depending on your typical cardio routine and fitness level.  You’ll probably be able to maintain a faster pace running the 50 yard intervals than you will running the final, 400 yard distance.  That’s okay, as long as you’re challenging yourself to do your personal best.


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6 Ways to Tone Your Legs

26 Jul

Lots of our female clients are looking for help to firm and tone their legs… fast.  That requires some effort, but you can shape your lower body with a combination of strength training and cardio.  You won’t necessarily need a gym, as most of the exercises we will share can be done with your own body weight.  Aim for 2-3 days per week, for both strength training and cardio (we like alternating days between the two types of training, in order to leave a day of rest between strength training days).

Here are 6 ways to firm and tone your legs:

  1. Do squats (or some variation).  Squats – traditional or single-leg – are among the most effective exercises for strengthening and toning your lower-body.  Before attempting the barbell back squat, begin with body-weight squats and progress to the dumbbell goblet squat.  Maintain proper technique and challenge yourself by increasing intensity (weight, repetitions) as you progress.  Lunges are another option, and can be performed in combination with, or as an alternative to, squats
  2. Work your posterior chain.  Don’t ignore the muscles behind your legs, your hamstrings and calves.  Exercises like the glute-ham raise, Romanian deadlift, and Swiss ball hamstring curl are great choices for working your hamstrings.  Calf raises can help strengthen and tone the muscles of your lower leg.
  3. Run (or walk) uphill.  Instead of running or walking on flat terrain, take a trip to your local stadium and add stadium stairs to your workout.  If that’s not an option, find an area with a hill or incline.  You’ll be surprised by how much even a small incline can increase the intensity – and the benefit – of your workout.
  4. Add intervals.  If you want to get lean, you need to burn fat.  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to burn fat.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  HIIT works equally well, whether the type of exercise is resistance/strength training or cardio.  The key is to go hard during the high-intensity portion of the interval, and keep moving, even during the low-intensity portion of the interval.
  5. Get up off your feet.  Jumping exercises are a great addition to any workout.  Squat jumps and split-squat (alternating lunge) jumps require no equipment and can be done anywhere.  Plyometric exercises — such as box jumps, hurdle hops, and depth jumps — require greater expenditure of energy and burn more calories.  Add these exercises immediately after your squats or lunges.
  6. Eat smart.  If you really want to get lean, your nutrition plan must complement your fitness regimen.  Avoid (or, at least minimize) foods like white grains, pasta, fruit juices, and other processed, high-sugar foods. Ultimately, excess blood sugar gets stored as fat.  Make sure your carbs are whole grain and high-fiber.  Increase your protein consumption by eating more lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish), eggs, and dairy (milk, Greek yogurt), and add a daily protein shake to your diet.


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6 Ways to Sculpt Your Abs

19 Jul

Everyone wants a lean, muscular physique and six-pack abs.  And, although there are lots of people and products making lots of promises, you can do all the abs exercises you want but, until you lose that layer of fat covering your midsection, the only thing you’ll accomplish is strengthening the muscles hidden beneath the fat.

Here are 6 tips to help reveal your abs:

  1. Burn fat.  Doing lots of abs exercises won’t help you lose fat (I once read that it takes 250.000 crunches to burn one pound of fat!).  To lose fat, you’ll need total-body strength training, a certain type of cardio called interval training, and a diet that is consistent with your goals.
  2. Lift weights.  Every time you exercise, you should aim to work every major muscle group.  Research shows that the metabolic impact of strength training persists for up to 48 hours, post-workout.  The more lean muscle you build, the greater the number of calories you burn, at rest.
  3. Keep moving.  Turn your strength training workout into a metabolic circuit by minimizing rest intervals between sets.  Alternate between upper- and lower-body exercises, or push-pull exercises.  Increase the intensity even more by mixing in cardio exercises like step-ups, jumping jacks, running in place, or jumping rope.
  4. Work your entire core.  Don’t limit your focus to your abs.  Find exercises that work your entire core, from shoulders to hips.  We really like to incorporate planks – 4-point, 3-point, side, and several other variations – into our core work.  Rotational exercises, using kettlebells and medicine balls, tend to be higher-intensity and are also effective core exercises.
  5. Add intervals.  As discussed in a previous article, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is one of the best ways to burn fat.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  HIIT works equally well, whether the type of exercise is resistance/strength training or cardio.  The key is to go hard during the high-intensity portion of the interval, and keep moving, even during the low-intensity portion of the interval.
  6. Eat smart.  If you really want to get a ripped six-pack, doing the right abs exercises is only part of the equation.  Avoid (or, at least minimize) foods like white grains, pasta, fruit juices, and other processed, high-sugar foods. Ultimately, excess blood sugar gets stored as fat.  Make sure your carbs are whole grain and high-fiber.  Increase your protein consumption by eating more lean meats (chicken, turkey, fish), eggs, and dairy (milk, Greek yogurt), and add a daily protein shake to your diet.


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6 Ways to Run Farther

7 Jul

Increasing the distance they run is a challenge for beginning runners, and can be a challenge for all endurance athletes.  Sometimes the obstacles these athletes encounter are physical, sometimes mental, and sometimes both.  Setting short- and long-term goals can help with the mental challenges of running.  Don’t worry about how large or small your goal seems, just keep moving.  There are several strategies that can help runners safely and effectively push their distances a little bit farther.  For safety, keep your weekly mileage increases to no more than 10%.

Here are 6 ways to improve your cardiovascular endurance and increase the distance you run:

  1. Warm-up.  Always perform an adequate, movement-based warm-up prior to your run.  Forget about the “old-school,” pre-workout static stretching routine – current research overwhelmingly discourages it.  An appropriate, dynamic warm-up can improve running efficiency and reduce potential problems like cramping and muscle tightness.  And, as long as we’re addressing warm-up, always allow time to cool-down following your run.
  2. Get off the treadmill.  Let’s be honest… running on the treadmill can be boring.  Whenever weather conditions and safety allow, get outside and run.  If necessary, invest in some cold-weather running gear.  The great outdoors provides fresh air, great scenery, and an endless variety of paths and routes.  Enjoying your natural surroundings can distract you and help keep your mind off your mileage.
  3. Change speeds.  Don’t worry about keeping an aggressive pace for the entire length of your run.  If and when needed, slow down to a very light jog, or even a walk.  This strategy may enable you to cover more distance, and you’ll still get a great workout.  As you progress, gradually increase your running time and reduce your light jog/walk time.
  4. Run with a partner.  Research supports training with a friend.  There’s nothing like a training buddy to push you, keep you motivated, accountable, and on-task.  If you usually run alone, ask a friend or family member to join you.  If that’s not an option, there may be a local running group you can join.
  5. Add HIIT.  High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) may be the single-best way to improve your muscular and cardiovascular endurance.  HIIT involves alternating intervals of high- and low-intensity activity.  Try adding this 10-minute HIIT routine to your plan: Run at as aggressive a pace as you can maintain for 30-seconds.  Immediately follow with 90-seconds of light jogging.  Repeat this 2-minute interval, four more times (five total).
  6. Get stronger.  I’m sure you’ve noticed that strength training has become a common thread in my weekly articles.  Running puts stress on your body.  Strengthening your muscles and connective tissue can help to reduce the negative impact of running on your body.  Increasing muscle endurance means going longer – more miles – before feeling fatigued.  Strength training for 20-30 minutes, 2-3 times per week, is all you need to build and maintain muscle mass.  A former business partner, who trains for (and runs) marathons, swears by yoga to improve hip strengthflexibility, and mobility.


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Lift Weights to Burn More Fat

27 Jun

img57018452[1]If you want to get lean, weight training is the way to go, according to a recent University of South Carolina study.

In the study, researchers concluded that weight training may work better than cardio, to burn fat.

Over the course of a year, overweight people who lifted weights lost more body fat than those who ran.

Additionally, the weightlifters experienced an increase in “functional capacity” (the ability to perform everyday tasks), which may have led to a surge in their daily activities and calories burned.

Compound movements – those that engage multiple joints and muscle groups – yield the best return on your exercise investment, as compared to isolation exercises.

Try to get in the weight room 2-3 times a week.  You don’t necessarily have to eliminate your cardio training altogether, but you can train smarter by incorporating more high-intensity interval cardio training and reducing the slow, steady stuff.


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Make Your Workout More Efficient and Productive

16 May

squat4[1]According to a Men’s Health survey, the number one reason for not working out is “not enough time.”  I would argue that most of the people who gave this response just don’t know how to be efficient and productive in the weight room.  If you spend a lot of time chatting, flirting, reading, waiting, and flexing, you’re wasting your time — and wasting your workouts.

Here are some strategies to help you be more efficient and productive at the gym:

  • Have a plan.  Don’t “wing it.”  Create a written itinerary and maintain a workout chart.  Keep track of your exercises, weight, reps, sets, and rest intervals.
  • Don’t let socializing interrupt your workout.  Stay on task.  If you absolutely must, chitchat for a few minutes when you arrive and before you leave.
  • Stay focused on your workout.  I realize there may be plenty of distractions.  Don’t get caught up watching the “scenery” at the gym.
  • Be purposeful with your warmup.  A dynamic warmup (movement prep) only takes a few minutes, prepares your nervous system for activity, and builds strength, stability, and flexibility.
  • Don’t rest so much.  Try doing supersets — performing one movement after another without rest (for example, after a set of bench presses, move directly to a set of dumbbell rows).  Then rest briefly and repeat the superset.  Since each exercise works opposing muscles or movements (pushing versus pulling in this case), you won’t tire as quickly and can spend less time resting between sets.
  • Don’t spend a lot of time waiting for equipment to become available.  Grab a pair of dumbbells, medicine ball, kettlebell, etc. and be productive while you wait, or substitute another exercise with a similar movement.
  • Try high-intensity intervals.  Instead of a slow, steady, low-intensity aerobic workout, pick up the pace every 30-60 seconds.  Raising your intensity by just 15-20% will double the calories burned and cut your workout time in half.
  • Skip the isolation exercises, like bicep curls and crunches.  They provide a very low return on investment.  Try combination moves, like the dumbbell lunge to curl to overhead press.  The most basic compound movements — squats, deadlifts, pull-ups, push-ups, and rows — are often the most effective.


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The Effect of Heat Stress on Sprint and Jump Performance

18 Apr

jimmer-fredette[1]Sports like basketball and soccer require frequent intervals of running and jumping, over an entire game.  Additionally, these (and other) sports are often played in warm environmental conditions — both indoor and outdoor.

Research has consistently shown that fatigue leads to a decline in performance, and that higher temperatures lead to even greater declines.  This performance decline is partly to mostly associated with severe dehydration.

So how can you prepare yourself in a way that minimizes the impact of fatigue and dehydration on your game performance?


When it comes to conditioning, your training should mimic/reflect the demands of your sport.  This applies to intensity, duration, and movement patterns.  For most athletes, high-intensity interval training  (HIIT) should be a component of any off-season strength and conditioning program.  This type of training involves alternating high- and low-intensity exercise over a pre-determined period of time.  For more detailed information, please refer to my previous blog post, Add Interval Training to Your Routine.


Adequate fluid intake — before, during, and after activity — is a must for any athlete.  The impact of hydration on performance cannot be overstated.  Inadequate hydration may be the single-biggest reason for performance fatigue and decline.  My STACK Media article, How to Hydrate Your Body, provides basic hydration guidelines for athletes.


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Consistency is the Key

21 Dec

Consistency[1]I have a few clients who show up to train, sporadically, and are puzzled as to why they don’t seem to make any real progress.  I’ll see them maybe once or twice over the span of weeks or months.  Some of them think their exercise selection is the problem.  They want to try all kinds of different modes of exercise (which is not necessarily a bad thing), but they don’t stick with any of them on a regular basis.

The reality is, you don’t have to take an extreme or fanatical approach in the weight room to be productive.  Same goes for your speed training and diet. Establish a goal, create a plan, ensure that your plan is aligned with your goal, and commit to it on a regular basis.  I realize that’s easier said than done, but the process itself is not complicated.

Strength and Conditioning

Research shows that strength training two days per week — about 30 minutes per session — can help individuals build strength, power, muscle mass, and endurance.  Focus on exercises that work large and multiple muscle groups like the squat, deadlift, bench press, and row.  As a rule, choose free weights over machines.  Free-weight exercises generally require more balance and stability to perform, increasing the intensity level and degree of difficulty.

Speed and Agility

Strength training plays a key role in the development of speed and agility (remember, speed and agility is largely impacted by the amount of force you can generate against the ground; stronger legs generate greater force).  You can be more efficient with high-intensity interval training (HIIT), regardless of your mode of cardio training (run, bike, elliptical, treadmill, etc.).  Try this 10-minute approach: go hard (aggressive pace) for 30 seconds, and easy (very light pace) for 90 seconds.  Repeat four more times.

Diet and Nutrition

Follow the 80/20 rule.  Adhere to your diet and nutrition plan, strictly, 80% of the time.  Allow yourself a “cheat” meal every fifth day.  I’ve read about a physician who recommends 10% discretionary calories, every day, for his patients.  For example, on a 2,000 calorie per day diet, you could eat 200 calories worth of whatever you want, every day — but only 200 calories — as long as you stick to your plan for the other 1,800 calories.  This plan allows his patients to reward themselves for “good” behavior (positive reinforcement).


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Improve Cardiovascular Fitness with Kettlebell Training

2 Sep

1299165789_phd_hype_-18%20(Large)[1]High-intensity kettlebell training “significantly improved aerobic capacity… and could be used as an alternative mode to maintain or improve cardiovascular conditioning,” according to a study from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research.

20 minutes of kettlebell training — consisting of 15 seconds of alternating work and rest — can significantly improve aerobic capacity when performed 3 days a week for 4 weeks.

In the JSCR study, subjects improved aerobic capacity by about 6% (as measured by VO2max) after four weeks of training.

Kettlebell swings, snatches, cleans, and presses — performed according to the aforementioned work-rest interval — provide for a great total-body strength and cardio workout.

Remember to keep the intensity high (especially if your goal is to improve aerobic capacity), as higher exercise intensities have been shown to elicit greater improvements in VO2max than lower exercise intensities.


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