In our new Meet the Experts series, Tom and BJ from Gymbox Old Street's CrossFit City Road talk us through why high intensity training can make you a lean, mean, Gymbox machine. "It will get you fit as hell!" they say.
High Intensity Training
High intensity has been a buzz phrase in the fitness industry for a while. But what does it really mean and how should you incorporate it into your own training? There are a lot of people out there that think high intensity training means listening to aggressive dub step while thrashing around like a maniac on speed. Don't be that guy/gal. Just because something is hard, doesn't mean it's good. Running a marathon is hard but running one everyday sure as hell won't get you those abs you want.
Why bother with high intensity training at all? Can't you just sit on the recline bike and read the FT for 45 minutes? Sure you can. If your goal is to be soft and miserable. For the rest of us, here are some good reasons for incorporating some high intensity training:
1) Most importantly for most of you, it's going to get you looking lean and athletic. The old thinking was to calculate how much fat you burn during a session (which is why moderate intensity cardio became so popular) but this ignored what happens after sessions. High intensity sessions cause your body to burn fat at high rates for long periods after the session. This is known as the EPOC effect of training (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption otherwise known as 'you're burning more calories bro'). The more functional nature of high intensity training also means it's better for maintaining and even building muscle (girls - muscle is what makes you look 'toned' - you need it just as much as the guys do!).
2) It will get you fit as hell. Unlike steady state cardio, high intensity training taxes all your energy systems, not just your aerobic system. Short but intense efforts can increase your endurance as well as make you a lactic beast. Don't be a cardio bunny waif.
3) It's quick and fun. You only need 5-15 minutes at the end of your normal weight training session. This makes it ideal for people with busy lifestyles. Just please don't be the person who comes in, does conditioning for 10 minutes and then leaves. You still need to do your squats and mobility people! It's also enjoyable because you can keep your training varied by using different movements and different formats.
We want to use this piece to give you some recommendations on how to incorporate this kind of training into your own routine. These are based on formats that we have used and seen great success with at CrossFit City Road. The key is to be structured and progressive. Have a plan and know how things will change from week to week, throwing in the occasional test workout too. High intensity training shouldn't be an excuse to flail about doing random, stupid stuff.
EMOM stands for Every Minute On The Minute and refers to a workout format in which a prescribed amount of work must be completed each minute. At City Road we use rotating versions of this protocol a lot because it allows us to control the training stimulus very specifically. Here are a couple of examples. Notice how the workouts progress over the weeks, allowing you to progressively overload your system.
In workout 1, you start a running clock and complete 12 burpees in the first minute. For whatever time you have left in that minute, you rest. When the clock hits minute 1, you pick up a wall ball and perform as many repetitions as you can in one set. The third minute is complete rest. On the fourth minute you start on another set of 12 burpees, and so on.
The range of workouts you can do with interval formats is immense, which is why we love them so much. Little adjustments to the work:rest ratios can have huge effects. We like to combine interval formats with AMRAP schemes (As Many Reps as Possible) to include an element of competition. Here is an example of one of your favourite protocols:
In week 1 of this workout you go all out for 2 minutes and then rest 2 minutes, for 4 complete rounds. Each interval will start with a 400m run followed by as many burpee box jumps as you can manage in the remaining time. Scale the run back to 300m if a 400m takes you more than 90 seconds. As the weeks go on your rest time decreases. Your goal is to maintain the same number of burpees across intervals and across weeks.
Timed rounds are somewhere between intervals and EMOMs but with a focus on higher rep schemes. These are a good if you want a longer workout to just focus on fitness or if you want to work on endurance more specifically. Here is an example:
4 rounds. Start a new round every 6 minutes. Cap each round 5 minutes into the interval (so you have minimum 1 minute rest)
30 kettlebell swings
30 wall balls
You would progress this workout by adding more repetitions to each movement. Though with this kind of workout, we usually prefer to pick a new combination each time.
With all these formats, bear in mind that we're talking about high intensity training. You have to have the right mindset during these sessions and you have to be prepared to hurt a little. There's no point going into EMOM workout #1, for example, and going easy on your sets of wall balls. Each set has to be a maximal effort. If not, you better get used to that spare tyre, 'cause it ain't going anywhere. These workouts are designed to have enough built in recovery, so you can keep going.
The other thing we really emphasise at City Road is movement standards. Have a look at the pictures for an idea of what I'm talking about. Make sure you hit full depth on your squats, stand up tall on top of the box during box jumps, get your chest and hips fully on the floor during burpees and hit that target on the wall ball shots. We're not bodybuilders. Full reps only please. You see, if you don't keep your standards consistent, how will you know if you're progressing? Oh, and ladies, a great butt was never built on half squats!