Greatest HITTS: The Power of Interval Training

Collection Fit Forever

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For many years, I fooled myself into thinking that if I spent enough time on the treadmill I wouldn’t age. Turns out I was wrong, and in retrospect I wasted a lot of time — literally thousands of hours — that would have been much better spent elsewhere in the gym or even in the great outdoors, where at least I could take in the sights of the city and get some fresh air rather than get agitated by CNN.

I’ve got nothing against running. Good runners impress me. I have a 50-year-old friend who runs the big marathons and sometimes wins his age class with sub-three-hour efforts that amaze me. But when I told my trainer Vincent about him, he said this: “If you were suddenly trapped under a boulder, your friend could run for help, but I bet he wouldn’t be able to lift the boulder off of you.” His point: Cardio junkies are both fit and unfit. Without some balance, you’re…unbalanced.

Then, when I told Vincent I had been attending two or three spinning classes per week for more than 10 years, he was equally underwhelmed. He felt there was too much sitting involved and that the party atmosphere made spinning a substandard workout environment, but I’ve decided to stick with it, choosing instructors who take it seriously and force the class to work hard.

So yes, cardio is part of your overall fitness picture, but here’s what I’ve learned about doing it right:

Row, row, row: Rowing machines were super hot in the ‘80s but fell out of favor. Now they’re back. Why? Because rowing is an excellent cardio exercise that also works out your chest, back, arms, and legs. It’s an incredibly efficient way to exercise. Proceed with caution, though. Do it wrong, and you may destroy your lower back. Form is everything. Study up, or ask for help at the gym.

Climb, climb, climb: Vincent loved to put me on the Versa Climber, a sadistic device on which you stand and then pretend to climb up a sheer cliff like Spider-Man. I hate it, and almost no one in the gym touches it, but as Vincent pointed out, 10 minutes on the Versa Climber is like 45 minutes on the treadmill, and it really engages your core. If your gym has something like this, try it out. There’s guaranteed to be no wait.

Go for high intensity: The latest buzzy acronym around the gym is HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training. It’s the practice of blasting through a short burst of extremely intense work followed by an equivalent rest period, then repeating many times. I’ve done this in spinning class, when the instructor calls for a series of 30-second sprints, and people do it on the treadmill too. But you can do it with all sorts of floor exercises such as burpees or thrusts.

You can also look into Tabata training, developed by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata. His plan: 20 seconds of intense effort followed by ten seconds of rest, repeated eight times. That’s just four minutes! You can do any exercise or create a series. Do eight sets of pushups, rest a minute, then eight sets of squats, rest a minute, then eight sets of burpees, rest a minute. You get the idea. You can even download a Tabata timer app that will beep for every interval. My trainer put me through this, and I definitely left a puddle of sweat on the floor! 

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