The HIIT Squad: Round One

4 April 2016
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The HIIT Squad Diaries

Meet your HIIT Squad (or High Intensity Interval Training Squad if you want their full name): Grace Dent, Susannah Taylor, Emma Gunavardhana, Krishna Montgomery, Emma Bartley, and Ayesha Muttucumaru. Over the course of six weeks, they'll be testing out various methods of this high impact, fat burning workout and reporting back on the blood, mud, sweat and tears.

Click through the gallery for their first diary entries and be sure to come back in two weeks for the next installment...

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Emma Gunavardhana

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

Week one of HIIT training and I have cried, nearly sworn at a perfectly lovely man, screamed into a towel in a changing room and thought about giving up. I had no idea that becoming part of the HIIT Squad would make me feel this way, but it has been a revelation.

I like to think I’m fit; I run three times a week and workout with kettlebells. Being fit and at a healthy weight is important to me because in the past I’ve tipped the scales at over 16 stone, and managing and maintaining my weight and fitness is a daily physical and mental battle. I joined the HIIT Squad because I wanted to push myself further, but in so doing I’ve found myself pushed well beyond my comfort zone.

Dean at Pure Sports Medicine is great and I suspect it’s not the first time he’s been face-to-face with a woman who is neurotic about her weight, shape and size. He takes the measurements, but as per my request keeps the data to himself. Without even stepping on the scale I know I’m not going to like what he finds.

Equinox in Kensington is the scene of my six-week HIIT training, specifically their classes, and I’m excited to be doing three a week for the duration. But first I have to have their Equifit, another assessment, and a personal training session. The former knocks the wind out of me. Forget what I have weighed, what I weigh now isn’t great and there’s a lot of work to do. My body fat is 36 per cent. Hang me in a butcher’s window and I’m pork belly. I’m devastated.

The personal training session two days later compounds the feelings of inadequacy and failure as my physical inabilities are, in my mind, made public on the open-plan gym floor. I’m acutely embarrassed and have to fight back tears as I’m asked to get on all-fours to perform an exercise and bite down on the insides of my cheeks when I clearly can’t use the TRX. I feel inept and a fool for agreeing to take part. I’m furious and feel worse about myself than I did when I weighed the same as a rugby fly-half. The girl who did a sprint finish in a half marathon in 2012 is long gone.

I’m not a quitter and despite feeling pretty low I am in my first class at 7am on a Friday morning. I am conspicuously less able than the other people and every minute makes me feel stupid, foolish and clumsy. I’m doing exercises I haven’t done before, at high-speed, to a high intensity and I’m struggling – really struggling. I’m trying my best, honestly I am, but my best is poor.

I’ve only had one session, and my neck is killing me due to poor form on some exercises. My weak core let it take too much strain and I’m taking Ibuprofen for two days to temper the pain. My second class was all about the core and involved ‘gliders’. My abs could only take so much so my back and neck took over where they had no business getting involved, and it’s back to the Ibuprofen.

Even as I write this I’m having a little helpless cry – it’s pathetic, I know – but at this point the whole experience has made me feel quite fragile. But I won’t give up because from where I’ve started I can only get better – and that’s the whole point.

Fitness test results:

Estimated V02 max test score -  Average

Body measurements - Good

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Grace Dent

HIIT exercise: Metabolic conditioning with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train

When Get The Gloss offered me six weeks of High Intensity Training, squats at dawn in a public park during January, I laughed for ten minutes and then considered blocking them on Twitter. I didn't need High Intensity Training. No, I was incredibly happy with my current regime which involved the odd East London walk along the canal (visiting pubs and cafes), sessions of moving my cobweb-covered free weights around the house to stop tripping over them, and of odd bouts of jogging before remembering jogging is marginally less fun than Norovirus. The last time I visited my gym I hadn't been for so long it was less embarrassing to simply say I'd been in prison.

One of my biggest expenditures of calories is trying to put on the size 12 dresses in my wardrobe and then having a full tantrum as, in the words of Shakira, 'Hips don't lie'. 'But I hardly eat ANYTHING!' I tend to scream at the Gods. Which is true. In a sense. I am a bit of a 'clean foods' obsessive and try to avoid wheat, futile carbs and sugar, but then I'll review a restaurant midweek and drink four glasses of red wine with steak Bearnaise and dauphinoise potatoes. Whatever is happening, my metabolism is not getting niftier.

In my twenties I could regain a flat tummy by a few days of slim-a-soups, 20 Marlboro Lights and disco dancing. In my thirties it required more vigilance. I began distance walking, and being the sort of tit who bores on about spirulina and chia smoothies. Now at 40, as the philosopher Britney Spears says, it's time to 'work bitch'. My goal is to be fitter, stronger, regain a flat stomach and learn a technique I can do myself. High Intensity Training is hard going but fast. I liked the idea of not wasting time.

'Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train is very lovely and he can do this,' Susannah from Get The Gloss assured me. This didn't stop me feeling like faking my own death on Monday at dawn when I met him in Hyde Park. Further goals for me were tackling everything which frightened me about personal training. Public exercise, being humiliatingly out of shape, being Steve's worst client, the prospect of being sick in public, and worst of all, turning into the sort of media idiot who has a personal trainer. Then I realised I was fitting my first session with Steve in around my spray tanner, my Buddhism class, my accountant and my nail technician and thought, oh Jesus pass the Lycra - I’m there already.

My first session was rather enjoyable hell. Yoga-type stretches which made me scream. Lots of squats. Lunges on cold concrete. Chucking about a 5kg ball, sprinting, being forced to run while Steve holds me back. I have learned I don’t give a damn about public exercise as anyone else in the park at 7am is a maniac too. I wasn’t sick. I didn’t cry. In fact I laughed for the whole hour while treating Steve to some very, very bad language whenever he asked for another repetition. I couldn’t walk the next morning, but it felt like a positive pain. Like I was targeting areas I'd not reached for a decade. Like a work in progress. Don't tell anyone, as it will spoil my reputation, but it's really rather exciting.

Fitness tests: to come

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Krishna Montgomery

HIIT training: Tabata with Steve Mellor from Freedom2Train

It is with a mixture of fear and trepidation that I am embarking on my HIIT programme.  Tabata sounds like something you have with pitta bread – but I now know it’s rounds of two minutes of intensive exercise which pushes your mind and body to its limits.

My programme started off with a fitness assessment with Dean Sutton at Pure Sport Medicine, so that was me dying on a Wattbike in a room of half-naked sportsmen. Not all bad then. I was terrified as I walked into meet Dean but he was incredibly kind and insightful and made sure I knew exactly what to expect and do.  I cringed when he weighed me and did my ‘girth’ measurements. Dean confirmed my fitness levels are ‘above average’ – in my eyes this is something to be celebrated. So celebrate I did, with a few glasses of red wine post-assessment.

The next day I had my Tabata session with Steve Mellor of Freedom2Train.  Steve explained exactly what Tabata is, how he would build it into our sessions and what I needed to do.  In essence, Tabata is twenty seconds of hard exercise, and ten seconds’ break before another twenty seconds of hard exercise again. This is repeated for three minutes.  We talked through how I would feel before, during and after the sessions.

It’s intense – I just had to think past the feeling that I couldn’t do it and push myself.  Steve incorporated lunges, squats and sprinting with the harness on for 30 second blasts each with no resting in between. I know if he wasn’t there driving me on that I would have given up, but he’s there to make sure this doesn’t happen. I felt an incredible endorphin rush post-Tabata and this in itself was motivation to keep me going.

My motivation for doing this is to increase my fitness levels, drop a few pounds, increase my energy and prove to myself I can take something like this on and see it through.  This is just the beginning – let’s see how it goes...

Fitness test preliminary results:

Estimated V02 max test score -  Average

Body measurements  - Average

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Emma Bartley

HIIT Training: Victoria Pendleton Spin Classes at Fitness First

The first time I underwent a body fat test, about five years ago at my local gym, it gave a result of 29 per cent. According to that machine, about one third of me was lard.

Since then pregnancy and childbirth have made me immune to being weighed, measured and pulled about, so Dean Sutton at Pure Sports Medicine pinching out inches of fat from my body to measure with some bizarre contraption held no fear for me. His choice of measurements – waist, hips, triceps and quads – missed out some key fat-storing regions but asking him to grab my tits and arse seemed a bit sex-pesty so I accepted his body fat verdict of 20 per cent, if a little sceptically.

Our fitness test took place on a Wattbike. That should have suited me well as a (former) regular spinner, but my heart rate was high from the start, about 130 even in the warm-up, and as Dean cranked up the speed in set intervals I started to struggle, conking out at level six of (I guess) ten with a HR of 184. At the time, level seven seemed impossible, but after I left I immediately started wondering if I could have given it a bit more.

It was much the same at my first Victoria Pendleton class at the swanky Fitness First gym in Tottenham Court Road. Pendleton has developed three different classes for the gym chain based on the high intensity interval training she did as an Olympic athlete. I figured the 30-minute keirin would be about the same as spin, but found it tougher even though the intervals were shorter.

The deal is basically just sprints on a spin bike set to as high a resistance as you can manage. Our instructor divided us into two teams, alternating sprints of between 15 and 45 seconds with each other. I imagine that could harness people’s competitive spirit, and make them work together in their teams. Unfortunately the only other member of my team seemed to be on strike, which made me feel like a bit of a tool, panting away on my own.

The next time, I tried the individual sprint class, which was similar but employed a “cat and mouse” tactic where one person set the pace and everyone else had to race them. Apparently if you are quite motivated that is a great way to push yourself but I felt myself holding back a little bit, because I didn’t know what was coming. In a 30-minute class of maximum one-minute high-intensity intervals, that is shameful.

Still, I’ve done them now, I know the form and I feel more confident. But so far it feels pretty weird, training like an athlete rather than doing a nice gentle Zumba with the other new mums.

Fitness test preliminary results:

Estimated V02 max test score  - Good

Bodyfat  - Good score

Body measurements  - Good

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Susannah Taylor

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

Do not ask me how I got in this state. I have bruised knuckles (you can see blood under the skin of some of them), a wrist that feels like it’s been stamped on by a gorilla, every nail on virtually every finger is broken (some a third of the way down) and I am now the proud owner of two sets of hand wraps. Yep, my HIIT training for the next few weeks is in a boxing ring, and to put it bluntly, it is freakin’ hardcore.

I’m not exactly a HIIT novice, in fact I have been doing HIIT training with Steve Mellor  from Freedom2Train for almost two years. That’s two years, 2-3 times a week of squats, sprints, push-ups, lunges, weighted-ball-throwing, mud, sweat, tears and can’t-get-up-the-stairs muscle pain in ice, wind, snow and rain (plus training on my own). And you know what? I really love it, I’m hooked. It makes me feel so strong both mentally and physically and if Dean the physio at Pure Sports Medicine’s calculations are anything to go by it really works.

I had my body fat measured about two years ago, just as I embarked on this fitness journey and since then, along with a low carbohydrate diet, I have lost about 9 per cent of my body fat.  When Dean told me I have the body fat of an athlete my jaw nearly hit the floor. I asked him to check it three times.

So why am I doing this challenge? Well, over the last few years I have learnt to love fitness and it is now a big part of my life. I have also signed up for a triathlon with a load of friends this year and I need to be ready for that, but most of all I have a very special holiday starting on the 23rd February of the bikini and beach kind and I want to be in the best shape I possibly can, and I will reward myself with a fancy new bikini before I go.

Anyway, back to the boxing. I have done quite a bit of boxing in my sessions with Steve and absolutely love it - there is something about smacking the living daylights out of a man wearing two punch bags that is deeply satisfying, plus it’s an amazing workout and is meant to be awesome for toning the arms and stomach because it’s all about twisting. I learn recently that it’s also the way all the Victoria Secret models get in shape pre their catwalk shows, so if it’s good enough for them…

So, in search of my Gisele body, as well as training with Steve over the next few weeks I have also been thrown into the pit with Daza Usher, Head Coach at Bicester Boxing club (I live in Oxfordshire). Now this is not ‘Boxercise’; we’re talking a proper spit and sawdust club here. Based on an industrial estate in the middle of a field - there are no fancy showers with rose REN products, no green juices in fridges, not even a reception. It’s bare brick walls, posters of Mike Tyson and Muhammad Ali grimacing down at me, a boxing ring, some weights, a tractor tyre and a load of punch bags. Oh, and a load of guys that grunt. The first time I went, I sat outside in my car for ten minutes, absolutely terrified and wondering if I should drive home again. The second time I went in, two guys were properly boxing in the ring, sweat pouring off them, tops off.

Daza, a Championship level boxer himself, is the real deal - broken nose and an arm full of tattoos, sometimes he arrives post a sparring session with bruises all over his face. Daza also knows a thing or two about getting people fit, and his diary is so booked up he’s turning men and women away. Daza’s cooI, I like him (I wouldn’t want to be in a fight with him, mind), but he pushes me HARD.

A session goes a bit like this: a warm up which involves me shadow boxing with weights on my wrists (it’s enough to have me out of breath and sweating already), and then yesterday I did 10 x 2 minute rounds of boxing with him and a punch bag, each with a 30 second break in between. I HATE the punch bag with a passion - it feels like I’m a small child trying to punch a heavy weight fighter who’s just standing there, arms crossed laughing at me. Then, just as I feel I’m going to die, Daza makes me do things like lie on the edge of the boxing ring, holding onto the rope and do rounds of leg raises for core exercises, and last week he even had me smacking a tyre with a baseball bat (‘You’re doing squats without realising it,’ he says). Many times throughout a session I find myself thinking ‘What the hell am I FREAKIN’ DOING!?”

How do I feel? I really enjoy the sessions and feel great afterwards but I hadn’t banked on how much it’s taking out of me. Last week I was SHATTERED, and having to go to bed at about 10pm.  I am also STARVING all the time and am slightly confused as to how much I should now be eating - I don’t want to put on weight but I actually don’t want to lose it either, I just want to get really toned. The other morning I was so hungry I had three eggs and three pieces of bacon for breakfast, which is not a very ‘me’ thing to do at all. The next few weeks could be interesting to say the least… I think I’ll either end up ripped or a write-off. Lets hope it’s the former.

Fitness test preliminary results:

Estimated V02 max test - Good

Body fat - Good score

Body measurements - Good

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Ayesha Muttucumaru

HIIT Training: HIITgirl Classes

“I’ve seen worse,” said Dean when it came to summing up my fitness levels. “They’re OK, but not great either,” which considering the amount of chocolate and stuffing I ploughed through this Christmas and the resultant pudding pot that has set up shop where my stomach used to be, wasn’t as bad as I’d feared.

When I walked into Pure Sports Medicine to have my measurements taken, I was petrified. However, Dean was considerate and patient and made sure I felt at ease. I didn’t see the results, but my dismal display on the Wattbike made my former fitter self wince and provided just the wake up call that I needed to get back in shape.

To be honest, I’ve been a bit out of the exercise loop as of late. Since downsizing my weekly workouts my energy and alertness levels have been on a downwards spiral, I’ve been suffering from a serious case of ‘brain fog’ and the fact that I now get winded by a few flights of stairs is a situation which frustrates me immensely. Although I’ve never been the gym’s number one fan, I was a fan of how exercise made me feel. The mental boost it used to provide is what I miss the most.

Therefore when I heard about HIIT and the idea of ‘fast fitness’, my interest was immediately piqued. I’m training with HIITgirl, and MAN ALIVE, has this week been a serious (albeit, much-needed) shock to the system.

I met with HIITgirl Founder Susan at the studio in Crouch End and she was ah-mazing. As a mum of two and a trainer with a wealth of experience, she and her team have tapped into a lucrative gap in the fitness market: effective, varied, time-efficient workouts for busy women. I’ve started off with the HIITgirl Foundation classes which are ideal for people who are new to this type of training. They are 30 minutes long, made up of 15 minutes muscle moves and 15 minutes meta moves (or cardio) with each exercise comprising of 30 seconds work, 30 seconds rest. I’m doing three classes a week and have also been fitted with a Fitbug Orb  to track my daily activity. I’ve been asked to send my stats to Susan on a daily basis too.

It’s my first week in, and I’m hurting. My muscles are sore, my legs feel like lead, I’ve developed a post-workout waddle worse than John Wayne’s and one sore saddle to match too. My bumbling backside aside though, the buzz that I’ve felt afterwards has been fantastic. I’ve felt re-energised and so much more awake. Not only that, but each session has really pushed me and appealed to my inner perfectionist to come back, get one step further and eventually reach the higher-level classes.

From the motivational quotes on the wall to the calming NEOM candles, the studio exudes an air of positivity and I’m already starting to feel my get-up-and-go coming back (despite feeling too stiff to actually get-up-and-go anywhere right now). Knowing that everyone will see the end results terrifies me, but it has also given me the perfect incentive to make sure I give each class everything I’ve got.

Which is what the point of HIIT is really all about, I guess...

Fitness test preliminary results

Estimated V02 max test score - Average

Body measurements - Good