In our last post, we began to look into the effectiveness of cardio training vs. strength training when it comes to body composition change(lean muscle gain/fat loss). Without question, strength training takes the cake.
However, there is still definitely not only room, but a purpose, for cardio like activity to be included in your workout regiment. There is even this happy place where you can have both the benefits of resistance training and cardio at the same time – it’s a tiny miracle known as metabolic circuit training.
There are all kinds of ways that you can work metabolic circuit training into your plan. This can act as the entirety of your workout, and it can also be a short quick mini workout at the end of a strength training session(as with anything training related, goals matter, and how much or how little of this that you would include depends on what you are trying to accomplish with your training – however, almost anyone can benefit from even just a small amount of this kind of work to compliment the rest of their current routine).
The mini, fast paced circuit at the end of a bigger work out is commonly known as a ‘finisher’ – these can be as short as 3 minutes and may last as long as 12 minutes. These are meant to be short, intense, leave it all out on the floor kinds of circuits. It’s called a finisher because once you’re done with it, you should be toast.
Sometimes, an entire workout will look like one big finisher, where you move quickly from one exercise to the next in an attempt to get your heart rate up and to keep it up. These kinds of workouts may last 15 – 30 minutes(or longer, it all kind of depends on intensity and what you are able to keep up) with minimal breaks or only as needed. These are perfect on days where you are short on time but still want to get a sweaty, bang for your buck, intense workout.
Understanding and being able to gauge your own intensity during a workout can be tricky, and it’s completely individualized from person to person. What may feel like the hardest workout in the world to me, may feel very different to someone else at a higher fitness level.
How do you know if you’re working hard enough? There are a couple of methods that you can use, but probably the most reliable and accessible way is to use a heart rate or intensity monitor. This will help you determine if you’re working hard enough(most suggestions for a healthy individual will say you want to be around but not too much higher than 85% to 90% of your max heart rate). We use MyZone belts at Boston North Fitness and its proven to be a very useful tool in helping us stay accountable to ourselves during a workout.
If you don’t have a heart rate or intensity monitor – you can go off of perceived exertion. A general rule of thumb is that if you can talk and carry on a conversation while you are in your working interval, you are definitely not working hard enough in a HIIT workout. You probably also shouldn’t be able to read a book if you’re ‘running sprints’ on the treadmill either. You should definitely be out of breath, and fully needing to use your recovery interval to catch your breath before you start up again.
So, Why High Intensity Training?
- Time saver! You can get a ton of work done in a lot less time when your strength training workout can also double as a cardio session. These are perfect on days when you are short on time but still want to fit a lot of work into the time you do have.
- Burn fat while also preserving muscle. A session of steady state cardio will only provide an aerobic workout, where a fast paced circuit of compound exercises will also provide anaerobic benefits(basically, you’re building muscle while you’re also burning fat, to put it very simply). What this means is that even after your workout, your metabolism continues to be revved up(due to the anaerobic work) and you will continue in a slightly heightened metabolic state for anywhere from 12 to 48 hours post workout.
- Improves endurance and work capacity in a way that typical static cardio training will not. A challenging HIIT workout of body weight or kettlebells will push you out of your comfort zone in a way that the elliptical cannot.
- Provides variety and also requires limited or no equipment. You can use every toy in the gym if you want, but you can also get in a killer workout with just a jump rope and some body weight exercises if you get creative enough.
What might a HIIT or metabolic conditioning workout look like? At BNF we focus on using large compound body weight movements, medicine ball, kettlebells, ropes, Airdyne and spin bikes, rowers and sleds(among other things). Because this is meant to be a fast paced workout, you want to choose exercises that you can do safely and effectively even when you are tired and running out of steam. Here are few examples of set ups for metabolic conditioning:
1) AMRAP – choose a series of exercises, determine amount of reps per exercise and then choose an amount of time – you’ll likely want either a stop watch or some kind of a clock that will signal to you when the time ends. Perform as many rounds as possible within that set amount of time with as little rest as possible.
Example: 8 Minute AMRAP – > perform 10 Med ball slams, 10 air squats, 10 KB Swings, 10 Wall Ball in that order for as many rounds as you can.
2) EMOM (every minute on the minute) – set a timer to ding every 60 seconds. Choose between 1 and 3 exercises to perform at the top of each minute. Whatever is left of the minute after you finish that set is your rest. As soon as the timer dings for the next minute to start, you begin that series of exercises again.
Example: 8 MIN EMOM – > at the top of each minute, perform 5 Med Ball Slams, 5 Airsquats and 5 kettlebells. The quicker you work at the top of the minute, the longer your rest period.
3) Circuit training for rounds performed as fast as possible.
Example: 10 Medball Slams, 10 Airsquats, 10 KB Swings, 10 Wall Ball for 5 rounds. Record your time, perform again in a week and try and beat your time to see if your performance improves.
4) Timed intervals like a tabata workout. A classic tabata workout is 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off for 8 rounds. You can choose one exercise and do 8 rounds of the same exercise, or you can choose 2 exercises and perform 4 rounds of the same exercise.
Example: Med Ball Slams and Airsquats. Do as many medball slams as possible for 20 seconds, take a 10 second break. Perform as many airsquats as possible for 20 seconds, take a 10 second break, switch back to the medball. Do each for four rounds. This an example of a great post workout finisher.
Here is an example of how we may work some higher intensity training into our program, in our Team Training Industrial Strength workout. We start out with a warm up (not pictured) and then get into our strength for the day. The last part of the workout will be higher intensity, but will be on the shorter side and we’ll incorporate a couple of different(basically all body weight) elements in…
Lastly, to reiterate a point that we’ve been making in past posts – intensity matters, as does balance. I personally believe that HIIT workouts and metabolic conditioning circuits should be on the shorter side for best results. Work periods beyond 30-35 minutes aren’t necessary all of the time. You can fill the rest of your workout with a solid warm up, stretching, core work – movements that feel good and help you have a more productive workout. If you’re attempting to do these very intense workouts for longer, you’re possibly setting yourself up for overuse or injury, as well as just asking too much of your body. Intense exercise is a physical stress – be considerate of how much stress is enough and what’s going to become too much. Add in a couple of these sessions per week to your current strength routine, combine with solid rest, recovery and good nutrition, and this is where the magic happens my friends.