HIIT Cardio Versus Fartlek Training

HIIT cardio is the new craze sweeping across gymnasiums in Europe and North America – the reason for this… it’s fast, efficient and it works!

High intensity interval training is something that athletes and runners in particular have been well aware of for a long time now. Fartlek training, translated from Swedish is ‘speed play’ and this has been a popular method of fitness training for runners for a long time and one method that has been shown to burn more fat than steady paced running. Fartlek training mixes slow paced running with high paced intervals of running, one example that most people who have ever played Football will be familiar with is jogging the length of the pitch, sprinting the width, jogging the length and then sprinting the width again.

Although Fartlek training is still a great method of physical training, the Tabatha protocol of HIIT shone a light on the possibility of condensing a workout dramatically without taking away any of the benefits. The problem with the Tabatha protocol of high intensity interval training is that it sounds false; no one ever really believes that a 4 minute workout can strip fat and although the 8 circuits that compromise the Tabatha method are extremely difficult, athletes often tend to feel they have cheated themselves leaving the gym after 4 minutes. On way in which body builders chose to incorporate the Tabatha protocol of HIIT Cardio to their sessions was to blast one 4 minutes session either side of the normal body building routine. This tends to be a very popular way of using HIIT without feeling you have cheated yourself.

The Tabatha protocol will work for anyone using it. What we all have to keep in mind is that time spent in the gym is not in direct correlation to results gained in the gym. Always keep in mind the famous saying ‘you can train hard or you can train long, you can’t do both’. A great example of this is the direct comparison of the traditional one hour treadmill session for fat burning at a slow steady pace versus the very popular and newly found 30 sets in 20 minutes Kettlebell Workouts. Studies show that not only are more calories burnt in the actual training session of the shorter period of activity, but participants display greater muscular definition, lower body fat and far greater fitness levels. This is just one way in which training harder for shorter periods of time is proven to be more beneficial.

Often you will hear about Boxers overtraining for a fight and not feeling fresh when the big night arrives which can have devastating effects, think of Amir Khan in his most recent outing against Danny Garcia. He was originally primed to a fight a few months earlier before Lamont Peterson was banned for taking illegal substances. After being stopped in 4 rounds only a couple of months after peaking for a fight that never happened, a lot of pundits and coaches around the world attributed this to over training. There are others such as the never outspoken Chris Eubank Senior who claims over training is a myth and a state of mind and it is more about becoming stale when training which the biggest worry is. Whilst this may be the case with Boxers, there is a lot of scientific evidence in body building as to how overtraining can halt results altogether. For instance studies have shown time and time again that Bicep progress is halted by over training and in fact as soon as the Bicep is over worked the muscle shuts down and no growth or repair will occur. In addition to this, often the best way to get over a training Plateau (a stage when progress as halted) the best way to get past this is take one week of the Gym allowing all the muscles and joints to recover. After doing this, most people find that they can instantly lift more weight than one week previous when they were stuck lifting a certain weight.

HIIT Training seems to answer most if not all of the problems associated with physical training; it keeps you fresh in body and mind. It combats injury and overtraining problems and is a tremendous fat burner and a great way to increase your physical fitness.

Should You Do Cardio Exercise Before or After Strength Training?

A question that I am often asked and one that I have seen countless times on message boards across the Internet is whether a person should do cardiovascular exercise before or after a resistance training workout? Before going any further, I want to clearly state that it is my position that everyone should engage in a cardiovascular exercise of their choice for 5 to 10 minutes prior to any workout, be it a cardiovascular, resistance or flexibility workout. This is vitally important for several reasons as a proper, light-intensity cardiovascular exercise will warm up the muscles, ligaments, joints and tendons that will be used more intensely in the following workout routine. Warming up with cardio also increases the core temperature slightly, increases circulation, slightly elevates the heart rate and helps to prepare the heart for an increased workload, it helps increase lung functioning and helps you to mentally focus in on the upcoming workout routine. The most important advantage to warming up with light intensity cardio is the substantial decrease in risk of injury. If the body is not properly warmed up, you are much more likely to experience an injury to a muscle, joint, ligament or tendon.

Now back to the question of whether you should do cardiovascular exercise prior to or after a resistance workout? There is no single best answer here and instead, you should evaluate your individual fitness goals. If you goal is to increase endurance, stamina or overall cardiovascular health, then I suggest doing your cardio workout prior to weight and resistance training. By doing the cardio workout first (after your 5 to 10 minute warm up of course), you are able to engage in a more intense cardio session, which possibly might include some intervals in which you really push up to your lactic acid threshold or VO2 max level. It is much less likely that you would be able to achieve high intensity cardiovascular work after you have engaged in a weight training session. So, in short if your goal is to increase cardiovascular fitness levels, you should perform cardio workouts prior to resistance training.

On the other hand, if your goal is fat and weight loss, a current mode of thinking in the fitness community is by doing a cardiovascular workout after a resistance workout, you increases the rate of fat metabolism (fat burn as it is often referred to as). The theory is that by engaging in an intense resistance workout, you will deplete the glycogen stores in the muscles during this workout. Once the glycogen stores are depleted, the body begins to utilize fats in the body for fuel. Endurance athletes have long know this, yet typically in order for this to occur in endurance training, an athlete has to continuously run for approximately 90 minutes to fully deplete the muscles of glycogen. Therefore, I remain somewhat skeptical that many average people working out are pushing themselves to the point of glycogen depletion during their resistance workout, particularly workouts of less than an hour in duration. For more advanced trainers, I do believe that it is possible and therefore can be an effective means of decreasing body fat perhaps for these individuals.

I tend to look at it like this, if you are engaging in a cardiovascular and resistance workout on the same day back-to-back, one or the other will be of a lesser intensity level naturally. Again, evaluate your personal fitness goals before deciding whether to do your cardio workouts before or after resistance training. If you are trying to build muscle, you want to have as much muscle strength as you can available for your resistance workouts, therefore doing cardio before weight training would be counterproductive to your muscle building goals. If you are looking to gain endurance or heart health, place your focus on the cardio workouts and do them first. Remember, regardless of which you end up doing first, it is more important to properly warm up with a minimum of 5 to 10 minutes of cardio (even if it is only a brisk walk on the treadmill) in order to prepare the body for the workouts ahead, to get your head in the right space in order to bang out a productive workout, and most importantly to decrease the risk of injury. This debate won’t mean a thing if you get injured 5 minutes into a workout and are sidelined for the next 8 weeks rehabilitating an injury!