Work, studies, children, parents, significant others, family life… it’s no wonder we don’t have all the time we’d like to dedicate to exercise. It seems pretty reasonable to put your lack of fitness down to lack of workout and activity time.
Or perhaps you ARE pounding the pavements every day – jogging before work, group class after work, long cycle rides every weekend, yet no matter how many miles or minutes you add you still can’t seem to make significant progress!
You need to stop doing more, and start doing it better.
You need to work out smarter, not harder.
You see, when it comes to getting results, quality of exercise can matter more than quantity.
The problem with more exercise
It takes time. Time most of us don’t have, and if you can’t do the exercise needed, you definitely won’t get results.
Secondly our bodies can only cope with so much stress and, believe it or not, exercise is definitely stressful on your body.
Increase in cortisol and hunger
Cortisol is released and the longer you workout, the more cortisol there is to wreak havoc on your body. This is linked to everything from mental health problems to adrenal fatigue, diabetes, heart disease and more.
Hunger also increases with more exercise, so if 50 lengths of the pool leads you to consume a latte and a piece of carrot cake the size of your head in the café afterwards, you’ll most likely be undoing any calorie burning you’ve just achieved.
The smarter way to exercise
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is fast becoming the go-to method for people wanting maximum results in minimum time.
The so-called intervals consist of a few seconds (up to 90 but can be as little as 10 seconds) of difficult exercises where you put maximum all-out effort in, followed by a few seconds or even minutes rest or very low intensity work, before launching into the next ‘intense’ work round, and so the cycle repeats for your chosen duration to complete the workout.
If you’re managing to keep going like this for longer than 45 minutes then quite frankly you’re not putting enough effort into it.
Vary your workout to suit you
And that’s the other beauty of this method – the fitter and stronger you get, the more effort you put in, the more reps you can do in your work time, or the more weight you can use if you choose to.
You can make regressions or progressions to exercises depending on your level and adjust the work and rest times to suit you too.
For example someone very new to fitness might do 30 seconds of box push ups followed by 60 seconds rest, then repeat. A more advanced exerciser could do 60 seconds of decline push ups followed by 30 seconds rest.
The benefits of HIIT
HIIT training has been shown to improve aerobic and anaerobic fitness, blood pressure, cardiovascular health, insulin sensitivity (which helps the exercising muscles more readily use glucose for fuel to make energy), cholesterol profiles, abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass (3).
It can be used for all sport and fitness goals, can be progressed or regressed to suit the person doing it, and it really does yield impressive results in very little time.
Set intervals or self-paced?
There are two ways to implement interval training:
– The first is set, timed intervals
These are pre-determined, so you decide from the outset that you would exercise for 60 seconds followed by 60 seconds rest, or whatever you decide is appropriate. This is the way most people do interval training and so long as the exercise choices, levels and interval times are appropriate to your needs and fitness level, it can work well.
The issue is that it can be tricky to figure out the perfect system for you without a lot of trial and error.
The person working out is trusted to define their own rest intervals judging on how they feel while working out.
In essence, you work as hard as you can with maximum effort and good technical form, but when you’re feeling too tired to go all out or your technique starts to get sloppy, you rest, then pick up where you left off when you feel capable of putting in maximum effort once more.
A recipe for slacking off or pushing too hard?
Not so. The RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion) scale used by trainers to assess how hard a person feels they are working is a common example of how people are in touch with how they feel.
Studies show RPE (essentially how do you feel on a scale of 1-10) to be remarkably in line with heart rate when monitored simultaneously (1).
The result is that you get a workout that’s not too easy (not enough stimulation to make progressions) and not too hard, which can lead to injury as well as stress-induced hormonal disruptions that come with their own storm of metabolic catastrophe.
You get a workout that’s the perfect level to suit you. In fact studies show that defining your own intervals leads to as good as, if not better, outcomes than the traditional set method (2).
Try this workout yourself
Allocate one minute to each exercise before changing (set a timer), but push as hard as you can during that minute, taking as much or as little rest as you need, then joining in with the circuit when you can.
Don’t worry if you’re struggling and resting a lot, that’s the idea – if you keep training regularly (HIIT three days a week yields great results in most people), you’ll soon notice differences in how much longer you can go without resting.
– Alternating leg lunges
– Squat jumps
– Walking plank
– V Sit ups
– Press ups
Set the timer for 20 minutes (4 sets of 1 minute per exercise) and after a warm up dive in and give it your all.
Remember no pacing, you’re either going all out or resting! See if you can improve your fitness and rest less often (or for shorter duration) the fitter you get! Work smarter not harder!
Connect with Expert Pollyanna Hale
(1) US National Library of medicine, National Institutes of Health – Prediction of maximal or peak oxygen uptake from ratings of perceived exertion
(2) Wiley Online Library, Sports Medicine & Orthopedics, Sports Medicine, Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports, Vol 14 Issue 5, Abstract – Effect of work duration on physiological and rating scale of perceived exertion responses during self-paced interval training
(3) American College of Sports Medicine – High Intensity Interval Training