The HIIT Squad: Round Two

11 April 2016
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The HIIT Squad Diaries

Our GTG HIIT Squad (Grace Dent, Susannah Taylor, Krishna Montgomery, Emma Bartley, Emma Gunavardhana and Ayesha Muttucumaru) have been testing their limits with various forms of High Intensity Interval Training for a couple of weeks. Here they report back on how it's going, the highs and lows and whether HIIT is all they expected it to be...

Missed part one? Catch up on the squad's challenge in their first diary here. 

Click through the gallery to read their second diary entries.

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Emma Gunavardhana

HIIT training: High intensity classes including MetCon3, Tabata, Tread & Shred, Whipped and The Workx at Equinox

If the beginning of my HIIT training was marked by self-doubt, insecurity and pure fear then I reach the mid-point in a very different state of mind. The biggest hurdle has, most definitely, been a mental one. Physically my Tabata classes and HIIT sessions have been tough, but not impossible.

While I’m still waiting for the rigorous HIIT training to whittle down my thighs, evaporate my bum and melt away my back fat, it’s my mind that has been the most responsive.

I’m more positive, I feel more capable and I’m up for the challenge. In week one my head was telling me I wasn’t going to make it and that I was always going to be a physical failure, by week three I’m texting fellow HIIT Squadettes telling them I want to ‘kiss my biceps’ and enjoying the ache of delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS).

The HIIT sessions aren’t easy, but I am hitting my stride, and rather than feeling like an uncoordinated fool I feel as though I’m managing to keep up a lot more. Most of my sessions involve having a little area in a gym studio with a set or two of dumbbells, a bosu ball and a mat, but my latest session was a group obstacle course that had me sprinting over steps, running through rope ladders and leaping over boxes. As a very clumsy woman this was a recipe for disaster – somehow I managed to style it out.

Every time I train I wear a heart-rate monitor and during this session, which was particularly intense, I was hitting upwards of 170. There was a weird sense of achievement when sweat dripped off my nose during a 30-second plank.

I’ve also experimented with Tabata spinning, a class that left my legs feeling like a pair of over-stuffed black puddings; pumped full of blood. But my favourite is Tabata with Hugo; he pushes you through the pain barrier, but when he says, ‘I love it because you hate it, and you hate it because I love it’, it makes me chuckle. Rather than rest during the ten second breaks he makes you hold a squat or maintain a raise – it burns, it’s excruciating, but you know you’re working.

I definitely feel as though I’m getting somewhere; physically I feel stronger and fitter and the same goes for my mind. I felt defeated on the first day, but by sticking with it I’ve re-discovered that I shouldn’t underestimate myself.

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Grace Dent

HIIT exercise: Metabolic conditioning with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train

The good news is that I started seeing payback from HIIT with the very amazing Steve Mellor  within about four lessons. We combine this with the sort of tips found in this ‘ Abs are made in the kitchen ’ checklist by Susannah Taylor. The moment I matched HIIT with these rules, I saw reduction in areas I felt that my body literally had forgotten HOW to lose weight from - no matter what I did - and was instead concentrating on storing blubber for a nuclear winter.

So, four hours of hell in damp Nike training gear and in return I feel neater in my clothes, have more definition in decolletage and my bum is less Rubenesque. So that’s the good news. The ‘other’ news is that this is the hardest exercise I have ever, ever done. Ever.

I do not know any of the official names for the torturous things my guru Steve Mellor is making me do at 7am in Hyde Park while I call him very rude names, so I will improvise. There's the lunging stride ones that have given me bruised knee-caps and made me walk like a Galapagos penguin the next day. There's the one where Steve shoves a big Toon Town elastic band around me and makes me run while preventing me, so I stagger about with my arms flapping. There are yoga poses which make me shriek and high knee kicks which make me want to hurl.

There are a lot of deep sumo squats, which are heavily undignified in a lady. And just when I think I can handle them – my strength seems to increase lesson by lesson - he makes me do them again while holding a bloody 15kg ball above my head. And there is boxing - which I secretly bloody adore - where I get to wear proper gloves and think of the stupid faces of characters in media I care little for. Bash, bash, BASH.

Steve also makes me run. I hate running. HATE IT. I have been avoiding running successfully since 1988 comprehensive school cross country sessions where I would typically do one lap of the playing field then skive off to smoke an Embassy Red behind a pile of crash mats. I have avoided running via fake injuries and simply claiming my breasts are too big to run for four excellent decades.

And now Steve has me running through Hyde Park with him telling me to ‘BREATHE! Breathe heavily!’ and me shouting 'But I don't like breathing heavily you *****^%$$! People are looking at me!' and Steve saying things like 'BECOME COMFORTABLE WITH UNCOMFORTABLE!'.

The only way I get through this is to pretend that I am Madonna in 1990, when she visited London on the Blonde Ambition tour and went running in Hyde Park each day flanked with hot men and TV crews. At the end of all this Steve makes me 'high five' him; mainly, I feel, because by this point I am so delirious that I miss.

I recommend Steve Mellor and HIIT to everyone. He will change your life. But it isn’t a walk in the park.

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Krishna Montgomery

HIIT training: Tabata with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train

Euphoria isn’t an emotion I would normally talk about after a 60 minute personal training session on a grey day which involved getting muddy, wet and pushing myself beyond what I thought I was capable of.  But euphoric is how I feel, and it’s obviously all down to the endorphin rush and sense of accomplishment I am getting from HIIT.

Steve has been building up the amount of Tabatas we have been doing in each session. We started with one, and we are now on three.  He has had to tailor it slightly due to me having a long standing back issue, so we do resisted sprints, lunges and squats and when my back is up to it, slams with the 5 kg ball.

The session will start with some serious stretching, which can be tear-inducing but the benefits are immediate and help my mind and body prepare for the Tabata. When I ask Steve how many reps we will be doing, he works to refocus my mind on something else and help me focus on the now, and not the ‘what’s coming’.  With each three minute Tabata I try and distance my mind from my body and disassociate myself from my body telling me I can’t do it.

Have I seen any changes yet?  Definitely yes, in terms of fitness levels. I took myself off to a Bikram class last week and noticed a big difference in terms of how much I could do and how my body responded.  The fact I went to Bikram was a definite result of my HIIT training – my mind is generally more focused and motivated at the moment. I am holding off getting on the scales for the moment and will save that for my final assessment with Dean.

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Ayesha Muttucumaru

HIIT training: HIITgirl classes

I think the impossible has happened. I’m actually enjoying exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m still a bit sore and pretty tired too, but my post-workout waddle has been downgraded from a Donald to a Daffy on the duck scale, the ‘brain fog’ that I mentioned earlier has dissipated into a fine mist and although I’m still in the dark as to whether I’m actually physically lighter, I’m certainly feeling lighter in spirit.

I’ve always heard people say that they enjoyed the buzz they get after a hardcore gym session, but I never used to be able to relate. Mainly because between resisting the urge to throw up and mopping up the waterfall on my face, I’d been too preoccupied to notice. But now, I finally get it thanks to the high flying endorphin kick that I’ve experienced after my HIITgirl classes.

Unfortunately last week, I fell victim to the dreaded winter lurgy that’s been going around and couldn’t go to two of my sessions. However, among my homemade fort of tissues, Covonia and Vicks Vapour Rub, something rather unexpected happened: I started to miss my workouts. Was it the fever? Was it the drugs? Despite evidence to the contrary, shockingly, it wasn’t. I’m starting to see why exercise can become so addictive.

HIITgirl’s hands-on approach has been instrumental in keeping me motivated. Between a benchmarking session with founder Susan to measure my fitness levels and her team of amazing instructors, the classes have become something to look forward to, not fear. At the front of studio is a huge timer which counts down each work and rest cycle. Actually seeing the clock tick away has been a huge incentive for me - largely because you know how long it’ll be till it’s all over! The classes are also only 30 minutes, so they’ve slotted easily into my weekly routine.

In each session, the HIITgirl team asks you to rate how you’re feeling from a scale of 7-10. A nine is recommended, which means you’re working at your hardest without feeling like you’re going to pass out. Ten is a no-go. I’ve now been bumped up to the HIITgirl with Balls classes where I may have reached a 9.75 the other night. I’ve never run through a car wash, but the way I looked afterwards, you might have thought I had. The class incorporates a weighted beanbag into the muscle and cardio moves, each again being 30 seconds on and 30 off, or 40 seconds on and 20 off for a harder challenge.

Since starting, I’ve definitely noticed an increase in my energy levels. Whether my measurements also reflect a change for the better too, only time will tell. However, the simple achievements of being able to perform a burpee and a press up on my feet (just about!) have given me a confidence boost that’s surprisingly up there with a lower reading on the scales.

I’ve been recommended to try HIITgirl Pure next, which builds on the same principles of Foundation by using your own body weight to perform exercises like squats and lunges, though this time at a higher difficulty level. Next stop, Hiitgirl Signature and then, the rather formidable-sounding, Drench class. Yikes. Wish me luck.

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Susannah Taylor

HIIT Training: Boxing with Freedom2Train and Daza Usher at Bicester Boxing Club

Currently, I feel like I’m auditioning for Fight Club - like I’m being put through one of those gruelling training regimes that actresses have to go through to get mega buff for a film (except I’m no Angelina Jolie). Just as I think I’ve recovered from one gruelling session with Steve from Freedom2Train with his squats, slam balls, lunges and sprints, I am back in the ring with Daza from Bicester Boxing Club and there feels like very little respite in between. I found this particularly hard at the beginning and missed my gym sessions where I would pootle about with my headphones on doing whatever I liked really (a weight here, a Tabata there). Instead I now have two particularly hardcore instructors that seem to get great pleasure out of totally and utterly annihilating me, and who will not let me stop.

On Saturday a training session with Daza went like this: three rounds of shadow boxing in the ring to warm up (I had broken into a sweat by the end of that for God's sake), then six three minute rounds of boxing on the pads, then three more three minute rounds smacking the punch bag (when Daza shouts “SPRINT!!” I had to go super fast which left me feeling like I might vomit). Finally I did three circuits of weights, step-ups, and sit-ups with Daza standing on my feet, followed by me smacking a punch bag with a baseball bat (yes you read that right). It was by far the hardest, sweatiest, ugliest workout I think I have EVER done. IN. MY. LIFE.

But you know what? Weirdly I kind of enjoyed it. I went to the session feeling tired, stressed, and with a ‘can’t face it’ attitude, but the almost delirious high and energy rush I felt for the rest of the day was probably the greatest I have ever experienced. If you have any doubt whether exercise releases endorphins, you have to try HIIT - it’s certainly true that the harder you push yourself, the greater the high. I have also noticed what I think is a very rapid increase in my fitness levels - a few weeks ago I probably would have been left on the floor gasping for air like a panting dog for a good while afterwards, I found even after this intense, punishing workout, that within a few minutes I felt pretty much OK.

One other change I have noticed is my mindset during training. Instead of thinking ‘I can’t do this, this is horrible, this hurts’ and complaining like I’ve been known to do at poor Steve sometimes, I’ve noticed myself digging deep and saying to myself ‘Get to the end of this exercise - you can get to the end of this exercise’, and then going on to push myself harder . Have I noticed changes in my body? YES. Maybe it’s all the twisting of hips while boxing, but I have muscles appearing down the sides of my stomach that I never knew existed, and my body just feels somehow tighter all over, like it's shrunk a bit - a bleedin’ good job since I have to get into a bikini in about three weeks.

So what lessons can I take away from the last few weeks?

1. That I need more fuel for this kind of training, and I have just discovered Naked Bars which are totally natural (dates, nuts, that kind of thing) - I can eat them just before exercise and not feel sick.

2. I’ve learnt that all your nails break off in boxing - it’s OK, I don't really like them long anyway.

3. That I have quite a mean right hook.

4. That I’m capable of much more than I think I am.

5. That I need to hit the pad when Steve tells me to else he makes me do ten sit-ups.

6. That I am fitter than I've ever been in my life and it’s an amazing, empowering, wonderful thing.  and

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Emma Bartley

HIIT Training: Victoria Pendleton Spin Classes at Fitness First

Readers, I’ve let you down. I’ve let the HIITsquad down. Worst of all, I’ve let myself down. This is not a confession I wanted to be making, but having committed to taking three Victoria Pendleton classes per week at Fitness First I’m only averaging 2.3. (I’m not walking out of them. It’s just that I’ve only hit my target one week in the past three.)

For me, this is about logistics rather than motivation. There aren’t loads of Victoria Pendleton classes on, maybe two a week at my nearest branches of Fitness First, and it’s hard to leave my baby when I have no formal childcare. It’s fine for me to get to a session at the weekend, when her dad can take care of her, but lunchtime classes during the week… not so much.

When I do get there, though, I am really enjoying it. A souped-up spin class that mimics athletes’ training for the Olympics, the VP concept includes very short sprints at a high resistance on the spin bike, with lots of recovery in between. During the half-hour sessions my heart rate averages about 150 or 160 beats per minute, and the top I’ve had is 186. This is going to sound nuts but it’s a bit like having contractions: the intervals can be fast and furious, but that intensity means that you just get your head down and do it, there isn’t really mental space to ponder it.

Plus, the tunes are great – going flat out to Eat Sleep Rave Repeat is pretty thrilling. Yes, there is some pain, but a bit of lactic acid in your quads hardly compares with having your tits treated as a teething toy.

The Victoria Pendleton classes are small, with between five and fifteen participants, but it’s a dedicated band. This is much more focused than spin or RPM; we’re there to get an edge to our bodies and our fitness rather than just getting hot and sweaty bouncing around on a bike for an hour. After years of spinning, I feel I’m really being challenged. More than that, it’s something that I’m doing for myself, getting my body back after more than a year of pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Have I lost any weight? Not yet that I can tell. Is it getting easier? No, I still get that “just swallowed a Fisherman’s Friend” feeling in my windpipe every time. But there are still three weeks to go, and I really want it to work. Wish me luck.