How to make your swim workouts more effective and a Choc orange smoothie bowl

Balancing a demanding a career as a research scientist whilst training for multisport events can be difficult. Over the years, however, I have implemented a number of tactics that have allowed me to manage both, just. In this post I am going to go over some of the strategies that I use to make my swim workouts as effective and time efficient as possible.Swimming

  1. Do not swim with a squad. This only applies if you are happy with your swim technique and are self motivated in the pool. When I first started training for triathlon and had not swum properly since I was a kid, attending a swimming squad was the best thing I could have done for my swimming. The coach helped me to improve my stroke, I learnt about swimming drills and I learnt how to put together a swim set. Now that I am more confident with my swimming, I swim on my own. This eliminates any chit-chat between sets (if you enjoy the social aspect of a swim squad then by all means keep going) and allows me to design my own swim workouts based on my goals and how I am feeling.
  2. Use the clock. Performing sets on a time cycle reduces rest time, which is great for improving fitness and endurance, and ensures you maintain a certain pace. I find that if I am not swimming to a time cycle, for example 10 x 100m on 1: 40, then I tend to let my pace slack off.
  3. Kick with a pull buoy instead of a kick board and don’t use fins/flippers ever. Kicking with a pull buoy is actually quite a bit harder than using a kick board due to the reduced buoyancy and I really believe that performing kick sets with a pull buoy helps build leg strength that makes you a more efficient kicker, and translates over to running and cycling. I personally think that fins are a bit of a waste of time for your average age group triathlete/multisport racer. Using only a pull buoy also reduces the amount of equipment you have to take to the pool so you can run with just a pull buoy in your backpack.
  4. Incorporate drills. Although drills are not necessarily good for improving your fitness, they do help to improve your stroke and sighting in open water. I always finish a swim set with the crocodile eyes drill, which consists of you raising just your eyes out of the water and looking straight ahead just before you turn your head to take a breath. Do at least 100m of this drill every swim workout.
  5. Swim hard. Incorporate at least some hard swimming into each swim workout. Even if it is only 4 x 50m on 60 seconds, swim each of these 50m laps hard so that it is uncomfortable. You need to experience this intensity so that you can feel comfortable with a more moderate pace during a race.
  6. Finally, if it is logistically feasible, run or ride to and from the pool. I will often tuck my swim cap and goggles into my shorts and run to the pool. This saves time as you can combine two workouts in one and helps to simulate race day conditions.

This morning I rode to the pool for a 2.8km swim consisting of the following:

Warm up – 400m (50m swim, 50m drill)

8 x 50m on 50 seconds

4 x 200m (1st 200m – 50m hard, 150m easy, 2nd 200m – 100m hard, 100m easy, 3rd 200m – 150m hard, 50m easy, 4th 200m – 200m hard with 15 seconds rest in between each 200m)

400m with pull buoy focusing on technique

8 x 50m kick with pull buoy – no fins on 90 seconds

Cool down – 400m of 50m swim, 50m ‘crocodile eyes’ sighting drill

At the moment my swimming fitness is pretty average compared to what it has been in the past, so I am trying to build that fitness back up. This set took me approximately 1 hour to complete. As my swimming fitness improves (I am currently training for another adventure race in September – details to come in a future post) I would perhaps repeat the 4 x 200m set and try to do this on a particular time cycle.

So as you can imagine, after this swim set I was ready for a decent breakfast. But as always, I was in a hurry to get to work and needed something quick that was filling and nutritious. Smoothie bowls cover all these needs. I just don’t feel satisfied if I drink my breakfast so I prefer to make my smoothies super thick, sprinkle nuts and coconut on top and eat it out of a bowl. So below is a recipe for the Choc orange smoothie bowl that I consumed this morning. With protein provided by the whey powder and cottage cheese, medium chain triglycerides from the coconut cream, sufficient carbohydrates from the orange and some extra vitamins and minerals from the spinach, this smoothie bowl really was a complete meal.

Choc orange smoothie bowlChoc orange smoothie bowl

Makes 1 large serve

Ingredients

½ an orange, peeled and cut in half

30 grams of a good quality chocolate flavoured whey protein powder

2 blocks of frozen spinach

2 tablespoons cottage cheese

2 ½ tablespoons cocoa powder

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 trays of ice cubes

½ cup reduced fat coconut cream

Shredded coconut and walnuts to sprinkle on top

Utensils

Shark knife

Chopping board

Measuring cup and spoon

High-speed blender

Method

  • Add all the ingredients to a high-speed blender and blend until a smooth texture is achieved. Pour the smoothie into a bowl, sprinkle with shredded coconut and walnuts and eat with a spoon.

How to dominate at your local parkrun (hint – you have to run hard)

RunningI would consider myself a decent runner. I have been the first female finisher at my local parkrun 4 times now with a PB of 19:24 and I have broken 19 minutes for 5km (once) in a sprint distance triathlon. The photo is of me running the Noosa Half Marathon in 2012 for a time of 1:28:33. The following year I ran 1:27:21. At the moment I am not running at those speeds, but I do believe that one of the essential components of my training that allowed me to achieve my fastest run times was repetitions or reps at my 5km pace or faster.

Repetitions or reps

Training your body, as well as your mind, to run at 5km pace is imperative to improving your 5km time. When I was at my fittest running wise I was performing 7 x 1km reps on a 5:00 cycle once a week. I ran these reps at my 5km race pace or just faster. Yes, it was tough and it hurt (a lot!), but it was effective. I have been running consistently for over 10 years now, so I am a fairly experienced runner. If you are reading this blog post then I am going to assume that you are fairly new to running and are looking to improve your 5km time. Alternatively, you may be an experienced runner who has let their training slide due to work or family commitments. If this is the case then you already know what you need to do – start running those reps again and do them hard!

For the less experienced runners, I would suggest starting with 400m reps with a 2 – 3 minute rest in between, depending on how you are feeling. Start with 4 and see how you feel. If you feel absolutely exhausted, stop there and aim to increase the number of reps to 5 within the month. As you feel faster and stronger, increase the distance of the reps to 600m, then 800m. Eventually work your way up to 5 x 1km reps at your goal 5km pace, and even a touch faster.

If you not yet at the point where you are aiming for a specific time in the 5km, then begin by performing the reps at your 5km effort. By that I mean run the 400m reps at the effort that you feel you could maintain for a 5km race. As your running improves and you set your goal for a 5km race, then run your reps at your desired 5km pace.

I find tough sessions such as these reps to be more beneficial and slightly more enjoyable, or should I say bearable, when you feel rested and refreshed. Don’t try to do this session after a heavy weights session with a focus on legs or if you had a huge day at work followed by a poor nights sleep. In order to get the most out of a session like this you really want to be in the right frame of mind to push yourself.

A brief review of interval training

Still not convinced about repetitions for improving your running performance? Let’s have a look at the science then. I have previously posted about the benefits of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) compared to a continuous moderate-intensity based training protocol for improving physical fitness. I started digging further into the scientific literature to look at the impact of interval-based training on running performance. I came across a fascinating and in depth article (well I found it fascinating but then I am a scientist and I love training) entitled Interval Training for Performance: A Scientific and Empirical Practice (1). This article provides a detailed review of the history of interval training, starting as far back as 1910, and the physiology of interval training. I won’t go into detail about the physiological responses of athletes during interval training in this particular post.

The pioneers of interval training include the 10 000m Finnish Olympic championship runner, Hannes Kolehmainene, who was using interval training in 1912 at his specific 10km pace. His training regime included 5 – 10 repetitions of 3 minutes 5 seconds every 1000m at 19km/hour (that is insane)!

Interval training was popularized by the Czechoslovakian Emil Zatopek, who was a triple gold medalist at the 1952 Summer Olympics in the 5000m, 10 000m and marathon events. Emil Zatopek was known to perform intervals at his critical velocity, which was calculated from his personal best in the 3km and 10 km events (2). In fact, he was known to repeat up to 100 X 400m repetitions per day with 200m recovery in between (that is even more insane). Clearly this amount of reps is not necessary to do well in your local parkrun, but surely you are now understanding the effectiveness of repetitions.

The 1960’s saw the first scientific reports on interval-based training pioneered by the physiologist Per Oløf Astrand. Astrand studied 3 minute intervals and considered that this was one of the best forms of training to improve VO2 max (maximum rate of oxygen consumption) (3). Astrand and Christensen, another researcher in the same lab group, published further studies throughout the 1960’s examining the metabolic effects of interval training. By the end of the sixties various groups had conducted research on interval training and the general consensus was that the performance of highly trained athletes could be improved by utilizing interval training.

The 1970’s and 1980’s saw more exceptional runners use interval training. Examples include Sebastian Coe, a British middle-distance runner who won four Olympic medals, including the 1500m gold medal at the Olympic Games in 1980 and 1984, (4) and the North African runner, Said Aouita, another middle-distance runner who held the world records for the 1500 to 5000m.

As the technology to study the physiological responses to interval training became more advanced, it became evident that interval training performed at velocities close to the velocity associated with VO2 max results in improvements in VO2 max, in mitochondrial density and the rate of lactate removal (5), all of which will improve performance. One particularly relevant study showed that moderately trained recreational runners can improve both running economy and VO2 max within a short period (6 weeks) by exchanging parts of their conventional aerobic distance training with more intensive distance or long interval training (6).

Finally, I came across one recent study that should give you further motivation to start implementing intervals or reps into your training. This study is entitled Four weeks of sprint interval training improves 5km run performance (7). This study compared 20 participants, who engaged in a sprint interval-training program 3 times per week for 4 weeks, to 10 participants that did no training and found a significant improvement in 5km performance for those that engaged in the interval training. Although this study was conducted on untrained males, the results suggest that improvements in 5km performance can occur in as little as 4 weeks.

If you are ready to dominate at your local parkrun then start incorporating reps into your training today. Yes they are going to be hard and yes they are going to hurt, but if you REALLY want to improve your time then you must do reps.

Please refer to the Disclaimer on the About me page before embarking on any exercise program.

  1. Billat, L. V. (2001). Interval Training for Performance: A Scientific and Empirical Practice. Sports Med. 31: 13-31.
  2. Ettema, J. H (1966). Limits of human performance and energy production. Int Z Angew Physiol. 22: 45-54.
  3. Astrand, I., Astrand, P. O., Christensen, E. H, et al. (1960). Intermittent muscular work. Acta Physiol Scand. 48: 448-53.
  4. Sebastian Coe. BBC Sport. 9 August 2000. Retreived 23 May 2010.
  5. Brooks, G. A, Fahey, T. D., White, T. P. (1996). Exercise physiology: human bioenergetics and its application. 2nd ed. Mountain View (CA): Mayfield Publishing, 191-5.
  6. Franch, J., Madsen, K., Djurhuus, M. S., et al. (1998). Improved running economy following intensified training correlates with reduces ventilatory demands. Med Sports Sci Exerc. 30:1250-6.

Photo from marathon-photos.com

Workout of the week – Kettlebell swings + 400m run

Kettlebell swing seriesThis is another high intensity workout that delivers big gains in terms of fitness and fat loss for a relatively short amount of time. I like this workout because it combines strength and conditioning plus the explosiveness of the kettlebell swings with a high intensity 400m run.

Training with kettlebells

I have trained with kettlebells on and off for over 10 years now. I really love training with kettlebells because you can burn fat, gain strength, muscular endurance and cardiovascular fitness with relatively short workouts. The kettlebell swing is the foundation of kettlebell training.

If you are not familiar with the kettlebell swing, this exercise involves standing with your feet parallel a shoulder width apart with the horn or handle of the kettlebell in both hands. To initiate the swing, you forcefully swing the kettlebell back between the legs by driving the hips backward then quickly reverse the direction by explosively extending the hips and knees, using this momentum to swing the kettlebell to chest level. The elbows and wrists are kept straight.

Studies into the effects of the kettlebell swing

As always, I had to look into the scientific literature to see if there have been any studies conducted on the kettlebell swing. It turns out there has! These studies are published mostly in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research. One study was also published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine. I loved reading these studies because they are totally outside of my field of bacterial pathogenesis. It seems that the kettlebell swing is actually a far more effective exercise than even I thought.

Most of the studies I looked at had the subjects perform the kettlebell swing training program known as “the US Department of Energy Man-Maker”. This program was developed by Pavel Tsatsouline, a former physical-trainer for the elite Soviet special-forces unit and the person who bought kettlebells to the United States, in his book Enter the Kettlebell! This program consists of 12 rounds of 30 seconds of swings separated by 30 seconds of rest. I tried this program myself and it certainly gets the heart rate up and makes you sweat in only 12 minutes.

An initial study into the kettlebell swing investigated the heart rate response and oxygen cost of performing the training program described above. This study involved 10 college-aged men using a 16kg kettlebell performing 2 handed swings. The findings were that during this 12 minute program, subjects maintained a heart rate and VO2 at an average of 87% and 65% of their maximum, respectively (1). The effect of the kettlebell swing training program described above on measures of maximum and explosive lower body strength was investigated in another study. Subjects performed the program twice a week for 6 weeks. The subjects were 12 men between the ages of 18 and 27 years who were involved in regular university-level sport. The results of this study clearly showed that this kettlebell swing training program provides a training stimulus sufficient to improve both maximum and explosive strength (2). What does this mean for you? By spending 12 minutes twice a week performing kettlebell swings you can elevate your heart rate, increase VO2 max, gain strength in the posterior chain (the thoracic, lumbar and hip extensor muscles), particularly the hamstrings, and increase explosive power, which is not only great for your overall fitness but will likely translate into improvements in other sports, such as running and cycling.

Another study looked at the hormonal response to the kettlebell swing in 10 recreationally resistance trained men. Again the men in this study performed 12 rounds of 30 seconds of kettlebell swings alternated with 30 seconds of rest using a 16kg kettlebell. Leading up to this session participants were refrained from eating or drinking anything except water for 12 hours, ingesting any alcohol for 48 hours, engaging in sexual activity for 24 hours and performing any resistance exercise or intense aerobic exercise for 72 hours prior. The heart rate of the participants increased significantly with each round of swings. It was also found that testosterone, growth hormone and cortisol all increased immediately following the 12 rounds of kettlebell swings. The conclusion was that the kettlebell swing, even when only performed for a short duration, 6 minutes of actual exercise in this study, is able to induce a neuroendocrine response (3). Why does this matter? Well studies have shown that this acute hormonal response to resistance training enhances strength and muscle building in response to training (4, 5). It should be noted that the increase in growth hormone in response to these rounds of kettlebell swings was relatively small compared to findings with heavy-resistance exercise protocols, but, as mentioned, the participants were performing swings for a total of only 6 minutes!

One study looked at muscle activation in different areas of the hamstring in elite female handball and soccer players using a series of 14 different strength and balance exercises including the kettlebell swing, Romanian deadlift, one leg side jumps and one leg curls. This study showed that the kettlebell swing caused the greatest activation of the semitendinosus muscle (ST) of the hamstring out of all of the exercises and showed the fourth greatest activation of the biceps femoris muscle caput longus (BFcl) (6). Why is this important? Well, the hamstrings are critical in providing knee joint stabilization during forceful dynamic movements, such as playing competitive sports, and in preventing excessive anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injuries (7, 8). By performing kettlebell swings on a regular basis, you can strengthen your hamstrings, thus assisting in the prevention of knee and ACL injuries.

And finally, one study assessed the back and hip muscle activation, motion and lower back loads resulting from a range of kettlebell exercises, including the kettlebell swing. This study found that the rapid acceleration of the kettlebell during the swing due to the motion of the hips and knees is accompanied by substantial activation of muscles in both the posterior chain and the abdominals (9).

Workout of the week

Now for the workout. I have a 16kg and 2 x 12kg kettlebells which I got from my favourite supermarket Aldi! I like to perform 4 – 6 sets of between 20 and 50 2-handed swings with a 16kg kettlebell followed by a 400m run. I have been trying to think of an exercise that could replicate the kettlebell swing without actually using a kettlebell but it is quite difficult. You could start with a 30 second plank, ensuring that the gluteal musculature (butt muscles) are actively contracted to bring about a posterior pelvic tilt, in other words, attempt to draw the pubic bone towards the belly button, and have the elbows spaced only 15cm apart. Performing a plank in this manner will work the abdominal muscles, the erector spinae musculature (the back muscles) and the hip extensors (gluteus maximum and hamstrings) (10), however, it does not have that explosive component that the kettlebell swing has. Until you are able to get yourself a kettlebell, start with the Beginner or Intermediate workouts below. Please refer to the Disclaimer on the About me page before embarking on any exercise program.

Beginner

4 sets of a 30 second plank (performed as described above) followed by a 200 – 400m run with 30 seconds rest in between.

Intermediate

6 sets of a 30 second plank (performed as described above) followed by a 400m run with 30 seconds rest in between.

Advanced

4 – 6 sets of 20 – 50 kettlebell swings followed by a 400m run with 10 – 30 seconds rest in between.

When it comes to training with kettlebells, technique is very important. If you are new to kettlebells, I suggest attending a class to get a foundation of the correct techniques. Sarah and Mike over at Without Limits Strength & Conditioning offer some great resources. Check out their Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Without-Limits-Strength-Conditioning/184129381635741?ref=profile

  1. Farrar, R., Mayhew, J. and Koch, A. (2010). Oxygen cost of kettlebell swings. J Strength Cond Res. 24: 1034-36.
  2. Lake, J. and Lauder, M. (2012). Kettlebell swing training improves maximal and explosive strength. J Strength Cond Res. 26: 2228-33.
  3. Budnar, R. G. Jr, Duplanty, A., Hill, D., McFarlin, B. and Vingren, J. (2014). The acute hormonal response to the kettlebell swing exercise. J Strength Cond Res. 28: 2793-2800.
  4. Hansen, S, Kvorning, T, Kjaer, M, and Sjogaard, G. The effect of short-term strength training on human skeletal muscle: The importance of physiologically elevated hormone levels. Scand J Med Sci Sports. 11: 347–354, 2001.
  5. Ronnestad, BR, Nygaard, H, and Raastad, T. Physiological elevation of endogenous hormones results in superior strength training adaptation. Eur J Appl Physiol. 111: 2249–2259, 2011.
  6. Zebis, M., Skotte, J., Andersen, C., Mortensen, P., Petersen, H., Viskær, T., Jensen, T., Bencke, J., Andersen, L. (2013). Kettlebell swing targets semitendinosus and supine leg curl targets biceps femoris: an EMG study with rehabilitation implications. Br J Sports. 47:1192-
  7. Draganich, L. and Vahey, J. (1990). An in vitro study of anterior cruciate ligament strain induced by quadriceps and hamstrings forces. J Orthop Res. 8:57–63.
  8. More, R., Karras, B., Neiman R, et al. (1993). Hamstrings–an anterior cruciate ligament protagonist. An in vitro study. Am J Sports Med. 21:231–237.
  9. McGill, S. and Marshall, L. (2012). Kettlebell swing, snatch, and bottoms-up carry: back and hip muscle activation, motion, and low back loads. J Strength Cond Res. 26:16-27.
  10. B.,, Contreras, B., Tiryaki-Sonmez, G., Willardson, J. and Fontana, F. (2014). An electromyographic comparison of a modified version of the plank with a long lever and posterior tilt versus the traditional plank exercise. 13: 296-306.

Workout of the week – squats, push ups, sit ups, burpees, SPRINT!

This is a high-intensity workout that you can perform anywhere. You really only need a pair of running shoes and a bit of open space. I actually do this workout when I am travelling – I have performed it in Central Park in New York! The sprint can be done on flat ground or up a hill. I will often throw this workout in during the middle of a longer run to add some intensity, which makes the run better for improving fitness and burning fat, and more interesting.

You can vary this workout depending on your level of fitness or how hard you want to work. If I am performing it during a run, I will do 4 sets of 10 of each exercise, but if I am doing just this as my workout, I will do 4 sets of 15 – 20 of each exercise.

Move through each of the exercises within a set quickly, meaning as soon as you finish the squats drop down for the push ups, roll over for the sit ups then roll over again for the burpees. If your level of fitness is not that high, then take sufficient rest in between each set until you feel ready for the next one. As your fitness improves, reduce this rest time.

This workout is tough but it is effective.

Please refer to the Disclaimer on the About me page before embarking on any exercise program.

Beginner

5 squats

5 push ups

5 sit ups

5 burpees

Sprint for 30 seconds – 1 minute

Rest until you feel recovered for the next set. Gradually reduce this rest time to 3 minutes

Repeat 2 – 3 times

Intermediate

10 squats

10 push ups

10 sit ups

10 burpees

Sprint for 30 seconds – 1 minute

Rest for 2 minutes

Repeat 3 times

Advanced

15 – 20 squats

15 – 20 push ups

15 – 20 sit ups

15 – 20 burpees

Sprint for 30 seconds – 1 minute

Rest for 1 – 2 minutes

Repeat 3 times

Workout of the week – Hill sprints and the benefits of high-intensity interval training

What is high-intensity interval training?

If you have any interest in fitness at all then you will no doubt be aware of high-intensity interval training, HIIT for short. This style of training involves repeated vigorous-intensity efforts lasting from 30 seconds – 4 minutes separated by short periods of rest or active recovery. If you are not training for a particular event but are wanting to get fit and burn fat then HIIT is one of the most effective, time efficient and enjoyable methods to use. At the moment I am not competing in any events (apart from another obstacle race hopefully), however, I want to maintain fitness and maintain a healthy weight range. I have incorporated HIIT into my workouts to achieve these goals.

The benefits of HIIT are backed up by the research

My intuition has always told me that intensity trumps volume for improving fitness, and now the science clearly backs this up. Not only is high-intensity interval training superior for improvements in overall fitness compared to continuous moderate-intensity exercise, there are also numerous other health benefits associated with this type of training. There are countless articles in the scientific literature on the benefits of HIIT versus a more traditional moderate, aerobic based exercise protocol. As I began digging in to the literature, I discovered that actually HIIT was first described in 1960 by Astrand et al (1). It has more recently resurfaced as an effective method to improve cardiovascular function, endothelial function, muscle metabolic capacity and insulin sensitivity in a range of populations in all age groups (2, 3).

Let me name for you the titles of a few of the latest studies I came across and a brief summary of their findings.

Eight weeks of a combination of high-intensity interval training and conventional training reduce visceral adiposity and improve physical fitness: a group based intervention (4): While only a small group of 39 individuals participated in this study, the authors found that a combination of group based HIIT and conventional gym training over the course of 8 weeks was more effective at reducing total body fat and visceral adiposity or abdominal fat than conventional gym training alone.

High-Intensity Interval Training for Improving Postprandial Hyperglycemia (5): Postprandial hyperglycemia, meaning elevated blood sugar levels after eating a meal, is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and mortality in patients with Type 2 diabetes. Even in patients without diabetes, elevated postprandial hyperglycemia is associated with future cardiovascular disease mortality. This recent review describes the results from a number of studies all reporting that HIIT leads to greater reductions in postprandial hyperglycemia when compared to moderate-intensity continuous exercise protocols.

Running sprint interval training induces fat loss in women (6): I thought this study was particularly relevant. Sprint interval training (SIT) is differentiated from high-intensity interval training by the effort exerted. Sprint interval training involves repeated 10 – 30 second “all-out” exercise efforts, whereas HIIT, as mentioned above, involves slightly longer bouts of vigorous-intensity exercise. Studies have shown that SIT results in training and performance adaptations similar to those of both HIIT and traditional endurance training, but with a reduced time commitment. In this particular study, 15 healthy, recreationally active women completed 6 weeks of running SIT consisting of 4 – 6 30 second running maximal efforts with 4 minutes of active recovery ie. walking, 3 times per week. The study found that the 6 weeks of running SIT decreased fat mass by 8%, decreased body fat percentage and decreased waist circumference by 3.5% and improved aerobic capacity and peak running speed in these women with no changes in diet. The results of this study are quite impressive considering the total training time was only 6 – 9 minutes per week!

Furthermore, according to the literature, not only is HIIT able to improve your physical health, but also your mental health. One study in particular looked at 47 women aged between 30 – 65 years at risk for developing Metabolic syndrome*, 23 of which engaged in a sprint interval training (SIT) protocol consisting of three sessions per week for 6 weeks of 4 – 8 30 second all-out cycling sprints followed by a 4 minute active recovery, while the remaining 24 in the study had no exercise intervention. This study found that those women who participated in the SIT protocol and who perceived their health as the worst in the group prior to commencement of the training protocol, reported improvements in role-physical scores, bodily pain, vitality, social functioning and mental health compared to the non-exercise control group. Role-physical scores improve when one feels that their physical health allows them to achieve more in their everyday life. Additionally, those women who participated in the SIT protocol and reported the worst mood states in the group prior to commencement of the training protocol, showed improvements in tension, depression, anger, vigor, fatigue, confusion and overall mood. In other words, those who felt the worst before participating in the SIT protocol reported the biggest gains in perceived health and mood (7).

Moreover, low bouts of HIIT can allow you to maintain improvements in vascular function gained by a conditioning exercise protocol once you have ceased this protocol (8).

And finally, you may find that you actually enjoy HIIT more than continuous moderate-intensity or continuous vigorous-intensity exercise and are more willing to stick to it. One interesting study involved 44 healthy participants who performed three different types of exercise spaced one week apart. These three types of exercise were 1. Continuous moderate-intensity exercise (CMI); 2. Continuous vigorous-intensity exercise (CVI); and 3. HIIT. All exercises were performed on an exercise bike. The CMI consisted of riding at approximately 40% of their maximum effort for 40 minutes, CVI consisted of riding at approximately 80% of their maximum effort for 20 minutes and the HIIT involved 20 minutes of riding alternating between 1-minute intervals at 100% of maximum effort and 1 minute recovery at 20% of their maximum effort. The researchers assessed the participant’s feelings towards each exercise type, confidence in their ability to repeat the exercise, intentions to engage in the exercise, enjoyment of the exercise and preference of each of the exercises. The results of the study revealed that HIIT was more enjoyable and the preferred exercise method compared to CVI and comparable to CMI. Moreover, participants reported feeling just as confident in their ability to perform HIIT as they did with CMI (9).

An example of a HIIT session – hill sprints

So I am sure I have convinced you of the benefits of HIIT over continuous moderate-intensity exercise. Personally, I think that if you want to really maximize your fitness, a combination of HIIT and continuous vigorous-intensity or tempo effort is required, but vigorous-intensity exercise is difficult to maintain and that is not the point of this blog post. An example of a high-intensity workout that I perform on a weekly basis is 10 hill sprints. I have a steep hill, which is approximately a 10 minute run away from my house. My workout consists of running easy to the hill as a warm up, completing 10 hard sprints (~80 – 90% of my maximum effort) up the hill, which takes between 1:05 – 1:15, depending on how I am feeling. I perform these 10 sprints on a 3 minute cycle. This gives my sufficient time to recover by running down the hill and having a short rest at the bottom until the 3 minute cycle is complete. I complete this workout with the run back home.

The workout I perform is one that you can build up to, but in the meantime, find a short, fairly steep hill in your area and try the beginner or intermediate versions. Please refer to the Disclaimer on the About me page before embarking on any exercise program.

Beginner

6 x 30 second hill sprints at ~80% maximum effort on a 3 minute cycle

Intermediate

8 x 1 minute hill sprints at ~80 – 90% maximum effort on a 3 minute cycle

Advanced

10 x 1 minute hill sprints at ~80 – 90% maximum effort on a 3 minute cycle

*Metabolic syndrome is a risk factor for cardiovascular disease and, according to the World Health Organization, is diagnosed by the presence of insulin resistance identified by Type 2 diabetes, impaired fasting glucose or impaired glucose tolerance, together with at least two of the following: hypertension (high blood pressure), hyperlipidemia (elevated levels of lipids – cholesterol and/or triglycerides), central obesity (abdominal fat) and microalbuminuria (the presence of albumin in urine (10).

  1. Astrand I, Astrand PO, Christensen EH, & Hedman R (1960) Intermittent muscular work. Acta physiologica Scandinavica 48:448-453.
  2. Gibala MJ, Little JP, Macdonald MJ, & Hawley JA (2012) Physiological adaptations to low-volume, high-intensity interval training in health and disease. The Journal of physiology 590(Pt 5):1077-1084.
  3. Weston KS, Wisloff U, & Coombes JS (2014) High-intensity interval training in patients with lifestyle-induced cardiometabolic disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine 48(16):1227-1234.
  4. Giannaki CD, Aphamis G, Sakkis P, & Hadjicharalambous M (2015) Eight weeks of a combination of high intensity interval training and conventional training reduce visceral adiposity and improve physical fitness: a group-based intervention. The Journal of sports medicine and physical fitness.
  5. Little JP & Francois ME (2014) High-intensity interval training for improving postprandial hyperglycemia. Research quarterly for exercise and sport 85(4):451-456.
  6. Hazell TJ, Hamilton CD, Olver TD, & Lemon PW (2014) Running sprint interval training induces fat loss in women. Applied physiology, nutrition, and metabolism = Physiologie appliquee, nutrition et metabolisme 39(8):944-950.
  7. Freese EC, et al. (2014) Effect of six weeks of sprint interval training on mood and perceived health in women at risk for metabolic syndrome. Journal of sport & exercise psychology 36(6):610-618.
  8. Weston M, Taylor KL, Batterham AM, & Hopkins WG (2014) Effects of low-volume high-intensity interval training (HIT) on fitness in adults: a meta-analysis of controlled and non-controlled trials. Sports medicine 44(7):1005-1017.
  9. Jung ME, Bourne JE, & Little JP (2014) Where does HIT fit? An examination of the affective response to high-intensity intervals in comparison to continuous moderate- and continuous vigorous-intensity exercise in the exercise intensity-affect continuum. PloS one 9(12):e114541.
  10. Grundy SM, et al. (2004) Definition of metabolic syndrome: Report of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute/American Heart Association conference on scientific issues related to definition. Circulation 109(3):433-438.

Workout of the week – the Monday night Body Weight Challenge

In our tiny unit (which we are happy in because it is only 400 metres from the beach) Monday night is ‘Body Weight Challenge’ night. What is this Body Weight Challenge you ask? It consists of myself and the boyfriend completing 5 sets each of 10 chin ups, 20 push ups and 5 single leg squats on each leg. We have a chin up bar installed in our hallway which makes the body weight challenge possible. This challenge takes us at most 30 minutes. I am not going to lie to you – it is hard!! Especially that last set of 10. But it is all worth it as this work out is great for functional body strength. I can just manage to complete all sets of 10 chin ups.

Whether you are new to fitness or a seasoned fitness nut, a simple body weight exercise protocol such as this can really assist with increasing functional strength. This is not just information I have obtained from my own personal experience. There are numerous studies in the scientific literature on the benefits of strength and resistance training in individual of all ages. The latest one I came across was entitled “There Are No Nonresponders to Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Older Men and Women” accepted in the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association (in press). This study conducted an analysis of 66 men and 44 women who participated in a 12 week resistance training program and of 41 men and 44 women who participated in a 24 week resistance training program. All participants were over the age of 65 years. This study found that ALL participants showed increases in lean body mass, muscle fibre size, muscle strength and physical function (1). ALL PARTICIPANTS. Isn’t that amazing? If only all experiments yielded such conclusive results (that is the scientist in me talking). While the authors can only speculate on the contributions made by musculoskeletal, neurological, or behavioral adaptation to the increases observed in this study, it is clear that strength training should be a part of your fitness regime.

I have decided to give a beginner and intermediate version of the body weight challenge so there is no excuse not to get started today! Please refer to the Disclaimer on the About me page before embarking on any exercise program.

Beginner body weight challenge:

4 sets of:

1 minute in the plank position

10 push ups

10 air squats

Intermediate body weight challenge:

5 sets of:

5 chin ups OR 2 minutes in the plank position

15 push ups

5 single leg squats each leg

Experienced body weight challenge:

10 chin ups

20 push ups

5 single leg squats each leg

1. Churchward-Venne, T., Tieland, M., Verdijk, L. B., Leenders, M., Dirks, M. L., de Groot, L. and van Loon, L. (2015). There are No Nonresponsders to Resistance-Type Exercise Training in Older Men and Women. J Am Med Dir Assoc. pii: S1525-8610(15)00072-9.