Advanced HIIT Protocols – Tabata, MetCon And Cardio Acceleration
We have already mentioned Tabata, which is one of the best known examples of HIIT and one of the most efficient and brutally effective options for burning lots of fat and at the same time toning and building muscle.
The best thing about Tabata? It takes only four minutes to get an incredibly intense workout. That’s because the split is incredibly short, consisting of: 20 seconds of high intensity 10 seconds of rest You then repeat the process for a total of 8 times.
20 seconds might not sound like a long period of high intensity but when you only have 10 seconds of rest between each burst, you’ll find it becomes incredibly taxing and that your body will be begging you to stop toward the end. This is ideal because it will train your ability to recover and to remove the lactate and metabolites from your system so that you’re ready to return to your first two energy systems to provide fuel.
You can use Tabata for running but actually it is arguably more popular when combined with other exercises such as those ‘resistance cardio’ methods we discussed in the last chapter.
Grab a 30kg kettlebell and perform Tabata using that and you’ll be absolutely exhausted by the end and should be able to feel your heart racing in your chest. Another good option is to use some form of jumping exercise – such as jack in the boxes or tuck jumps. You can even vary it up by creating a circuit that allows you to go from one exercise to another.
Note that if you find Tabata too punishing to begin with, you can perform fewer repetitions – 4 circuits of Tabata is more than hard enough but doesn’t have the unwanted side effect of making your heart burst out through your rib cage.
Tabata is a strange way of training because it will tax you incredibly in a short space of time but isn’t particularly effective on its own for weight loss or body transformations due to its brevity.
A solution is to use Tabata as what is known as a ‘finisher’. A finisher is a type of workout you do at the end of another workout, so if you have completed a weight lifting session or perhaps a session of regular steady state cardio, then you can incorporate Tabata at the end to finish off and thereby maximize your calorie burn for the rest of the day while depleting any and all remaining glycogen stores.
Note as well that Tabata is unique from the HIIT workouts we’ve looked at so far in as much as it has a real ‘rest period’ rather than a period of lighter activity. You can swap this for ‘active recovery’ if you prefer and do that by holding plank for example, or by jogging very lightly on the spot.
A Side Note
A side note that applies to Tabata in particular but to all these HIIT workouts to a degree is just how powerful this is for training your mental discipline. When you’re absolutely exhausted, pushing yourself to the absolute limit again can be incredibly hard. This requires a lot of mental discipline and self-control and that is actually one of the things that is most exciting and beneficial about HIIT in general.
If you can complete a punishing round of Tabata… then you can complete anything!
Finding Tabata too easy? Want more of a challenge? What is wrong with you??
As it happens though, if you’re that sadistic, then I do just so happen to have something even worse up my sleeve and this is also a great choice if you’re someone who is interested in building muscle and creating a really ripped physique.
Say hello to ‘cardio acceleration’…
Essentially, cardio acceleration is a perversion of HIIT and of resistance training that combines a full gym workout with a cardio workout.
Normally, if you are working out in the gym in order to build muscle, you will do so by performing exercises as ‘reps and sets’. You perform a ‘set’ of 6, 8, 10 or 12 exercises and then you rest for a minute before going again.
What you are doing in this case is building up metabolites in the muscle that stimulate growth and creating microtears. The heavy weight means that you’re using your fastest twitch muscle fiber, which means that you’ll be relying on glycogen and ATP stored in the muscle. You thus need to pause after performing those 10 reps in order to build up the strength to go again for the next round.
The most common protocol for the gym is to perform 3 sets of 10 reps on each exercise.
Cardio acceleration turns this into a monstrosity of a challenge though by removing the minute rest in between each exercise. You’re still going to give the muscle a rest but you’re no longer going to give your body a rest because you’re going to perform some kind of cardio exercise such as tuck jumps, high knees, sprinting, step machine, skipping etc. And you’ll do this with high intensity.
What you’ll also do, is to target the muscles that you aren’t using. So if you just performed bench press, then you won’t use boxing as your cardio to pair it with because that will train the pecs and shoulders again. Likewise, if you just did squats, you’re not going to train with kettlebell swings or tuck jumps.
Cardio acceleration works absolute wonders for your body because it allows you to get all the benefits of a weightlifting workout and all the benefits of a cardio workout rolled into one. That means that you will build muscle, while at the same time burning fat.
What’s more, is that you’ll be able to keep your heartrate high for your entire weightlifting routine.
This means that you’ll burn an incredible number of calories and specifically several hundred percent more. Because you’re training the upper body and lower body intermittently, this also has the advantage of directing blood from top to bottom. In other words, you’ll need plenty of oxygen and nutrients in your biceps for those curls and then you’ll need them in your legs for that sprinting. Thus your heart is working even harder to send the blood up and down and up and down and you’ll burn even more calories.
The hormonal response to this kind of training is also massive.
There are downsides too though of course. The first is that cardio acceleration is absolutely horrendous to go through. This is a serious challenge and should only be attempted once you’re very fit and very strong already. It’s also something you probably won’t want to do very regularly.
The other downside is that you won’t build as much muscle as you would do from a regular weightlifting workout. That’s because you’ll be depleting your strength and thus won’t be able to perform your lifts with as much weight or as good technique.
If your aim is to become a massive bodybuilder-type, then you should stay away from cardio acceleration. However, if your aim is to become a lean machine who would look incredible on the cover of a fitness magazine, then you should think about it. Just be ready for a real challenge!
Fartlek may just be the most ridiculous sounding name for a workout but it’s actually a very useful tool so let’s not judge this particularly rose by its name!
In fact, fartlek actually translates directly as ‘time play’. It is so called because you are going to be dividing your regular cardio workouts in a manner of ways to suit your particular training goals. This way, you can combine steady state cardio with interval training and build towards a variety of different objectives at once.
To explain it simply, fartlek merely means that you can choose how you want to divide your time between sprinting, jogging, walking and everything in between. And it doesn’t just have to be time that is the deciding factor here either – you can just as easily train so that you switch speed depending on the distance, or so that you watch your heart rate.
For example, a great way to improve your recovery times is to sprint for 1 minute and then jog gradually until your heart rate reaches 70% of your MHR again. When that happens, you increase your speed once more and then go slow until it is back at 70%.
Another interesting challenge is to introduce more outside factors to make things more exciting and less predictable. For instance, keep an eye on the street lamps you are passing. Each time you go past one, change your speed until the next one. You might sprint, jog, walk, sprint, jog, walk – or find another way to switch things up. The same thing can be achieved with a skipping rope or kettlebell.
Alternatively, you can try to jog for distance and then sprint at the end to burn off the remaining calories and improve your lactate threshold etc.
Finally, one I find particularly enjoyable is something I call ‘anabolic running’. Here, you simply sprint 100 meters, walk back and then sprint the distance again. This also has the advantage of letting you perform a very intensive cardio workout without needing to travel a long distance – because you don’t always have the luxury of being near a beautiful scenic park and sometimes you need to stay close to home.
MetCon is a portmanteau for the words ‘Metabolic’ and ‘Conditioning’. As this might suggest then, MetCon is a form of workout that is designed specifically with the goal of helping you to strengthen your metabolism in order to improve your energy efficiency, resting metabolic rate and generally your ability to turn food into useable energy.
The aforementioned fartlek example that challenges you to start running again each time your heartrate reaches 70% can also be considered an example of MetCon for instance, as this is improving your ability to clear your blood of metabolites and lactate, as well as your ability to recover quickly back to a steady resting heartrate.
This is a good example of MetCon as well as a form of ‘zone training’. If you get the right fitness tracker, then this can actually be used to alert you once your heart rate reaches specific zones – saving you from constantly having to check your wrist every minute or so!
More often though, the term MetCon is used to describe short, focussed bursts of high intensity activity with a minimum amount of rest in between. A good example is the ‘ladder workout’ which involves performing 10 good reps of a given exercise (such as pull ups, or clapping exercises), resting for 30 seconds and then performing 9 reps. You keep going until you reach 1 repetition, at which point the challenge has ended.
Creating Whole Body Circuit Routines Is Coming Up Next..!