Where I try HIIT and discover that it’s not so fun uphill

I’m really struggling to get my cardio training in. I’m not sure how proper athletes do it when working full time as well. It might be that I’m not driven enough, or maybe I’m so drained from writing my thesis that I just don’t have the energy. I don’t know. Anyway, I was recommended Caynax’s Abs workout app by a random at the Works and after trying it (once) it seemed pretty good. I saw that they had a HIIT app on sale for 75p and I decided to buy it, as it seemed like a bargain – even if it was shite, it wasn’t a lot of pennies. Pennies are are tight right now.

So, HIIT is a new(ish) thing. It stands for ‘high intensity interval training’ and ‘can help improve endurance’ (Greatist.com) in conjunction with more traditional training. It also helps people lose weight (which is great) and is excellent for fat burning while maintaining muscle mass (chrisrigbyfitness.com). This is great as I don’t want to lose muscle mass – I wanna climb strong!

The approach in the HIIT app is based on Prof Tabata et al’s regimen which:

uses 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise (at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max) followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated continuously for 4 minutes (8 cycles). The exercise was performed on a mechanically braked cycle ergometer. Tabata called this the IE1 protocol. In the original study, athletes using this method trained 4 times per week, plus another day of steady-state training, and obtained gains similar to a group of athletes who did steady state training (70% VO2max) 5 times per week. The steady state group had a higher VO2max at the end (from 52 to 57 mL/(kg•min), but the Tabata group had started lower and gained more overall (from 48 to 55 mL/(kg•min). Also, only the Tabata group had gained anaerobic capacity benefits. (Wikipedia; references and links omitted)

The approach that most people in the UK will have heard of, featured in a Horizon programme for BBC. The regimen consisted of:

three bursts of about 2 minutes gentle pedalling followed by 20 seconds of cycling flat-out. This was done three times a week for a total of 3 minutes of intense exercise per week, plus some warm-up and recovery time. Measurable health benefits were reported, including significantly improved insulin sensitivity. (Wikipedia; references and links omitted)

So there appears to be some science behind the arguments.

Some people may know of Fartlek Training which is very similar. It is a training approach that I used to do a lot in BMF and combined continuous running and interval training. I mainly did it by running/sprinting between lamposts and then running a bit more. However, a fartlek regime should be something like this:

Sessions should be at an intensity that causes the athlete to work at 60% to 80% of his or her maximum heart rate. This should mean that the body will not experience too much discomfort while exercising. An athlete should also include a good warm up at the beginning of the session, and a cool down at the end of the session, to improve performance, minimize post-workout muscle soreness, to decrease the chances of injury and for other reasons.

  • Warm up: easy running for 5 to 10 minutes.
  • Steady, hard speed for 1.5–2.5 kilometres (0.93–1.6 mi); like a long repetition.
  • Recovery: rapid walking for about 5 minutes.
  • Start of speed work: easy running interspersed with sprints of about 50–60 metres (160–200 ft), repeated until a little tired.
  • Easy running with three or four “quick steps” now and then (simulating suddenly speeding up to avoid being overtaken by another runner).
  • Full speed uphill for 175–200 metres (574–660 ft).
  • Fast pace for 1 minute.
  • The whole routine is then repeated until the total time prescribed on the training schedule has elapsed. (Wikipedia, obvs. References and links omitted)

So, after work on Monday I thought that I’d give it a go. I started the app and was told to make a workout. The app walked me through how to do this, and it was very straightforward. It told me that for Tabata a work out should not be longer than 20 minutes, including warm up. It also suggested that for people just starting HIIT to switch the intervals around to be 1:2 – super high energy totally pushing it: recovering, trying not to be sick (the app didn’t quite use those words). So, I quickly programmed in a workout that included 8 reps of intervals, a 10 minute warmup and a 10 minute cool-down and set off.

Now, the good thing about this app is that it actually has a voice speaking to you. What I didn’t know was that a) it sounds like a robot and b) it counts every bloody second of the warm up and cooldown, as well as the intervals in the middle. With a 10 minute warm-up I think it got well up into 600 seconds. The best bit is that the voice couldn’t quite get all the numbers in so it sounded pretty funny after the first 100 seconds. Anyway, i found this counting weirdly soothing and good for pace.

Then, at probably the most inappropriate time on the route that I chose, the computer women (not sure what to call her yet) said it was time to start the intervals. I was 3/4s along the only flattish bit for a while. Bugger, I thought. So I sprinted for the first set (10s) and then trotted for the recovery (20s), all the while the lady was counting at me. It didn’t feel so bad. I remembered how much I loved sprinting at school. Then, I hit a hill. It wasn’t a big hill, but it was enough to feel the sprints big time. And the recovery did not do much for me. I’d like to think that my speed remained about the same; or at least decreased within acceptable parameters, but I’m not sure. Anyway, the 8 intervals lasted the whole hill and by the top, I did want to be sick.

Then it was time to cool down, and instead of listening to more second-counting by Robo-Lady, I popped my Ipod on and listened to the randomness on there. It ranged from UNKLE to Kings of Lean to Lissie and something else. Surprisingly by the time I got back, I felt like I had recovered quite well. Apart from the last massive hill, which I had to walk.

Some stats:

  • Distance – 5.1 km
  • Time – 31:02
  • Pace – 6:07/km
  • 2nd fastest time – 5km
  • 2nd fastest time –  2 miles
  • 3rd fastest time – 1 mile
  • 3rd fastest time – 1/2 mile

Here’s my pace:

Strava Pace