November 23rd 2016
Six writers, six weeks of high intensity interval training (HIIT). The GTG HIIT Squad have been planking, lunging, boxing and leaping their way through tough bursts of exercise that pushes them to their limits in a bid to find out if high intensity training really does work.
After last week's update, it's now the final round and the team reveal their final results - read on to see how it all worked out...
HIIT training: High intensity classes including MetCon3, Tabata, Tread & Shred, Whipped and The Workx at Equinox
Being a part of the HIIT Squad has been a revelation. I started it as someone who ran three times a week, knew my way around a kettlebell and felt relatively capable of the challenge ahead of me. My fitness evaluation at Equinox in Kensington took me back to zero, factory settings if you will, as the leap from what I was used to and what I was doing was going to be a big one.
Back then, in week one, had you given me an ‘out’ I would have been sorely tempted to take it. I hated the classes, hated feeling inept and felt that the half marathon I’d completed two years before and the 20km I ran every week counted for nothing.
Admittedly, there’s a mental as well as a physical issue here, but show me a woman who hasn’t felt insecure about her body and her abilities, and I’ll show you a fibber.
I have to hand it to HIIT though; as someone who loved slow, steady cardio my head has been completely turned. There’s no doubt about it – it works. Within a week I felt fired up; the way I felt about my body was completely different and my head was benefitting from all those feel-good hormones and chemicals that get released when you work hard.
I wasn’t perfect at the exercises and I looked a damn fool trying to do some of them, but for the most part I was getting there. And more to the point my heart rate was doing exactly what it should be. My only niggle, and this was right from the start, was that doing new exercises with very little instruction meant it was easy to do them wrong. I had to keep my ibuprofen supply topped up, because post-session I would inevitably struggle with neck and back pain where the intensity of the exercises had meant my form had suffered and the wrong muscles were being used.
Therein lies the rub… if you are learning an exercise for the first time and then a matter of seconds later you’re performing it eight times over four minutes at high intensity, it’s highly likely that without proper form, you could sustain an injury. And that’s exactly what happened to me.
Just when I had got the bug and couldn’t wait to get to classes, I did one that absolutely knackered my back. This wasn’t just a case of ‘ooh, my back feels a bit sore’ - it was painful to move, painful to sit at my desk for long periods and a sustained discomfort that took around ten days to ease.
My advice to anyone in this situation is if you’re ever in a class or exercising and something feels wrong, and you can hand on your heart say you’re not just copping out – STOP. I knew something wasn’t right and even turned to my friend Katy who was in the class with me and said ‘is your back getting monstered?’ I should have left, but I felt embarrassed.
After a break from all training I’m now working with a PT, because things like backs should be cared for and ultimately form is king. There’s no point spending hours in the gym if the right muscle groups aren’t working.
I’m sold on HIIT training – 100% - and favour it over running now, but as soon as I’m back up to form I’ll make sure I’m doing it properly and in either smaller groups or one-to-one sessions. I’ll also make sure I know what the correct form is before I attempt any exercise.
HIIT Training: Boxing with Freedom2Train and Daza Usher at Bicester Boxing Club
Apart from a swearing habit I’m quite proud of, I think of myself as a nice, polite girl – I feel guilty if I shout at my kids and end up apologising to them, always say sorry when I’m in the right, hate it if I hurt anyone’s feelings and when I was younger cried when my husband (then boyfriend) stole a sausage from a garage station.
So how I found myself in a boxing ring, smacking the living daylights out of Daza my boxing coach I’m not quite sure. Basically, knowing that this was my last session of HIIT, Daza upped the stakes, put a gum shield in, a head guard on and asked me to punch him in the head. And you know what? It was fun. The funniest part, is that at the time I was worried about hurting him – I mean, AS IF! Daza is well ‘ard, and very used to having his nose broken. Although I was most worried about missing in the stomach area and punching him in the Fruit and Nuts.
Seriously though, you better not mess with me now – over the course of these sessions with Daza I have become increasingly hardcore, Rocky-esque in fact. That last session also consisted of hanging from some gymnastic hoops and raising my legs (ouch to the stomach), one-handed press-ups and whacking a tyre with a baseball bat. Running? Cross-trainers? Forget it – this is way more fun.
Then there’s the training sessions with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train whom my fellow HIITers Grace Dent and Krishna Montgomery have also been beasted by. He, too has gotten all nasty and mean on me – it’s like he and Daza have been in cahoots about who can annihilate me most. Recent sessions with Steve have included press-ups until I weep, Tabata stomach holds (that’s when you lie down, lift your legs and arms off the ground so you are a V shape and hold it for a minute before starting again after 10 seconds – repeated 4 times), this has the voice in my head screaming STOP!! and I have even done wall climbs where you start lying face down on the ground, feet against the wall before climbing upwards and backwards like a spider until you are upside down with your nose against the wall. Basically, life-threateningly terrifying.
So how have I fared? Well, I’m alive, just. I am also more toned and smaller circumference-wise, which the tests with Dean Sutton at Pure Sports Medicine proved. Over the course of six weeks my body fat has dropped 2.5% (in body fat terms that’s quite a lot in a short space of time) and in my fitness test I managed to stay on the Wattbike for four minutes longer than the time before which is a long time when you think you're going to die.
Dean said that my power outfit had also increased too, basically meaning I am stronger. And how do I feel? Great, and I have just been on holiday and wore a bikini with pride (whoever said you can’t wear a bikini at 38, post-two kids was wrong girlfriend!). I have definition in my stomach I have never had in my life and when I apply moisturiser to my thighs I can feel muscle where once there as wobble.
Will I carry on doing HIIT? YES! I have trained with Steve Mellor for two years doing HIIT anyway, and it damn well works - over the course of two years I have dropped two dress sizes, and what is even more astounding is that I havent had a day off or a snivel of illness in that time too, not even a cold . I will also train with Daza hopefully a few times a month. Just remember if you’re in trouble and you need someone taking down, call me ok? Apparently I have a killer right hook. Nice girl? Yeah right.
Fitness test results:
Reduction in body fat of 2.4%
Increase of estimated VO2 max* by 8% (*your body's ability to take up and utilise oxygen)
Overall bodyweight had a small reduction, but lean body mass would have increased through the high intensity training
HIIT exercise: Metabolic conditioning with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train
‘You’ve gone skinny’, a friend said to me the other day as I stretched my limbs out in front of her putting books onto a shelf in my lounge.
She meant ‘slimmer’. I have never been and shall never be skinny. I have the sturdy capable frame of a 40’s Land Army Sergeant – but I was prepared to take this compliment. As a strident feminist, I’d love to tell you that hearing I look thinner is a negligible thrill as compared to, say, being told I nailed that 800 word polemic on Prime Minister’s Question Time but this is a barefaced lie. I’m a woman, I’ve thought about my weight approximately every twenty minutes since 1988. The fact that eight weeks of high intensity interval training has me back in size 12 dresses that have haunted my wardrobe like cruel ghouls is a bloody miracle.
HIIT has changed the shape of my arse and my thighs and even stomach. OK, the tummy is still very much a work in progress and is still the consistency of a delicious packet of Haribo Chamallows, but pre-HIIT, shape change was something I’d given up on. I suppose I realise now that I was never exercising until it actually hurt.
Which I do right now as I type this. I really hurt. My knees are black from smashing them against cement during lunges. I can’t write with a pen as I’ve hurt my hand boxing. I wake up some mornings feeling like I’ve been run over. It turns out ‘No Pain, No Gain’ isn’t just a slogan Jane Fonda trilled to sell aerobics VHS tapes. HIIT works on the concept that just at the point you can’t bloody breathe, you get one minute to recover then do more reps. It is horrible. Or ‘hosshlible’ as I say to Steve Mellor as I slump against a wall in a park gazebo.
Still, my change in strength amazes me. I can put one foot on a park bench and lift my entire body weight up using the strength of one leg, and then do it another fifteen times on each side. I can lunge twenty metres in one direction and then come back the other way, and I don’t care if I make a dark sexual-sounding grunt noise that's so loud I scare geese.
Major breakthrough: I could not give a damn about exercising in public. I have learned that London people are busy and anyone who wants to stop in the rain and look at me dressed as a ninja doing squats isn’t worth worrying about. And besides, in Hyde Park there are far better things to stare at including the people clearing up Great Dane poo, the people who bring Nordic hiking poles to walk across slightly muddy flat turf and the Germanic men with pot bellies who wade into the Serpentine in Speedos. All of these people look sillier than me.
I’m carrying on training with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train. Stay tuned for more reports of my work; unless I really lose my temper one morning and strangle him with one of those resistance bands. In that case, I hear the workout facilities are very good in prison.
HIIT Training: HIITgirl Classes
During my time as a HIITgirl, I’ve discovered three things: 1) I’m stronger than I think, 2) It is possible to make time for exercise and finally (and rather embarrassingly), 3) Yep, I’m a grunter.
Despite making noises during my classes that should really be confined to a farm, these past six weeks have been a real eye-opener. Not only have I looked forward to the sessions, I have more energy, I’m more alert and I’m a sharper dresser, as I no longer have to untuck my blouses to cover up my post-party season love handles.
I was ridiculously nervous when I went in for my re-test with Dean at Pure Sports Medicine - so much so that I was worried that my elevated heart rate might affect the results. Unsure of what to expect, I sat open-mouthed as Dean confirmed a vast increase in both my VO2 Max and fitness levels, and decreased hip, thigh and (most noticeably) stomach measurements. Due to the nature of the exercises that I’d been doing, I had built up muscle mass and lost body fat, which was great news for not just my overall health, but also the overstretched stitching of my favourite pair of skinny jeans.
So what’s made me such a HIITgirl advocate? Well firstly, the diversity of the classes has been both challenging and interesting enough to keep me coming back. No session is the same thanks to the equipment used and the variety of moves, ranging from trampolines, sand bags and medicine balls to burpees, press ups and lunges. Plus, the class sizes are small enough to ensure that each of the instructors can keep a watchful eye on you so that you don’t get injured. Also throw in the handy HIITgirl App which allows you to book on-the-move and the length of the classes (only 30 minutes) and you have all the makings of an effective and enjoyable fitness experience that fits into the most hectic of weekday schedules.
I also no longer suffer from the debilitating migraines that I used to have after doing anything high intensity, thanks to Dean’s recommendation of upping the number of glasses of water that I drank beforehand (two before I set off and a bottle on the train). Now the only problem that I’ve had to contend with is just a minor case of DOMS (can’t believe I know what that means now).
Don’t get me wrong, the sessions are super tough (one look at my saturated face post-workout is evidence enough), but the way that they’re conducted and the way the studio is set up (massive timer on the screen, tongue-in-cheek quotes on the wall and a dancefloor-worthy playlist) have been key in keeping me motivated when I’ve felt about ready to dissolve.
Since my last entry, I’ve moved onto the Drench and Signature classes. Signature incorporates increased work cycles and more equipment whereas Drench is purely meta (cardio) moves and sees you hooked up to a heart rate monitor too. Both proved difficult in different ways, but Drench for me was the killer. However, having learnt that I’d burnt 333kcal after the half hour session, I felt pretty good. After I was scraped off the studio floor, that is.
So will I be carrying on with HIIT? I think the answer to that is an emphatic yes. One word of advice though, book in for a pedicure beforehand. HIITgirl advocates barefoot training as a means of strengthening the small stabilising muscles of the feet, improving balance, movement and proprioception (the unconscious perception of space and our orientation and movement within the space around us) and encouraging better muscle alignment. I was new to this and wasn’t sure how it would take its toll, but under the careful instruction of the HIITgirl team, I was able to make the transition gently and avoid any niggling calf or foot pain that can sometimes accompany it.
I will certainly miss my regular workout sessions with HIITgirl and definitely want to carry on with this type of training. The past six weeks have really changed my perception of exercise and it’s made me wonder, what did I ever do without it?
Fitness test results:
Overall reduction in bodyweight of 1.5kgs
Decrease in girth measurement through all sites (hip, waist, arm, and thigh) by 12mm
Estimated V02* max increase of 12% (*your body's ability to take up and utilise oxygen)
HIIT training: Tabata with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train
I feel like I have ended my HIIT on a high. I am stronger, fitter and a few pounds lighter for sure (you will have to take my word for it as I have not been able to have my final fitness assessment yet). The fact that Steve has been able to develop a HIIT programme for me which works around my bad back is a testament to the fact, with the right expert help and guidance, this method of exercise is suitable for all fitness levels.
When I started HIIT training, Steve only did 1-2 rounds of it with me in each session, last week we did 5. I felt pushed to my limits and elated after the session. As well as the physical benefits I am seeing, there is a very positive by-product of training like this and that is I feel much happier and less anxious. It’s worth it for that alone.
I love how efficient HIIT training is and it can be done without any equipment (although within my training sessions with Steve the 5kg ball and harness have both featured heavily). As Steve works in a lot of lunges and squats, I am delighted to report that my legs are definitely benefiting – I think, maybe, just maybe, I will contemplate wearing shorts this summer. I am conscious though that I still have a long way to go in terms of my fitness, and need to develop a mindful ethic that ensures I approach my diet in the same way I do exercise.
Anyone can do HIIT – you can get insightful how tos on it here and then off you go. One of Steve’s best bits of advice on how to get motivated is ‘just put your trainers on and step outside your door – once you do that you just need to take a few steps and you’re on your way’. Just remember it’s all in your mind, push yourself beyond that voice saying no. The benefits are far reaching. Some would say life changing.
HIIT Training: Victoria Pendleton Spin Classes at Fitness First
Compared with the rest of the HIIT Squad, I feel like a slacker looking back on my six weeks of high intensity interval training. With no personal trainer to kick my saggy butt, it has been up to me to attend three Victoria Pendleton cycling classes a week at Fitness First gyms – and some weeks I only managed it twice. Still, most people don’t have a personal trainer and a lot of people are too busy to train three times a week, so my experiment probably tells us most about what the ordinary person stands to gain from HIIT. And the answer is… plenty.
The Victoria Pendleton concept involves very short bursts of sprinting on a spin bike at high resistance. The difference between this and spinning is that it’s really structured: the high intensity intervals, which range from 10 seconds to 60 seconds, are set by the soundtrack rather than by the instructor. Apparently that makes it great fitness training for a long cycle, but for me the biggest benefit was psychological.
Most spinning instructors don’t tell you how long your periods of hard effort will last, or tell you how many more are coming up. So it’s natural for a lazy-but-competitive person to hold something back, not wanting to go 100 per cent in Track 2 and then conk out during the final sprint. While my average heart rate in a spinning class is somewhere in the 150s, my high often wouldn’t go above about 172. In the Victoria Pendleton classes, knowing exactly what was coming, and that the intervals truly were incredibly short, I could really push myself. My heart rate averages were around 159 beats per minute, and my highs were up to 182 or 183, which Dean Sutton of Pure Sports Medicine reckons is about my maximum.
Dean-o, as I didn’t call him to his face, also calculates that my body fat has gone down from 20% to 19% during this six-week experiment, and that I’ve lost at least 1lb (I make it 2lb). My triceps have slimmed down “a lot”, he says, and I think my calves and ankles look thinner. My tummy will never be flat but feels more toned. I haven’t modified my diet AT ALL, I’m breastfeeding so I basically can’t anyway, and if anything I’m doing less gentle exercise such as walking and cycling than before. It has to be the HIIT.
Most pleasing of all was the VO test: Dean put me on a Wattbike and asked me to cycle at increasingly high effort levels until I couldn’t continue. Last time I crashed out during level six, groaning loudly. This time I got all the way through level seven. I killed level seven. Then we stopped because my heart rate was 188. Yes, it was painful, but as you can probably tell I actually enjoyed it. If you can get into the mindset of it, hard exercise is fun. And anyone can get into the mindset for 10 or 20 seconds.
Fitness test results:
Reduction in body fat of 2%
Increase in V02 max* of 11% (*your body's ability to take up and utilise oxygen)
November 23rd 2016
December 11th 2015