Fitness experts spill the beans on dos and donts of short high intensity workouts

Jul 17, 2017, 08:30 IST | Sonia Lulla

Here's a fitness check, readers. It has been over six months since you made those New Year fitness resolutions. If you haven't managed to improve your fitness levels, here's your second shot.

Getting or maintaining your shape doesn't have to be demanding on your clock. Short workouts, often based on the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) format, have been celebrated due to the limited amount of time they demand. Neither an expensive gym, nor the availability of equipment is essential. Short bouts of intense activity followed by shorter bouts of recovery make HIIT routines last no longer than four 20-minute cycles.

Several studies have proven that short workouts — with their ability to improve endurance, lower blood pressure, increase metabolism and regulate insulin levels — may be better alternatives to moderate intensity exercises. But the growing popularity of these formats has also increased the chances of misinformation. "A lot of people think they're following the HIIT format, when, actually, they are not. HIIT can be effective only if you increase the intensity of your workout," says fitness trainer Abhishek Chatterjee, who works at a suburban gym. A seven-minute run performed in accordance with the HIIT principle can be an alternative for a 30-45-minute run, only if a person exerts himself to the maximum during those seven minutes, explains Chatterjee. "You need to work hard in every set. In HIIT, you can't decide to take it easy in one interval and then work hard in another. Every set must be performed with maximum intensity. That is why these workouts are short. You can chat with your buddy, or sing a song during these intervals. [But] you must find yourself breathing hard," he says.

Abhishek Chatterjee, fitness instructor
Abhishek Chatterjee, fitness instructor

Finding your intensity
Short workouts demand hard work, but not to an extent that invites injury. "You need to be breathless, but not incapable of breathing. You must work fast, without compromising on your form, lest you injure yourself," says Chatterjee, adding that most professionals use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale while training clients. "To help individuals gauge if they're working hard enough, we tell them to aim for an effort level of eight or nine on a scale of 10. For every interval of your workout, you must push yourself to that extent for the entire duration," he says, adding that those executing long-duration workouts of moderate intensity usually hit a five or six exertion level.

Recovery is good
Interval training is categorised by short bouts of recovery that punctuate the working intervals. For instance, the popular Tabata training rewards individuals with a 10-second recovery after every 20-second working bout.

Aarti Mehra, a Pune-based personal trainer, calls the recovery interval the most defining one. "I've seen individuals continue exercising during the recovery bout as well, which essentially tells me that they haven't worked hard enough. In HIIT, if you've exerted yourself sufficiently in the training interval, you'll be incapable of working in the recovery period. The rest period is crucial because it prepares you to deliver your best in the exercise interval, and the fluctuating heart rate enables you to burn more calories."

HIIT for you
30-30 training
Pick seven easy-to-transition exercises for a chosen part. Execute each workout at maximum intensity for 
30 seconds followed by a 30-second break. Repeat two to three times.

10-20-30 training
Pick a favourite exercise and execute it at a gentle pace for 30 seconds. Pick up the pace in the next 20 seconds and accelerate in the last 10 seconds. Repeat for seven to 10 rounds.

Execute the exercise at maximum intensity for 20 seconds. Follow 
this with a 10-second recovery. 
Repeat the set eight times for a 
four-minute circuit. 
Note: Exercises should be conducted under the supervision of a certified trainer

Exercise as per levels
Start with a 1:2 work to rest ratio.
Pick simple movements like running, cycling or skipping since it's easier to falter when exercising at a higher intensity.
You shouldn't be exhausted within the first 10 seconds of a 30-second interval.
Intermediate trainers
Once the form is aced, work towards increasing the repetitions.
Explore complex movements with intervals that offer a longer duration of rest.
Advanced trainers
Reduce recovery intervals to match those of the working intervals (1:1 ratio).

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