Are you ready to add some oomph to your exercise routine? High intensity interval training can help you break out of your exercise comfort zone, build a lean body and improve your aerobic fitness quickly.
It’s important that you’re up for the challenge, however. High intensity interval training isn’t for the faint of heart.
“During intervals, you push your body to its limit. So, you run as fast or bike as hard as you can for a set amount of time, like one minute. Then, you recover for one minute. And do it again,” says Carol Harrison, a senior exercise physiologist at MD Anderson. Repeat this routine up to five times.
This type of training – short bouts of hard work, followed by short recovery intervals – is also known as circuit training and metabolic conditioning. Workout programs like Insanity, P90X, HIIT, Tabata and CrossFit include this type of training.
“High intensity interval training helps boost your metabolism, or the rate at which your body burns calories during and after exercise,” Harrison says.
The more calories you burn can help you maintain a healthy weight and lose fat. And this helps lower your risk for many types of cancer. This includes breast, colon and endometrial cancers.
Ready to kick your workout into high gear? Harrison offers some advice.
Be fairly fit before you start
If you’re new to exercise or haven’t exercised in a while, don’t start with high intensity interval training. Also, if you have health problems, consult your health care provider first.
Jumping into such a program too soon can be dangerous, Harrison says. “You could get injured by doing the moves incorrectly or without proper form.”
Plus, your muscles may be extremely sore after your first workout. This can deter you from continuing the program.
“You should be exercising consistently for about one month before you start high intensity interval training,” Harrison says. When you begin your exercise program, aim for 150 minutes of moderate exercise each week or 75 minutes of more vigorous exercise each week.
If your high intensity interval routine will include strength training, practice the strength moves at a moderate level for up to six weeks in advance. You also can work with a physical trainer to get started.
Amp-it-up three times per week
To reap all the health benefits of high intensity interval training, aim to do the workout two to three times a week. And take up to two days off between workouts.
Harrison advises you start with two days a week of training and two days off in between workouts. On the days in between your hard workouts, you can do light or moderate aerobic exercise.
“High intensity training requires you to push your body beyond its current ability,” Harrison says. So, it’s very likely you’ll be sore after your first few workouts. “Soreness is okay and often delayed. Give your muscles 48 hours to recover,” she says.
If your muscle soreness persists or compromises your ability to exercise with proper form, take an extra day of rest, Harrison advises. If you feel sharp or acute pain, stop the exercise immediately.
As you get more fit, aim to do high intensity interval training three times a week with one day off in between workouts.
Repeat your circuit five times
You should aim to do a circuit of five exercises, five times, Harrison says. For example, do each of the following exercise moves for 30 seconds, back-to-back.
Move 1: Push-ups *
Move 2: Tuck jumps**
Move 3: Lunges
Move 4: Mountain climbers
Move 5: Squats
After you complete all five exercises, rest for one minute. Repeat this circuit up to five times.
The above routine focuses on strength exercises. Cardio interval training would include spurts of running or biking as hard as you can, then resting.
“You’ll most likely be out of breath and should feel a slow burn in your muscles during exercise,” Harrison says. “And you shouldn’t feel fully recovered when you start the next move – that’s how you increase your aerobic fitness quickly.”
*You can perform push-ups with your knees on the floor if necessary.
**Only raise your knees to a level in which you maintain proper form. And make sure they’re bent when you land. If you have chronic back or knee pain, don’t do this exercise.
Vary your moves
To avoid an exercise rut, try new moves every four to six weeks.
“Your body starts to know the exercises, so it uses less energy to do them,” Harrison explains. “Doing a new exercise means you’ll engage your muscles in a different way. This change can help you expend more calories.”
So, if you’re ready to add some intensity to your exercise routine, opt for interval or circuit training. “It can help you see changes in your body faster than if you do moderate exercise,” Harrison says.
“A fit body is more efficient at rest than an unfit body,” she says. And a more efficient body helps you feel less stressed and strengthens your immune system. So, you’ll be in better shape to help prevent diseases like cancer.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson's Lyda Hill Cancer Prevention Center online or call 877-632-6789.