By Dr. Mercola
A little over three years ago, I was introduced to high intensity interval training, commonly referred to as HIIT, when I met Phil Campbell at a fitness camp in Mexico. I refer to it as Peak Fitness Training.
It dramatically altered my own fitness regimen, health and fitness level, and my subsequent exercise recommendations. In recent years, mounting evidence confirms that HIIT really is a cut above the rest when it comes to the health benefits exercise can provide.
In the video above, Niles Rickey Wheeler, better known as “Bodyman47” in the Vital Votes forum, shares his personal fitness routine, inspired by my discussions about Peak Fitness and high intensity strength training.
Wheeler was introduced to total body circuit training at the age of 27, when he got the chance to meet Arthur Jones, the inventor of Nautilus equipment. In his early 50's, he won several physique competitions. Then, at the age of 52, he was diagnosed with colon cancer.
After his recovery, he got back to training, but never returned to the condition he wanted—until he discovered this site. He now credits my optimized Nutrition Plan, Pure Power whey protein, and total body circuit training for successfully bringing him back to his former level of performance.
I couldn’t be more pleased, and I thank him for sharing his success story. This is what it’s all about for me—to make a difference in people’s lives and helping you be as healthy as you can possibly be, for as long as possible.
Wheeler is a perfect example of how you can take control of your health and reap the benefits—regardless of your age.
Like Wheeler, I too feel like I’m more fit today than I was 30 years ago—in large part due to my Peak Fitness regimen. While I can’t run a 2:49 marathon (and wouldn’t want to) like I did back then, there is no doubt in my mind that I am much healthier as a result of shifting my exercise program from cardio to high intensity and strength training. In the first three months alone after I switched from long distance running to HIIT, I dropped five percent body fat without ever touching a treadmill! Before that, I’d been a long distance runner for 42 years.
How to Turn Your Strength Training Routine into a HIIT Session
Now in his mid-60’s, Wheeler completes a total body workout two to three times per week, which takes him an average of just 15-20 minutes. As I’ve mentioned before, you can turn virtually any exercise into a high intensity exercise, including strength or weight training. Metabolically speaking, both forms are very similar to each other. High-intensity interval-type training gives a natural boost to human growth hormone (HGH) production, which is essential for optimal health, strength and vigor. I've discussed the importance of Peak Fitness for your health on numerous occasions, so for more information, please review this previous article.
The primary differences are as follows:
- Anaerobic HIIT (high intensity sprints) can be performed on a recumbent bike or an elliptical machine, or by sprinting outside. Here, you go all out for 30 seconds, and then rest for 90 seconds between sprints. Total workout is typically 8 repetitions/sprints.
- High intensity strength training makes use of free weights or resistance equipment. You turn your weight training routine into a high intensity routine by slowing down your movements.
The first inch should take about two seconds. Since you're depriving yourself of all the momentum of snatching the weight upward, it will be very difficult to complete the full movement in less than 7-10 seconds. Slowly lower the weight to the same count.
- Repeat until failure, meaning the point at which you can no longer maintain good form and still lift the weights. (Once you reach exhaustion, don't try to heave or jerk the weight to get one last repetition in. Instead, just keep trying to produce the movement, even if it's not 'going' anywhere, for another five seconds or so. If you're using the appropriate amount of weight or resistance, you'll be able to perform four to eight repetitions). Immediately switch to the next exercise for the next target muscle, without resting in between.
Wheeler’s workout is a modified form of the super slow workout, as his movements are not slow enough to qualify as ‘super slow.’ It’s more similar to the hybrid version I demonstrated in a previous article, using a four-second positive and a four-second negative motion (meaning it takes four seconds, or a slow count to four, to bring the weight up, and another four seconds to lower it), rather than the super slow count of 10. Still, this is far slower than most people lift weights, and Wheeler is clearly getting results. He also does one classic super slow workout once per month, as well as one super slow negative-only workout, for which you need assistance. As a general rule, he never does the same workout twice in a row.
“I either change weight, reps or order,” he says. “This is called muscle confusion. It keeps the muscle from adapting to the same thing and increases speed of growth and conditioning.”
Whatever form you choose, remember to start at your own pace. The important part is to make sure you’re progressing, and the way to do that is to continually keep pushing yourself just a little bit further. The only competition you have is yourself. Progression and consistency are the key to any fitness program.
The Bodyman Workout
Here’s a summary of Wheeler’s routine, which he demonstrates in the video. First, he begins with a few Active Isolated Stretches (AIS). The stretches are only held for a couple of seconds, and are completed in repetitions. You want to avoid static stretches as these can do more harm than good by weakening the muscle.
Wheeler recommends keeping your workout to 12-15 exercises, alternating single joint isolated movements with compound movements. An important factor is to focus on the muscle you’re working. You want to feel the muscle contraction, and focus on your form. As Wheeler says, this is your mind and body working in tandem. Throughout, use a weight that you can get at least 8 repetitions with, and exercise through full range of motion. Remember to use slow, deliberate movement, focusing on feeling the muscle contraction, and repeat to failure. The upper and lower body exercises he demonstrates are as follows, beginning with legs:
- Leg extension (single joint isolated movement)
- Compound multi joint leg press, keeping constant tension on the muscle. (Avoid locking out your knees)
- Leg curl
Next, the upper body workout, starting with the largest muscle: your latissimus dorsi (lats):
- Lat pullover with dumbbell, done to failure. Place your feet on the bench to prevent any leverage advantage
- Underhanded pulldown, to keep your bicep in the strongest position. (Overhand you lose the strength of the bicep. Keep your hands in supinated position)
- Row, which works both your lats and rear deltoids
- Chest fly
- Chest press on a slight incline
- Lateral shoulder raise using dumbbells or a lateral raise machine
- Upright row
- Overhead press
- Bicep curl
- Overhead tricep extension.
- Bicep curl full contraction full extension
- Standing tricep pushdown
Why High Intensity Strength Training Works So Well
Dr. Doug McGuff is a strong proponent of the super slow workout, stating you can cut your workout from about 20 minutes doing HIIT on an elliptical, three times a week, to a mere 12-15 minutes once a week while still achieving the same growth hormone production. Intensity is key for making it work. As explained by Dr. McGuff, the higher the intensity, the lower the frequency required. In fact, in order for your exercise to remain productive, you have to disproportionally decrease the frequency as your fitness level improves (as this will increase the intensity at which you’re working).
For example, as a weak beginner, you can exercise three times a week and not put much stress on your system. But once your strength and endurance improves, each exercise session is placing an increasingly greater amount of stress on your body (as long as you keep pushing yourself to the max). At that point, Dr. McGuff recommends reducing the frequency of your sessions to give your body enough time to recover in between. Recovery becomes increasingly important as you boost the intensity of your exercise, and as you get increasingly fit, you will need anywhere from three to seven days of recovery between sessions. In the interview below, Dr. McGuff explains why:
"[Y]our adrenal gland… sits right above your kidneys, and it's arranged in layers. On the outermost layers, you have mineral corticoids that control your sodium and your electrolyte levels. In the middle layer, you have your corticosteroids that control sugar and generate stress hormones. And in the innermost layer is where you generate growth hormones and the sex steroids, or that's involved in the axis, in the feedback loop that generates that.
The old saying in medical school to memorize the three layers is 'salt, sugar, sex' – the deeper you go, the better it gets. But you got to remember, your adrenal gland is an integrated organ. Those three layers are not perfectly divided.
If through high-intensity exercise you're trying to hammer that adrenal gland three times per week, but now you're much stronger and your body hasn't fully recovered from your Monday session and you come back and hit it again on Wednesday… you're going to tap down into that deeper level. Instead of growth hormones spurt, you're going to get in a cortisol spurt. You're going to completely undermine what is it that you're after."
When asked about the parameters of how to know if you are recovered from your exercise, Dr. McGuff says:
"You would have a restless energy and feel like you have to engage in some type of physical activity. You will spontaneously just want to work out." I previously interviewed Dr. McGuff about his super slow fitness regimen, so for a refresher, or to learn more, you can review the full interview here.
Going Super Slow: Guidelines for Five Common Upper Body Exercises
- The Barbell Bench Press: When bench pressing, it's important to maintain proper alignment. Remember to keep the bar over the center of your chest. Place your hands a comfortable distance apart - but not too far. Do not extend the bar over your face or toward your head, but keep above your chest. Again, remember to perform the exercise at a slow count of either four seconds up and four seconds down (or 10 seconds up and 10 seconds down for the classic super slow count). Resisting on the way down is what really helps build muscle strength.
The bench press will help you tone your pecs - the pectoralis major and minor - as well as your triceps and forearms. It also helps work your front shoulder muscles and the area from the bottom of your armpit to the middle of your ribcage, often referred to as the "boxer's muscle." As before, select a weight that will allow you to do 10-12 reps to failure, and remember to just barely touch the top of your chest - don't let the weights fall or rest there.
- Lat Pull-Down: When performing a lat pulldown with a supinated grip, you pull the weight down in front of your head with the palms of your hands facing your body. For good form, make sure to keep your shoulder blades retracted as you perform the extension. If you're doing it right, you can feel your torso tighten as you lower the weights to a count of four. Also avoid pressing your legs against the supports. Keeping your feet flat on the floor forces you to direct the work to the muscle groups you're isolating.
The lat pull-down will strengthen your latissimus-dorsi, teres-major, and pectoralis major muscles, and will help reshape your torso.
- Shoulder Press: The barbell shoulder press accentuates your anterior deltoid, the muscle that strengthens your shoulders, helps shape your biceps, and defines the area between your shoulder and pectoral muscles. For proper form, grasp the bar slighter wider than shoulder width. Overall, this exercise helps strengthen your arms and upper body.
- Barbell Curl: For this exercise, make sure you widen your base and bend your knees just a little bit. Also, engage your core, and maintain a good posture. Visually, you should be able to draw a near-straight line down the center of your body. If you can't manage that, opt for lower weights until you can. The only joint that should pivot is your elbow joint.
The barbell curl primarily works your biceps, but it also strengthens your forearms and shoulders. Keep in mind that women, unless they're bodybuilders, often don't want to build up their biceps and triceps like men do. In that case, ladies may wish to level off, and not increase the weight anymore once your arms are at the shape you want them.
- Tricep Press-Down/Pull-Down: Grip the pull-bar with both hands about shoulder-width apart, and push/pull down. Make sure your neck is in a natural, neutral position, looking straight ahead as you isolate the target muscle. Again, if you can't lift and lower the weights without bending over, you're not getting the full benefit of the exercise. If that's the case, then reduce the amount of weight you use. Ladies: this is one way to get rid of those saggy bags under your arms! Build this muscle and you'll see a difference in no time.
Greater Safety—Another Benefit of High Intensity Strength Training
Super-slow weight training has another benefit that makes it ideal for virtually everyone, regardless of age or fitness level, and that is safety, as it actively prevents you from accidentally harming your joints or suffering repetitive use injury. By depriving yourself of the acceleration, you’re delivering virtually no punishment to your joints, which prevents repetitive use injury.
I'm convinced that incorporating HIIT into your fitness regimen can have a profoundly beneficial impact on your health, whether you do it using a bike, elliptical, sprinting, or using weights. I’m grateful to “Bodyman” for sharing this video and telling his story. I have no doubt that those of you who put this information into practice can reap the benefits, just like he has. I hope you'll give it a try!