Plateaus can describe more than land terrain: a raise followed by a flat, stable state with little or no growth or decline. Maybe this describes your workout after weeks, maybe months, perhaps even years of doing the same thing. You may be investing the time and effort, but too much time and not enough effort may be the cause of that plateau. If you want to up your challenge, free up some time, and change that plateau to an incline, then it’s time to change some things up a bit!
When To HIIT It
Yes, HIIT it! If you want to take your physical fitness to new levels, integrate High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into your weekly workouts. HIIT is any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and fixed periods of moderate activity. These high intense bursts followed by moderate intensity bursts condition both the anaerobic and aerobic energy systems, which have proven to train and condition muscle capacity and exercise performance more efficiently. The higher exercise intensity creates greater metabolic demand and can increase your resting metabolic rate for at least 24 hours following a hard session.
While there are various methods of HIIT, the basis of it is alternating between the intense “kill it” intervals, and then quickly recovering. The original procedure was using a 2:1 ratio of intense to recovery – for example, a 30 second hard push followed by 15 seconds lower level exertion. However, other methods have also been studied with a 1:2 ratio of work to recovery – for example, 30 seconds of high intensity followed by 60 seconds of the lower level. Either way, the interval approach to training proves to be the most efficient way to maximize workouts and reduce time. The goal is to do at least 6 cycles, and to have the entire HIIT session last at least twelve minutes and not more than twenty. It’s a quick workout, but hard, so you shouldn’t have energy to be able to do any other workout after – leave strength training to another day to give yourself time to recover.
Also, because HIIT does micro damage to muscles, which helps with getting lean, but not quick at repairing, you want to make sure you’re giving yourself a day or two in between sessions to let those muscles repair. Working HIIT training sessions two days into your weekly workout would be ideal if your goal is conditioning, getting lean, endurance training, and metabolic rate increases.
Strength In Numbers
The benefits of strength training don’t just occur when it’s time to get toned or show off those muscles in the skin bearing months. Your body composition of lean muscle is one of the few determinants that you can control in regards to your resting metabolic rate; the more muscle, the more energy your body is burning.
To obtain the best benefits of strength training – muscular strength, improved muscle tone and appearance, increased endurance, increased metabolism and enhanced bone density – you’d want to work at least two days of strength training into your weekly workout. If using two days, focus on your upper body muscles (back, shoulders, chest, arms) one day and then lower body (glutes, hamstrings, quads, calves) on the other, integrating core and abs in on both. Be sure to get a 5-10 minute warm-up in before the 30-40 minute strength session to be sure your muscles are ready to prevent injury. You can either do this through a light cardio session or performing each exercise without weight.
Slow and Steady Does It
Even with the temptation of shorter workouts, don’t give up on these. They take more time, but low intensity cardio sessions help build your fitness foundation and endurance. These steady state 30-45 minute workouts condition your aerobic energy system and train your slow-twitch muscles to keep moving, no matter what you’re doing. Whether it’s a run, swim, bike, or elliptical, these steady sessions also help as active recovery from the prior day’s HIIT or strength workout and refuel you for your next intense workout in the coming days. Getting one or two long cardio sessions induring the week will continue to build your endurance, burn fat, strengthen muscles, reduce stress, and improve your circulatory system and reduce your resting heart rate, among many other benefits.
Instead of mindlessly approaching the gym and doing the same thing every time for the same amount of time, go with a purpose and get in and get out. Not only will you find the value in getting more of your time back in your week (not to mention year!), but you should also see changes in your overall fitness and leap off of that plateau.
An example of what it could look like in your week:
Day 1 – Slow and Steady to build up that foundation and get you ready for that week of training. 45 minutes.
Day 2 – HIIT It with intense bursts of your 8-9 exertion level and then back off to a level 4-5 for the recovery period. 20 minutes with warm-up and cool-down.
Day 3 – Strength Training with focus on your upper body muscles and those abs. 35 minutes with warm-up.
Day 4 – R&R –Recover and repair, or rest and relaxation, whatever the term fits you best! 0 time.
Day 5 – HIIT It hard again after your day of refueling. 20 minutes with warm-up and cool-down.
Day 6 – Active recovery with your Slow and Steady session. 45 minutes.
Day 7 – Strength Training to focus on your lower body and abs now. 35 minutes with warm-up.
Time saved compared to average person spending 45 minutes of continuous cardio workout 6 days per week = About 3 hours 20 minutes (173 hours per year) vs 4 hours 30 minutes per week (234 hours per year)
Please be aware that this article is not a diagnosis, prescription, recommendation, or fitness program for any individual, and does not guarantee results. Before you begin an exercise program, you should always talk it over with your doctor. He or she may have specific recommendations — or warnings — depending on your health and the other medicines you take.
About Our Guest Blogger
Rena Valentino Roark | Health and Fitness Coaching
Rena Valentino Roark, CHC, CPFT, is a Certified Health Coach and Certified Personal Fitness Trainer. She works with individuals and group clients as a health and fitness coach to offer support and guidance for their health goals through a holistic look at their lives, helping to find balance between exercise, diet, career, and relationships. Providing accountability and motivation, she can help reduce stress, increase energy and self-confidence, and ultimately help individuals work towards the best version of themselves.
If you are interested in learning more about how Rena can help support you in your health goals, contact Rena at firstname.lastname@example.org
Compiled using information from the following sources:
The Journal of Physiology, “Exercise training for a time-poorgeneration: enhanced skeletal muscle mitochondrial biogenesis.” http://jp.physoc.org/content/588/11/1817.full
Self Magazine, “Burn, Baby, Burn.” July 2012.