Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

Part III – EPOC – “Epic” exercise programs for the holiday season

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Along with this festive season comes a time crunch for many of us. How will you fit in your exercise when you need it most? As we all know, exercise decreases stress levels by transforming psychic energy into physical energy and regulating the release of cortisol, your stress hormone. Another obvious benefit is burning those extra calories you may be consuming, although this may not be your primary motivator. You’ve heard by now that one of the best solutions is high intensity interval training, but how does it really work?

HIIT (high intensity interval training) leads to EPOC, which stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This is the oxygen usage above resting level that the body is utilizing to return itself to its pre-exercise state. It is commonly referred to as “afterburn”.   Involved are a host of chemical reactions like lactate removal, re-synthesis of energy stores, and the increases in blood circulation, body temperature and ventilation needed to return to homeostasis, which is the body’s original balanced state.  High intensity is the way to achieve this, as the afterburn lasts longest and has a very beneficial effect. During EPOC your metabolism will increase to accommodate the body’s return to recovery. See here to learn more:

What does this look like when translated to a program?

  1. Tempo training: continuous, aerobic exercise at a high-intensity (70-85% VO2 max) for a period of 30-60 minutes (Smith & McNaughton, 1993). Think 30-60 minutes of at least 70-85% percent of your maximum effort while walking, running, swimming, dancing or cycling and whether indoors or outside.
    2. Long slow distance training: continuous, aerobic exercise at a moderate intensity (60-70% VO2 max) for a period of 60-80 minutes (Withers et al., 1991). A long slow run, walk, cycle or swim for an extended period of 60-80 minutes will get you there.
    3. Split training: 2 to 4 high-intensity exercise bouts (70-85% VO2 max) spread over period of 15 to 20 minutes, repeated after a minimum of 5 minutes or up to 6 hours (Kaminsky et al., 1990). Here is where your high intensity interval training comes in; you can shorten your time, but increase your intensity at least 2-4 times within each 15-20 minute period.
    4. Continuous interval training: alternate 3 minute bouts of low (30-40% VO2 max) and high intensity exercise (80-90% VO2 max) for a period of 30-60 minutes (Kaminsky & Whaley, 1993). Once again, this model takes into account intervals of intensity, but you may not save much time with this method.
    5. Supramaximal interval training: 15-20 supramaximal exercise bouts (105-110% VO2 max) for a period of 1 minute, with 2-5 minute rest periods (Laforgia et al., 1997). Here’s where you begin to save some time and get a high EPOC after high levels of intensity over short periods of time. Supramaximal intervals refers to all-out effort, but for very short periods of time, because that’s all the body can handle.
    6. Heavy Resistance training: 2-4 sets, 8-10 exercises, 3-8 reps at 80-90% 1RM, 2-3 minutes rest (Elliot et al., 1992). Don’t forget about weight training! Lifting weights at near your maximal level also has a substantial EPOC effect.
    7. Circuit Resistance training: 2-3 circuit sets, 6-10 exercises, 10-12 reps at 50% 1RM, 30 seconds rest (Murphy & Schwarzkopf, 1992) Circuit training involves using various exercises like push-ups, crunches, squats, lunges, dumbbell or body weight training, alternating with with short rest periods, with frequent repetitions.

For a look at how to begin a HIIT program, check out this website:

There are a lot of choices; be sure to pick one that’s right for you. Seek professional advice before undertaking any of these programs to ensure proper form and safety.  Quick and intense, or longer at a more moderate rate – they both have their benefits. If you want to save time over the holidays, stay in shape, manage stress and maintain your weight, think HIIT !

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