This is the time of year when a lot of folks get the fitness f*ck its. End of year deliverables, travel plans, holiday parties and sugary (boozy!) treats everywhere can make us feel powerless over our schedules, diets and fitness goals. I get it. But rather than starting 2017 feeling bloated, fatigued and defeated consider trying one of my favorite efficient and effective high intensity interval running programs. Scrape together 20 minutes a few times per week to start burning body fat, improving your cardio endurance and building strength in your legs.
Here's the quick and dirty. In order to burn fat, build athletic performance and for loads of health benefits, it's generally recommended to include both traditional aerobic as well as anaerobic cardio (such as high intensity interval training or HIIT) into a fitness program. Why? Unlike steady state or long slow duration cardio, when you challenge the body by spiking your heart rate, letting it recover and spiking it again (i.e. doing an interval) the body not only uses energy doing that interval, but continues to burn calories and body fat in the hours after you've stopped. It's called EPOC and it's awesome.
Not So Fast
No. This does not mean you should abandon aerobic cardio (or resistance training for that matter) all together. HIIT is a piece of a balanced program. Ideally you would include some steady state cardio (slow/moderate jog, yoga class, flat bike ride, hike, swim, row, etc) in your week as well. It's also important to cycle off HIIT and take a break every so often to avoid over stressing the body, injury and fatigue.
If you've never done an interval on a treadmill before, practice first. It can feel odd or a little scary so start slow and get comfortable before hopping on at a high speeds. To perform the interval stand with your feet on the side of the tread and set the incline/speed to the desired interval level. Once the tread reaches the desired setting, keeping your hands on the safety rails "hop on" to the tread and start running. Once you are secure in the sprint and comfortable let go of the hand rails. Complete the interval time. Place your hands back on the hand rails and "hop off" by placing your feet back on the sides of the tread. Reset the interval settings if needed and wait until the recovery period is over before "hopping" back on for the next interval.
If you are confused or nervous, ask a trainer for help before attempting on your own. Always use the emergency stop device (usually a small clip you secure to your clothing which turns off the tread if you fall). If you have injuries, joint problems or any health or mobility issues do not try this or any HIIT workout before consulting a medical professional. If you are not experienced and comfortable running on a treadmill, then this is not the program for you. Consider the Versa Climber or rowing or spin instead and then work with a trainer to get comfortable on a treadmill. Always warm up and cool down before running. Here are some of my favorites.
Each HIIT session should take about 20-25 minutes depending on your fitness level and how long it takes you to recover. Start with the Ascending Speed Hill Sprint Ladder on Day 1 and the Ascending Incline Sprint Ladder on Day 2. Give yourself a break from HIIT in between by either taking a rest or a mobility day or doing an aerobic workout. If combining your HIIT workout with a resistance training workout that's (usually) fine. Just do your strength/resistance training FIRST and then FINISH with your HIIT ladder.
What does "recover" mean? It's not an interval if your heart rate doesn't undulate. So the work phase should cause your heart rate to increase and you will likely become breathless for a short period. It's important for your heart rate to come back down and for your breath to return before starting the next interval.
Whenever possible I prefer to run on Woodway brand treadmills. They are expensive so they must be better, right? (Kidding.) They are more ergonomic than the standard treadmills in a lot of gyms and hotels and they are well-suited for sprinting. But any decent treadmill should be fine.
As noted below, these are guides. Please adjust the baselines and progressions to your fitness and mobility level. If something feels wrong, stop immediately. Be mindful when running at high speeds. Consider ditching your headphones so you can be super focused on your form and footing. DO NOT watch movies, text or do emails while doing these workouts. Be present and mindful. It's only 20 minutes.