High Intensity Interval Training For a New You

November 28, 2008
Category: Health

Those of us 50 or older have seen fitness trends come and go. I, for one, used to jog the entire length of Golden Gate Park in San Francisco in the late 70s (about five miles). When I moved back to Los Angeles in 1980, I started training for 5K and 10K races in Griffith Park. Jogging morphed into running, and then aerobics in all its various forms consumed the fitness world. It is fitting that so many have devoted so much time to cardio-vascular training as these heart-pumping exercises form the base of the fitness triangle, with weight training and flexibility training as the other two sides. Nevertheless, motivating ourselves to do these often-repetitive (i.e. boring) exercises can be a challenge, despite loads of studies showing how regular aerobic exercise can reverse or reduce the risk of heart disease and Type II diabetes, lower blood pressure, eliminate unwanted body fat, lift our spirits, and even keep Mr. Happy perky.

Our understanding of how best to perform cardio, as we’re calling it now, has changed as we’ve learned more about the human body’s response to different kinds and different styles of cardio training. Joggers and runners, for example, discovered that running on hard surfaces or with the wrong shoes could lead in time to join degeneration and injured tendons and ligaments, so wise runners choose their shoes and running surfaces more carefully nowadays. A visit to a store that specializes in athletic shoes will present you with different options for people who need more arch support or more ankle stabilization. There are different shoes for running on smooth surfaces versus uneven surfaces. Cross trainers can be used for running and other types of exercise. Low-impact aerobics, stationary bikes, and elliptical trainers confer the benefits of cardio exercise with greatly reduced risk of repetitive stress injuries.

However, the most recent innovation in cardio exercise is not in clothing or equipment but in the manner of training. Recent studies in exercise physiology have demonstrated that high intensity interval training (HIIT) has distinct advantages over old-fashioned steady-pace cardio. Not only does HIIT require less perceived effort, it also burns more body fat in less time than cardio done at a steady pace. Don’t let the name “high intensity” scare you. All it means is that you alternate between increased effort and decreased effort over the course of the exercise period, adjusted according to your level of fitness.

In my last article I advised you to take it easy when starting out a new exercise program. When doing HIIT or other forms of cardio you should feel your heart beat accelerate and break a sweat, but you should not exert yourself to the point where you you’re gasping for air or pushing yourself to the point of exhaustion. Your body will adapt relatively quickly to the positive stress of exercise, but give it time to do that gradually. We used to think you had to maintain a minimum pace for at least twenty minutes to get the “aerobic effect,” but we now know you can break your cardio into shorter periods of time, for example five- or ten-minute increments, and get a cumulative benefit. Maybe you can only bear to do five minutes at first. That’s fine. After a week or two you can add another five, and so on.

To do HIIT most effectively, it helps to use a machine that measures your heart rate. Some watches will do this, also, and there are cardiac monitors you can buy separately if you want to exercise outdoors. The technique is to start out relatively slowly for three to five minutes to warm up, and then increase your effort until your heart rate reaches the target zone, typically 130-135 beats per minute (bpm) for a man around 50 years of age. Maintain this pace for one minute, and then slow your pace down for a minute or two or even longer if you must to catch your breath. You’ll notice that your heart rate stays elevated even after you have slowed your pace. After a couple of minutes at the slower pace, repeat one minute at the faster pace. Repeat this cycle alternating one-minute high-intensity intervals with two-or-three minute recovery periods for up to twenty minutes or more, if you’re feeling good.

Incorporating HIIT into your cardio program will enable you to get the most out of your time training as well as provide some welcome variety from steady-pace training to help keep your workouts fresh.

Tags: Advice, Fitness
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Post written by William Schindler (View Author Profile)
About this author: William Schindler, a.k.a., Brother William, founder and Spiritual Director of Ashram West, obtained a B.A. in Sanskrit from UC Berkeley (1975), where he also studied Hindi and Bengali, and a Master's degree in clinical psychology from Antioch University (1986). He has been studying and practicing traditional Hindu Tantra since 1969...
View all posts by William Schindler