Our Complete MISUNDERSTANDING of HIIT….once again.


OK…I am officially the world’s ‘worst ‘blogger’ so I am recyling an older blog post because, like a bear has no other choice but to maul you when you poke him with a stick while he sleeps, I have NO CHOICE when I see something great get bastardized like this.

My great friend Jen Sinkler recently did an all-day ‘interview’ with Shaun T of ‘Insanity’ fame…this included a workout (seen below). While this workout is brutally grueling …to the point where a VERY high level fitness person like Jen gets noticeably gassed and her performance rapidly decreases…it is maybe one of the BEST examples of our complete misunderstanding of HIIT.

BTW, Jen drove up to Santa Clarita later that day to hang with me and actually PR’ed in her power clean…yeah, she’s a freak =o) Check THIS OUT!

To make a long story short, this ends up being a sloppy aerobic session. Why you ask? Well, Shaun T is using a 7 to 1 work to rest ratio in this lil workout. If you don’t know what this means, it means you are going to feel like death… feel like you might puke… feel completely exhausted etc. While all these things may be cool and all the rage in “interval style” group exercise classes these days, it WON’T WORK. Your body is not capable of continuous high output, high intensity interval work without adequate rest. As you will read in the blog post below, REST IS NOT THE ENEMY! In fact, rest is our best friend….rest is like that sip of ice water on a scorching day….like the hug and kiss from your 11 year old daughter after a horrible day at work….anyway, I digress….just watch this video (then read the article below!).

Editors note: 

(I know what you’re all thinking….THIS ISN’T THE SAME DAY! LOOK AT HER OUTFITS, THEY’RE DIFFERENT! Well, you don’t know Jen Sinkler…..this diva/athlete NEVER rolls into a city without several ‘going out’ and MANY lulu workout ensembles….so save it).

OK….now lets REALLY try to understand the concept behind HIIT….

I am pretty excited to see many folks getting the idea to incorporate high intensity interval-style (HIIT) exercise into their workouts. This can come in many forms…from weight training circuits, to calisthenics, to ropes-KB’s-TRX you get the picture. We can even get great high intensity intervals (let’s just start calling this ANAEROBIC now OK?) via things like agility training, sprints etc. While these methods and modes seem to be pretty widespread these days I still don’t think many folks out there truly understand what anaerobic training is.

I often see people posting workouts where they will perform multi-movement circuits using timed intervals like 30 sec. of work followed by 15 sec. of rest….or maybe 45 sec. of work followed by 15 sec. of rest. First off we need to understand the concept of NEGATIVE rest (where you rest for shorter periods than you work). 99.9% of the population is not ready nor is it prudent to use negative rest periods…..the deterioration will be quick and significant thus compromising your training goals from the very beginning. Sure we can ‘survive’ these types of bouts but minutes after you start your “HIIT” session you will merely be doing ‘aerobics’ and will no longer reap the great benefits of anaerobic style training.

Keep in mind that the higher the intensity, the shorter the work period AND the greater the work:rest ratio. When I perform sprints of say 10-20 yards it may only take 2-3 seconds but the intensity is so high that in order for me to continue to match (or at least stay close) to my peak performance I will need adequate rest. In these short, high intensity types of bouts I will use at least a 1:5-6 (work:rest), meaning I will work for 3 seconds then rest for 15-18 sec. if I perform longer bouts say 100 yard 1/2 gassers (50 yards out and 50 yards back) it may take me 18 sec. but since the intensity is not as high as the shorter sprint and the rest period will also be relatively longer (as per ratio) i will not need such a high work:rest…in these cases I may use a 1:2-3 (work:rest) depending on the fitness of the person. This will result in 18 sec. of work followed by 32-54 sec. of rest.

We can see how rest is NOT a bad thing, in fact, with this type of training is is MANDATORY if you want to get the results you set out for. Also, remember that our bodies ARE working during these ‘rest’ periods….we shouldn’t obsess with jogging around and sprinting from station to station during circuits etc. All this does is drop the intensity of our next bout. One of my pet peeves is when people tell me “oh, yeah I do HITT on the treadmill all the time…I jog for 30 sec. then I sprint for 30 sec. and I do this for 30 minutes“. Uh…..no you don’t. You’re doing aerobics and anyone who has ever ‘sprinted’ for 30 sec. (I would like to see that BTW) knows the only thing that you do AFTER this bout is to STOP and TRY to get your SH*T together for the next bout.

Now I am realistic and I know that most people cannot do continuous high intensity sprint workouts for 30 min. etc. so we need more practical protocols. This being said my general rule of thumb is ALWAYS choose some sort of positive rest period. AT LEAST work with EQUAL work-rest periods. I recently did a ‘power’ workout at TRX headquarters with 2 extremely fit people using a 20 sec. work : 40 sec. rest protocol (1:2 work to rest) with the goal being maximal power production each round for 20 minutes. The result? The were WRECKED at the end simply from the cumulative effect of the work. We don’t need to be continuously jogging, doing jumping jacks, running from station to station to reap the benefits of anaerobic training, in fact, this often TAKES AWAY from the effectiveness if the workout! DO SMART WORK! 





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Coach Dos is a sought after international speaker on a variety of conditioning topics such as Program Design, Cardio-Strength Training, Olympic Weightlifting applications, Sport-speed development, Explosive training, and CHAOS™ Speed Training. Coach Dos served as Director of Speed, Strength & Conditioning @ College of the Canyons in Santa Clarita, CA, a position he had held from 1999-2015. Coach Dos is also the 2006 recipient of the National Strength and Conditioning Association‘s prestigious Collegiate Strength and Conditioning Professional of the year for 2006. This award is given to the top collegiate strength coach in the country (as voted on by his peers). In addition to contributing to Men’s Health magazine on a regular basis, Coach Dos’ first book Men’s Health Power Training (Rodale Books) was released in July 2007 and become a world-wide best seller. His second book, Cardio Strength Training (Rodale Books) is also a best-seller.