Be Fit For Life

with Ellen Cohen-Kaplan

What kind of exerciser are you?

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Much has been written about the efficacy of high-intensity interval training (HIIT). The reason for its rise in popularity is that it is purported to be very effective, and takes much less time than a typical workout. Average HIIT times range anywhere from 7-12 minute workouts  3 times a week. It’s important to find a way to max out your heart rate for the needed intensity, while minimizing your risk for injury.

A recent study undertaken by the American Council of Exercise examines just how effective HIIT programs really are, as compared to other, more moderate regimens. Healthy, mostly sedentary subjects between the ages of  18-28 were divided into 3 groups that were given 3 different exercise programs. Although they all did the same warm-up and cool-down, the programs varied greatly.  The following table explains the groups’ exercise regimens:

“Steady-state Group: 20 minutes of continuous exercise at 90 percent of the individual’s ventilatory threshold (Foster and Cotter, 2005). This fits into the moderate-to-vigorous intensity category, as defined by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM, 2014).

Tabata Group: This is very brief, very high-intensity interval training consisting of four minutes (eight sets) of exercise consisting of 20 seconds of work (at 170 percent of the individual’s peak aerobic power) paired with 10 seconds of unloaded pedaling (Tabata et al., 1996).

Meyer Group: This is moderate-intensity interval training consisting of 20 minutes (13 sets) of 30-second work intervals (100 percent of the individual’s peak aerobic power) paired with 60 seconds of activity recovery (Meyer et al., 1990).”

For the full article, see

The results were instructive.  All 3 exercise groups saw sizable changes in  measures such as their VO2 max, a measure of  “the maximum amount of oxygen the body can utilize during a specified period of usually intense exercise” (Merriam Webster) , and other aerobic capacity indicators. No significant changes were seen across groups. Ratings in the exercise enjoyment scale (EES) declined over all 3 groups, most dramatically for the Tabata, which was the highest intensity group.

HIIT programs mandate 100% of effort over several short intervals, which many subjects found unpleasant and therefore were less compliant. The lack of follow-through by the high intensity group begs the question of the efficacy of this type of exercise. It’s obvious that no goals will be reached if you fall off the exercise wagon. The most effective program is the one that you stick with, because it’s enjoyable, accessible and you don’t dread doing it. However, if you are one who doesn’t mind an all-out effort in a shorter period of time, and you do it consistently, you can benefit from many choices of HIIT programs now available.

Take this quick survey to find out what type of exerciser you are:

  1. Do you enjoy the outdoors and are you more likely to take a longer hike than hop on a cardio machine for a shorter period?
  2. Have you been engaged in bike rides, walks or runs longer than half an hour and enjoyed it enough to continue this routine for many years?
  3. Have you done very intense, (close to 100%) effort interval training such as cardio conditioning, boot camp or spin classes and done them for longer than 6 months?
  4. Have you tried doing a high intensity, shorter program and liked it?
  5. Are you more likely to work out in a group, with a partner or trainer, or by yourself?

Your answers will give you a good idea of  your inclinations. If you’ve never done a shorter, more intense workout, it’s worth a try.  The 7 minute Johnson and Johnson workout app, which is free and easy to download,  is a good start.

Another way to tackle the exercise regimen question is to mix it up by doing cross-training, which is a combination of different types of exercise and activity. Cross training affords rest for certain muscle groups, while activating others, and is a sure bet for keeping different muscles strong and in balance. For example, you may attend a strength and conditioning class a few days a week, dance class on another day, and a cardio machine and/or interval walking on other days. Additionally, trying new physical challenges will keep it interesting.

The take-away is simple; in order to stick with a program, it must be tailored to your individual needs and likes. High intensity interval programs take less time, but are not necessarily more effective than more moderate programs. All the exercise programs increased subjects’ physical fitness across measures of cardio capacity, no matter what the variation. Most importantly, you must find one that will be safe and enjoyable and accomplishes your goals without putting your body at risk.

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