Author’s note: This post is quite a bit longer and more involved (3-4x the length) compared to my normal posts. I got a bit carried away and wanted to be thorough. Get a cup of coffee and settle down for a while. If you’re just looking for the takeaway points and some exercise plans you can use, I recommend jumping to the “How To Use HIIT Intelligently” section.
I’ve put the takeaway points at the bottom instead of the normal top because honestly this post is so long and complicated that it’s hard to make takeaway points that compress the info without referring back to the post. If you want a detailed look at all the science involved in Tabata/HIIT style programs, you’ll want to start here. Feel free to skim through these first sections to get to whatever interests you most. I'm implementing a table of contents here to make it easy to navigate.
This one ended up being quite a bit of work (about 6k words), provided to you absolutely free. If you like what I do and are interested in supporting the site, consider donating on Patreon, buying my books, subscribing to the mailing list, or applying for coaching.
Table of Contents1. The Original Tabata
2. Problems With The Study
3. The Study Used Beginners - And These Finding May Not Be Generalizable To Non-Beginners
4. VO2max Is Only Part Of The Equation
5. Intervals For Weight Loss
6. What Is High Intensity Anyway?
7. Lightning Doesn't Strike Twice, and More Isn't Always Better
9. The Problem of Exercise Selection
10. How To Use HIIT Intelligently
11. And Since You're Gonna Do It Anyway...
12. While You're Here
It’s become common for “Tabata” or “HIIT” style classes and workouts to be used with the average exerciser in the gym setting. In one of the jobs I worked in a gym, we had “Tabata days” once a week where all of our workouts were “Tabata” styled. (I use these quotes constantly because, as you’ll soon find out, they were anything but.)
Intervals were all the rage when I was starting out as a trainer, and I feel like it was half of what I read about in fitness blogs at the time, with the other half being hate pieces leveled at traditional cardio. According to these posts, you’d build much better muscle mass, strength, and endurance using intervals, in addition to saving a lot of time, compared to just going for a run. Meanwhile, all sorts of negative drawbacks were associated with long duration cardio: everything from injury risk to killing your gains to shortening your lifespan.
These workouts are based around the principle of interval training - dedicated periods of hard work mixed with periods of rest. For example, a sprint interval might involve running at top speed for 15 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest, and then repeated a certain number of times. This can be made more difficult either by increasing the difficulty or duration of the work interval, or by decreasing the duration of the rest interval.
These workouts allow us to get in an extremely effective workout in a short time. These planned rest periods mean we can keep the intensity (difficulty) of our work intervals high while also not running out of gas too quickly, allowing us to get in more work at that intensity. As a result, despite the relatively short amount of time spent working during such a plan, we can get powerful effects that may rival or surpass the value of much longer workouts. This is called HIIT, or high intensity interval training. Tabata refers to a specific subset of HIIT, which we’ll cover soon.
This post is intended to be a long and comprehensive introduction to the entire topic of interval training, HIIT, and Tabata - including the science behind them and the right and wrong way to use them. Let’s start off with the study that started it all.
The Original Tabata
Tabata takes its name from prolific Japanese researcher Izumi Tabata. In 1996, Tabata et al performed a study that was intended to show the different kinds of adaptations that an exerciser would see in response to different intensities of exercise with the same exercise. Essentially, they wanted to find out how fast cycling and slower cycling would create different adaptations for the exerciser.
The study participants were split into two groups: a moderate intensity group and a high intensity group. The moderate intensity group performed a standard cardio program, cycling at a moderate pace (70% of their VO2max) for 60 minutes at a time. In contrast, the high intensity group trained with intervals on the cycle, doing intense sets of maximal effort (170% of their VO2max) for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 7-8 time for a total of a 4 minute workout - a typical interval style workout.
Both groups trained five days a week with this method for 6 weeks. This means that the moderate intensity group trained for about 5 hours per week, while the high intensity group trained for about 20 minutes.
After the 6 weeks were complete, both groups were tested for two major markers: VO2max (a measure of endurance ability) and anaerobic capacity (a measure of speed/power). Here’s what they found:
- The moderate intensity group saw little change in anaerobic power, but saw a significant increase in VO2max.
- The high intensity group saw a significant increase in anaerobic power, and an increase in VO2max slightly higher than what the moderate intensity group saw.
You can start to see why intervals are so popular - if you can get better results for anaerobic power, PLUS get better results for VO2max, PLUS you only have to spend a fraction of the time in the gym (1/15th, or about 7% of the time), that seems like a clear win-win-win.
We’ve got a clear recipe for virality here. Take that study, give it a decade to filter from researchers to the average exerciser, throw in a culture that hates long cardio anyway, and you can immediately see why such an exercise protocol would be exciting. Bodybuilders, powerlifters, and other heavy lifters who already hate low intensity work jumped on the bandwagon. Anyone not wanting to spend a ton of time doing cardio jumped on the bandwagon. 4-Hour-Body-style high efficiency min-max exercisers and “biohackers” jumped on the bandwagon.
We also started seeing the same principles applied to lifting weights as well. Tabata classes where you alternate 20 seconds of pushups with 10 seconds of rest. HIIT training where you do burpees for intervals. High knees, 20 seconds on 10 seconds off. CrossFit classes based on, and influenced by, HIIT and Tabata training (and the confusingly similarly named HIT, which I assure you is a different thing entirely) to believe that ALL training should be short and intense. Short workouts became in fashion, and longer workouts were spat upon.
But there’s a few serious problems with that way of thinking. In fact, the Tabata study does NOT justify any of these methods, really.
Problems with the study
First, the Tabata study was never intended to prove that HIIT was superior, and it doesn't. It was essentially just a study designed to prove the principle of specificity for cardiovascular intensity - showing that sprints would make you better at sprinting, and that long distance cardio would make you better at long distance cardio. It did this effectively.
The finding that the sprints also increased VO2max to a similar extent as the moderate intensity training was essentially just an unexpected side effect: a little bonus finding on the side. I could go into why it makes sense, in retrospect, that intervals would also increase VO2max, but this would be a long discussion for another time.
In fact, most of what people think the Tabata study says is not really in keeping with what the study actually says. Ultimately, this is another example of poor scientific literacy.
Here are some issues with the way that that study (and studies like it) are used to justify a variety of exercise programs.
The study used beginners - and these findings may not be generalizable to non-beginners
These subjects, while recreationally active in a variety of sports, weren’t necessarily elite athletes. It’s highly possible that some or even a significant amount of the benefits of this exercise program can be attributed to “newb gains”. Additionally, the high intensity exercise group actually started with a lower average VO2max to begin with - so they were definitely less trained for endurance than the moderate intensity group, making newb gains more likely.
Additionally, the number of participants was not terribly large - so there’s some possibility of the data not being as accurate as we’d like. In short, it’s likely that this study is giving us a slightly exaggerated idea of what we can really expect.
This study was also only 6 weeks long. In studies on periodization for weight training it’s been found that in the beginning, any kind of training will work, but as time goes on, the relative value of periodized (well-designed) training increases. In short, the differences between different kinds of programming become more apparent over a longer term.
In the longer run, there would most likely be a trend for the moderate intensity training to provide even better results in terms of endurance performance, and for the interval training to provide even better results in terms of speed and anaerobic performance. The benefits of the two styles of training would become more and more divergent as you get more and more skilled. So, drawing long-term conclusions from this short term study (aka, “you should do HIIT repeatedly forever as a regular part of your training program longer than 6 weeks”) isn't necessarily a good idea.
Vo2max is only part of the equation
Another problem with using the Tabata study like this is that VO2max improvements, while a good indicator of increasing endurance, aren’t the entire story. VO2max was a statistic we invented to measure the amount of oxygen burned during cardiovascular activity. Up to a point, it’s a good estimate of how much energy you’re burning (and thus how much your body can handle).
However, later research found that VO2max tends to “top out” beyond a certain skill level. For beginners, improving your VO2max matters. For elite endurance athletes, you’ve kind of plateaued on VO2max, and other factors become more important in order to continue improving. At that point, it’s not about burning more oxygen, it’s about burning oxygen more efficiently through other processes.
I draw this information from the excellent Science of Running, by Steve Magness, since I’m a dumb meathead who lifts weights and hasn't done a lot of cardio since I quit my school's cross country team at the age of 15. For a lot more info on the topic of improving running performance, I recommend picking up the book - it’s a bit dry, but mostly quite readable for a book so heavily grounded in science.
As Magness puts it:
"Recently, the legitimacy of VO2max as a measurement and the acceptance of VO2max as a practical measurement of cardio-respiratory endurance have been called into question."
In short, while VO2max “matters”, and isn’t unimportant, it’s definitely NOT the whole picture. So, seeing a single study that says “intervals are just as good at improving VO2max in beginners” is a huge stone’s throw away from “intervals are better across the board than traditional endurance training for improving endurance”.
Specificity still wins the day.
Intervals for weights loss
The Tabata study has since been backed up with other studies that suggest that there are some benefits to interval training: notably, several studies showed that trainees lost more weight on a Tabata/HIIT style program than on traditional cardio of a much longer duration. This seems to support the belief that HIIT training is superior for weight loss or body composition changes, even if it’s not superior for endurance training.
However, as the author of that study notes, these studies were largely performed on inactive individuals with elevated body fat levels. Studies performed on leaner individuals saw little impact from HIIT style training. People with elevated body fat lose fat more quickly from all sources - so in this case, the difference is likely exaggerated by the use of these study subjects.
I’d say there’s likely a small benefit to HIIT compared to normal cardio, in terms of burning calories and losing weight. However, that doesn’t mean that you should do nothing but HIIT.
what is high intensity anyway
If we refer back to the Tabata study, remember that the moderate intensity group trained at “70% of VO2max” while the HIIT group trained at “170% of VO2max”.
What does this mean?
As mentioned above, VO2max is a measure of how much oxygen you're using. The more you're using, the more energy your body can produce, and we can assume that translates into more work done, or more work done in less time.
Typically, we see that VO2max measured on a treadmill is slightly higher than on a cycle. However, when testing VO2max, we tend to make runners take the test on a cycle, and cyclists take the test on a treadmill - to help avoid the advantage of specificity, which can skew the results.
While we normally train under our VO2max, it is possible to temporarily overshoot our limits with certain kinds of cardiovascular exercise. Essentially, intervals can cause our oxygen usage to skyrocket so high that we’re forced to stop (and then it takes a little while of inactivity for our bodies to catch up).
An intensity of 170% of VO2max means that these subjects were literally giving it their all. They were just absolutely pushing the limits of their bodies.
I’d say that one of the clear benefits of Tabata and HIIT style training, and why it sometimes offers an advantage over much longer periods of time, is this practice of extreme intensity. When you’re absolutely giving it your all, you can achieve more in less time.
At the same time, this means that these programs are VERY exhausting, despite how short they are. I often see that exercisers who are really pushing it and using these programs grow uncomfortable with them after a short while - regularly training at such a high intensity is just really damn draining. It just, is.
As a result, many people don’t actually train hard enough to get these kinds of adaptations. I can’t tell you how many people are “interval training”, but after 2-3 sets they’re just training at a much lower intensity, more comparable to what they’d be doing in a moderate intensity cardio session. I myself was one of those people, many times, when I experimented with HIIT. If you’re doing sprint intervals at a jogging pace - well, you’re sure doing intervals, but not doing high intensity intervals, and that does matter.
In many cases, I’ve found that for all that people talk about hating long distance cardio, many of them hate HIIT even more when they’re doing it the right way. Despite being a strength-focused athlete who wants to minimize time spent doing cardio, I myself have commonly found that HIIT is way more exhausting to me than just hopping on a treadmill for a half hour and zoning out. Ultimately if you have the time to spend (and many of us do, frankly), it can be psychologically much easier to just do the dang cardio - and you’re getting better endurance benefits anyway, which is the whole point of cardio for lifters.
So, I would tend to say that people are probably overestimating how much they get out of it - it’s one thing to train to 170% VO2max in a lab regularly as part of a test, and quite another thing to attempt to hold up to that in the outside world, regularly, as part of a self-imposed or coach-imposed fitness program.
lightning doesn't strike twice, and more isn't always better
At one job I worked at, we gave “Tabata” classes that were based around the Tabata format - 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest, for 8 sets. These workouts didn’t use cardiovascular exercise, instead being based on different exercises: mostly bodyweight exercises and dumbbell exercises that required minimal equipment due to the large number of people we would train in the group setting. Once you had completed 8 sets with one exercise, you’d have a slightly longer rest period, move to a different station, and then repeat with a new exercise.
As a result, these short, 4 minute long “Tabata” workouts would be repeated many times throughout the day, about 8 to 10 times total, to fit the 60 minute class time.
This is a classic case of “more isn’t always better”.
As I mentioned in the intensity section above, the benefits of the Tabata protocol were largely due to the intensity of the cardiovascular effect - 170% of VO2max is no joke. By definition, you cannot maintain such a high intensity for very long before you get exhausted and have to start training at a lower intensity. Sooner or later, your “high intensity” intervals will turn into moderate-lower intensity intervals. That’s just how human bodies work.
If you’re not seeing a dropoff in intensity/energy levels over time as you interval train, you’re either a) some kind of super-athlete for whom the normal rules don’t apply, or far more likely, b) not actually pushing yourself to your limits, as in the intensity section above.
By definition, you cannot be doing a HIIT workout for very long. There’s an inverse relationship between intensity and duration, so the longer your workouts go on, the lower your intensity has to be. At this point, you’re not reaping any additional benefits from HIIT, you’re just wasting your time doing more of the moderate intensity work that HIIT advocates claim to hate so much!
Autoregulation refers to exercise plans which include some degree of adjustable difficulty. One of the benefits of these kinds of plans is that they’re more flexible for the exerciser - if you show up on a day when you have low energy, an autoregulated plan will have a way to account for that, giving you less work or allowing you to make cuts in your program to be appropriate for your energy levels. On the other hand, if you show up feeling strong, an autoregulated program will allow you to perform more work to take advantage of that.
Autoregulation is essentially what many people do by default when they workout - they show up, do some exercises until they feel satisfied that they’ve had a good workout, and then leave. This is a "bad" kind of autoregulation, in that it’s almost entirely without structure. Good autoregulated programs combine some amount of structure with some amount of flexibility to ensure that the basic principles of periodization are still accounted for.
Autoregulation has become quite fashionable in powerlifting in recent years thanks to the work of Mike Tuchscherer and Reactive Training Systems - for an idea of how to apply autoregulation to programming for strength and size, I recommend checking out their beginners articles linked there.
So what do HIIT and autoregulation have to do with each other?
Well, HIIT *is* a kind of autoregulation. Doing intervals of “as fast as you can go” is autoregulated because your speed will be changing from day to day and week to week in response to your energy levels and training status. Some days you’ll be able to go faster, and other days not so much. This is a form of autoregulated programming that ensures that you’re always going to be challenging yourself appropriately, depending on your ability for that day.
Let’s compare this to the average exerciser who goes into the gym to do some cardio for an hour. They’ll hop on a treadmill, pop in some tunes or throw on some Netflix, set a fast jogging or light walking pace, and then just stay at that same pace for the entirety of their workout, minus maybe a couple adjustments here and there. They probably won't increase their speed or incline significantly, just focusing on increasing time if they want to “burn more calories”.
Such an approach isn’t autoregulated, in a strict sense. It’s not necessarily pushing your limits or accounting for your daily energy levels. Given that we know that the average exerciser doesn’t actually know their limits or push themselves much in the gym, HIIT becomes attractive as a way of forcing them to push themselves. “As fast as you can” isn’t really something that you can cheat yourself about.
Since HIIT is naturally autoregulated consistently and in a meaningful way, while moderate intensity cardio often isn’t, this can help explain why some people see such better results on HIIT than moderate intensity cardio: not because it’s superior, per se, but because it encourages them to actually push their limits.
The problem of exercise selection
One particularly irritating thing about Tabata as a catch-all title is that Tabata was never meant to refer to a style of training (HIIT is a far better term), and was just a dude’s name. The fact that people started calling HIIT style workouts “Tabata” is sort of silly, because “Tabata” doesn’t refer to any particular training style.
If anything, Tabata should be used exclusively to refer to the exact methods used in the study - high intensity intervals performed on a cycle ergometer. However, approximately 99.99% of its usage in the fitness industry today (extremely scientific figure here folks) refers to something completely different.
Typical “Tabata” or “HIIT” workouts that you’ll find in group classes or online include very different kinds of exercise - lifting weights, bodyweight exercises, or other non-cardio methods. The assumption here is simple - that the benefits of the interval style of training will carry over from cardio to other kinds of exercises. This assumption is also incorrect.
In essence, bodyweight exercises (and lifting weights), while they can get your heart rate elevated to a similar extent, involve a very different pattern of energy usage than cardio does.
Heart rate monitors, for example, can predict calorie burn relatively effectively for cardio activities. This is because measuring your heart rate is a good predictor of how many calories you’re burning in these kinds of activities. However, this does not extend to lifting weights.
When you’re running or cycling, the body is performing a repeatable, low intensity movement that is what we call “cyclical”, meaning that there’s no distinct “phases” to the movement. You’re concentrating energy to create movement in a single direction (forward). While one leg is working, the other leg is being brought back into position for more work, and the result is that you're creating a constant, nonstop effort. You can go faster or slower, but you can't just "take a break" mid-stride. If you want to stop, you first have to slow down.
In any lifting exercise, however, this isn’t the case. When you do a bench press, you start off with an isometric (paused) phase at the top, a controlled eccentric (lowering) phase as you lower the bar to the chest, another isometric pause, and then a concentric (raising) phase to push the bar back up to the initial position.
You can speed this process up as much as you want, minimizing the pauses and maximizing the time spent moving the bar, but there are limits to how fast you can go.
Think of the lowering phase - yes, you could make it faster, but sooner or later you have to start exerting force on the bar to slow it down so that you stop it before it plummets into your chest, shatters your sternum, and leaves you injured.
Likewise when you’re raising the bar, you can make the reps faster, but sooner or later you have to exert small amounts of force on the bar to slow it down so that it doesn’t rip your arms out of your shoulders and just fly up into the air.
These processes happen naturally and subconsciously - you just do them without realizing it. This is just a kind of feature of the way that these movements work.
These phases prevent you from ever achieving a similar cardiovascular effect from lifting weights as from traditional cardio. Yes, you can provoke some cardiovascular effect, but it’s never going to be the exact same.
It also seems silly to apply the principles of cardiovascular interval training to lifting weights, when that’s exactly what all lifting of weights is to begin with. Lifting weights naturally occurs at a much higher intensity than running or cycling in terms of muscular activation. When you’re doing 3x12 with 1 minute rest per set on the bench press, what that’s really saying is “3 intervals of 12 reps on, 1 minute off”.
That’s already an interval! Intervals are already happening!
So, applying the principles of HIIT to lifting weights is… kind of silly. Doing sets of 20 seconds on, ten seconds off with pushups may help you achieve more overall reps of pushups compared to traditional set format, but any benefits that you get from the program will not be related to any magical qualities attributable to HIIT, just the fact that you’re convincing yourself to do more work. You could get the same effect by simply doing more reps of pushups in a traditional format. Volume matters more than the methods used to achieve that volume.
That being said, the purposeful use of programmed rest/work periods, similar to intervals, IS a thing that has been used in the meathead community for a long time.
- Cluster sets are lifting sets that involve completing a smaller number of reps than normal per set, resting a short 10-15 seconds, and repeating. Eventually, this should add up to more reps than in a normal set, plus it keeps your heart rate a bit higher.
- Borge Fagerli’s Myoreps is a format in which you complete one set to near failure, rest a little bit, and then go into cluster sets using a much smaller number of reps. This format has the added benefit of starting off near failure, since you’re getting in that hard first set, but of course can be quite brutally hard. This also has elements of autoregulation involved.
- Dante Trudel’s Doggcrapp effectively involves 3 sets to failure with a short 30 second interval in between each set.
This all falls under the general heading of “rest-pause training”, which is a general catch-all term for anything that involves intervals of lifting weights with shorter periods of rest in comparison to standard sets. Manipulating time intervals has ALWAYS been an element of lifting weights.
At the end of the day, you can't say that you’re “doing Tabata” or “doing HIIT” unless you’re referring to cardio. Otherwise, you’re just lifting weights. If you’re following a Tabata or HIIT program that involves bodyweight exercises or lifting weights, this confers no additional benefits compared to just doing those exercises on their own.
Plus chances are that if you're doing a program like that, it wasn't designed around intelligently increasing training volume to begin with, meaning that it's not necessarily a very GOOD plan.
how to use hiit intelligently
I’m not a HIIT hater. HIIT is a powerful tool that can be used to cut down on time in the gym, accelerate weight loss, and provide powerful cardiovascular results. There’s many other benefits to HIIT that I’ve neglected to mention so far.
In particular, HIIT is still the gold standard when it comes to developing anaerobic sprinting ability, making it heavily useful for sports which rely on this quality.
Many sports rely heavily on anaerobic ability, including virtually all traditional sports. Running up and down the field or court may sometimes involve longer duration running, but is generally weighted towards short sprints as you try to outpace the opposing team. So, regular sprint interval training is an absolute necessity for these athletes, who need to have speed and anaerobic ability to perform consistently.
This is also an instance where the “lightning doesn’t strike twice” rule may not apply - since you have to sprint so frequently on the field, it may be useful to perform many more sprint intervals than usual to train that ability, even if this isn’t normally a good idea.
HIIT can build a bit of muscle. Not as much as just lifting some weights, but some. This is a side effect of the high intensity - you’re starting to maximally activate muscles, so you're getting some size growth. This is in contrast to traditional endurance training, which causes no muscle growth (except in extreme beginners) and may in some cases cause loss of muscle if taken to extremes. The effect is of course likely to be bigger in beginners.
Middle and long distance runners, though their performance relies largely on endurance adaptations, can still benefit from the speed boost that intervals can give them. Thus, while HIIT shouldn’t be a primary source of training for these athletes, it can be a useful supplement alongside weight training to help build a well-rounded athlete.
HIIT may still be useful for beginners and weight-loss exercisers, despite the general issues that high intensity training can cause. In this case, I recommend easing exercisers into it, not just dropping them into a HIIT program with no buildup. Without buildup, injury rates and the possibility of dissatisfaction with the extreme intensity can be high.
Here are some takeaway point do’s and don’t’s:
- Use intervals with cardiovascular training.
- Keep the number of intervals short.
- Keep the intensity as high as possible.
- Ease into the process, if a beginner.
- Use rest-pause style training with lifting weights, together with a general periodized strategy of increasing weight used and reps performed.
- Remember that science is complicated, and don’t draw simplistic conclusions from single studies.
- Remember to get good sleep.
- Buy my books if you want to be your best self.
- Use intervals uncritically in conjunction with lifting weights, especially if you’re just doing work with no overall periodized plan.
- Do a great number of intervals.
- Not keep the intensity high (double negative, son).
- Assume that this will give you better endurance results than traditional endurance work.
- Assume that this is some “one-size-fits-all” solution for cardio.
- Jump straight into high intensity work as a beginner without guidance or buildup.
- Draw big conclusions from individual studies.
- Fall prey to pseudoscience garbage about “the next big thing”.
- Kick a puppy.
- Vote Trump in 2020.
And since you're gonna do it anyway...
Let’s be honest, very few people who want to do HIIT are going to read this piece and say “oh, I’ve realized the error of my ways, time to go do something else”. Likewise, very few people who hate HIIT are going to read this piece and say “oh, I’ve realized the errors of my ways, time to do HIIT”. People are weird like that.
So, in the interest of “getting it right”, I want to present a few simple HIIT-style exercise plans you can use to achieve your goals, if that’s a thing you’re into. Better here than that you google “HIIT workout” or “Tabata workout” and click on some of the garbage there. I can assure you, google isn’t your friend in this case.
Here are some HIIT/Tabata influenced programs:
Do these on a bike, treadmill, or when running outside.
|Day 1||Day 2|
|Week 1||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 50 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 60 sec slow|
|Week 2||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 40 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 50 sec slow|
|Week 3||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 30 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 40 sec slow|
|Week 4||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 20 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 30 sec slow|
|Week 5||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 40 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 50 sec slow|
|Week 6||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 30 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 40 sec slow|
|Week 7||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 20 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 30 sec slow|
|Week 8||6-8 sets of 10 sec fast, 10 sec slow||6-8 sets of 30 sec fast, 20 sec slow|
|Day 1||Day 2|
|Week 1||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 50 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 50 sec slow|
|Week 2||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 40 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 40 sec slow|
|Week 3||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 30 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 30 sec slow|
|Week 4||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 20 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 20 sec slow|
|Week 5||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 40 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 40 sec slow|
|Week 6||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 30 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 30 sec slow|
|Week 7||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 20 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 20 sec slow|
|Week 8||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 10 sec slow||6-8 sets of 20 sec fast, 10 sec slow|
Notes for an advanced approach:
Once you’ve completed the beginner and intermediate programs, you’ve got a basic competency in HIIT, and it’s just a matter of making it harder from there. Since these programs are effectively autoregulated by their high intensity (see the section on autoregulation), there’s no need to worry about that part of the equation.
This means that in some cases, simply repeating the intermediate program (or even just repeating week 8 of the intermediate program) may be more than enough, depending on your goals. If this isn’t enough, other ways of increasing the difficulty include adding sets (if you’re a traditional sport athlete, for example) or adding additional days per week, or if using a treadmill, upping your speed or incline (be cautious and don’t hurt yourself if using this method).
Weight Training Intervals
Here is a sample program which makes heavy use of rest-pause intervals, similar to the myoreps method mentioned above. Note that for beginners, all barbell work can be substituted out for appropriate dumbbell or bodyweight work, as noted.
|Day 1 - Squat||Day 2 - Upper||Day 3 - Back/Deadlift|
|Week 1||Pick a weight for the squat that you can perform about 15-20 reps max with. Do 1 set of 10, rest for 5 big breaths, and then alternate sets of 5 with 5 big breaths in between for about 3-5 more sets.
Leg Press, Leg Extension, other leg exercises as desired, do 3x8-12 @ a challenging weight.
|Pick a weight for the bench press or pushup that you can perform about 15-20 reps max with. Do 1 set of 10, rest for 5 big breaths, and then alternate sets of 5 with 5 big breaths in between for about 3-5 more sets.
Chest Press Machine, DB Shoulder Presses, other upper body exercises as desired, do 3x8-12 @ a challenging weight.
|Pick a weight for the deadlift or glute bridge that you can perform about 15-20 reps max with. Do 1 set of 10, rest for 5 big breaths, and then alternate sets of 5 with 5 big breaths in between for about 3-5 more sets.
Lat Pulldown, Machine Rows, DB Rows, Pullups, other back exercises as desired, do 3x8-12 @ a challenging weight.
|Week 2||Same as week 1, but perform 1 more set of 5 at the same weight than previous for the squat. For the assistance work, aim for more reps or weight.||Same as week 1, but perform 1 more set of 5 at the same weight than previous for the bench press or pushup. For the assistance work, aim for more reps or weight.||Same as week 1, but perform 1 more set of 5 at the same weight than previous for the deadlift or glute bridge. For the assistance work, aim for more reps or weight.|
|Week 3||1 more set of 5, more reps or weight for assistance work.||1 more set of 5, more reps or weight for assistance work.||1 more set of 5, more reps or weight for assistance work.|
|Week 4||1 more set of 5, more reps or weight for assistance work.||1 more set of 5, more reps or weight for assistance work.||1 more set of 5, more reps or weight for assistance work.|
To progress this program, you’re simply adding 5-10lbs to the primary lift on each workout each month, dropping back down to the starting number of sets, and starting over again. For assistance work, just aim to add reps or weight where possible, the same as before.
This approach still works well with bodyweight exercises, but since you may not have any weights to use with your exercises, you have to use alternate strategies from month to month to up the difficulty. One option is to ignore the “start over” in week 5, and just treat it like weeks 3 and 4, continually adding 1 additional set of 5 reps each time you perform the workout. This might get a bit boring as workouts get longer, and at this point it may be a good idea to get a gym, or establish some kind of limit to how long you want your workouts to be and just stay there to maintain.
Another option is to simply up the number of reps in each set from month to month: say, 15 on the first set and 7 on the subsequent sets, instead of 10 and 5. If using this option, just be careful not to make too big of a jump in your reps per set from month to month, so that you’re not outpacing your abilities. Always plan on subsequent sets being about half as many reps.
While you're here
If you’ve read through this whole thing and gotten this far, congratulations. I apologize for being long-winded as hell.
If you like this free post and want to support my work, find a few ways to support me listed below.
- Training VS Maintenance
- The Pareto Principle and Fitness
- The Colorado Study: An In-Depth Review
- Bruce Lee's Cardio Secrets
- Periodization For Beginners
- Understanding Sets, Reps, and Intensity
- Autoregulation For Optimal Programming
- Do You Really Understand Science?
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