“The great majority of mankind are satisfied with appearances, as though they were realities, and are often even more influenced by the things that seem than by those that are.” – Niccolo Machiavelli
Don’t be fooled into thinking that High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is solely about efficient metabolic conditioning; to do so would be to limit yourself to only one end of the full HIIT spectrum. The other end of the spectrum — a topic not yet covered much by mainstream media, or even by those in the Strength & Conditioning community — is the tremendous muscle building potential of a properly designed and executed HIIT protocol.
The metabolic end of the spectrum –
Properly designed Tabata–like interval sessions prove to be vastly superior to the traditional long/slow “cardio” slog when time efficiency, injury risk potential and end-results are considered. Superior aerobic and metabolic “bang for the buck”, along with more highly improved cardiovasular risk factors can be realized via smartly-programmed HIIT sessions than by any other method known. HIIT protocols with a metabolic conditioning bias set the stage for increased fat burning for up to 48 hours post-session and, concurrently (and as opposed to long, slow “cardio”) spare the breakdown of muscle tissue. All this in a fraction of the amount of time required by “cardio”-intense routines — and at a fraction, too, of the amount of bodily pounding and wear-and-tear.
One minute on, approximately one minute & 10 seconds off; 2 full rounds –
1. Powermax 360 – 30 seconds cross punch + 30 seconds reverse flye/flye
2. ARX Fit leg press (continual motion, no pause between reps)
3. ARX Fit pull down (continual motion, no pause between reps)
4. kettlebell/Tbar Russian swing (and we do utilize the Tbar at Efficient Exercise)
6. dumbbell man-maker (without the burpee portion, i.e., “just” the push-ups + single-arm rows)
Notice the unique blend of explosive dumbbell, kettlebell and 360 work here, juxtaposed with the super-high force/low velocity ARX Fit element. Talk about surfing the force-velocity curve! The on/off durations are stretched a bit from the traditional Tabata protocol, however this method has been found, both empirically and in the lab, to be highly, highly effective, safe, and well-tolerated for our client base.
…and muscle building?
Sparing muscle mass even while increasing metabolic conditioning is dandy for sure, but what if we’re looking to actually gain muscle mass in the process? Can this be done using HIIT techniques? Absolutely. Again, one just needs to know how to get the most bang for the metabolic buck, and how to skew these particular sessions in favor of a hypertrophic response vs a conditioning outcome. Will a HIIT session still be extremely metabolically challenging, even though the session is skewed toward mass gain? Oh hell yeah, you bet it will. The difference, though, is in the subtle technique variances, exercise selection, and repetition manipulation. In essence, this simply boils down to programming savvy – something we at Efficient Exercise pride ourselves in. Is this the only way to gain muscle mass? Of course not. It is, however, one highly effective and time efficient method. And as my Efficient Exercise partner and fellow trainer Skyler Tanner says “I’m a fan of efficiency; it’s on my shirt”.
Here’s an example of a recent one-on-one session I had with a client where the emphasis was on lower-body (and specifically, quadriceps) hypertrophy:
A1 – Pendulum hip press: 7/7/7; 15 seconds hold between sets. Increase load each set; target failure at last set of 7
Rest 1 minute, then 2 rounds of the following:
B1 – Pendulum hip press: JRep to failure at each 1/3 full range of motion portion (i.e., lowest 3rd, mid 3rd, and top 3rd) then, immediately
B2 – ARX leg press x 3 hyper reps, then immediately
B3 – Russian leg curl (or GHR) to form degradation/failure, rest 10 – 15 seconds, then to form degradation/failure again
The whole ordeal takes maybe 15 minutes to complete, and is a bit more nuanced than what I can express here. Also take notice of the “push/pull” nature of this programming — sneaking in some direct hamstring work that also serves to force the quadriceps into quick relaxation/recovery. Most times, two rounds of this is plenty, but sometimes 3 rounds is called for. But of course, I never hold slavishly to “recipes”, and will shape-shift on the fly so as to hit what I consider to be the per-session, sweet spot marker for muscular growth — maximum muscular pump and max muscular in-roading.
If we consider that muscular hypertrophy consists of (1) actual muscle fiber thickening, (2) an increase in the sacroplasmic volume surrounding the fiber, and [maybe?] (3) Hyperplasia, or the splitting/growth of new muscle fiber, we can then begin to pinpoint which techniques work best to influence each physiological response. In the most basic of terms, volume-heavy techniques and modalities will more greatly effect muscle sarcoplasmic volume, whereas heavier load/lower volume work will more greatly effect muscle fiber size. This is, of course, an extreme oversimplification of things, but for discussion purposes here, these distinctions will hold true enough.
What’s always puzzled me, though, is the reluctance of skilled trainers and trainees to incorporate both methodologies within a single-session, HIIT package. I get it, though — 30 years ago, I too had all the time in the world to spend in the gym. What the hell did time efficiency matter to me then? But time is no longer a luxury that I can squander, and for my clients, this is even more so the case. And too, the ever-present dogmatism toward one methodology or the other clouds the issue of how best to approach hypertrophy. I know now, though, that it is possible to combine the best of both “global” hypertrophy methods into a single HIIT bout, wringing the most from each method in an effective, all-inclusive and time-efficient manner. The resultant Efficient Exercise Method is just that — full-spectrum HIIT for maximized metabolic conditioning and muscular growth.
In health, fitness, and Ancestral Wellness –