Your HIIT-Only Workout Plan Is Failing You – How To Diversify Your Fitness for Ultimate Health & Hotness

“What’s the best type of exercise?”

Type that phrase into Google and you get 504,000,000 search results. There are a lot of people who claim to have the answer to that question and a whole lot more of us who are searching for the holy grail of fitness.

I’ve been searching and learning for a while, friends, and I have news for you:

The Holy Grail does not exist.

Well, more accurately, there isn’t a single grail. There are a few of them. Specifically, there are different types of exercise that offer specific benefits, so we should indulge in each of them.

Before we continue, take a moment to reflect on the type of activities that make up your current fitness schedule. Is it mostly MFF classes? Lifting heavy weights? Swimming, cycling or running? Yoga or pilates? Ideally, we’re swinging back and forth between these exercise options, embracing a bit of diversity in our weekly activities.

As always, diversity makes things better. So do pictures. Check this out:

Using this spectrum, it’s easy to figure out where we spend most of our time. It’s based on which metabolic systems are used for each activity, and if we’re stuck in any one place, there’s probably room for greater fitness improvement. Let’s figure out how to improve:

The More Metabolic Pathways, The Better

If you’ve become accustomed to any particular point on this spectrum, it’s most advantageous to add an activity as far away on the spectrum as possible. ADD, not replace.

Let me say that again: Add a different activity to what you currently do — do not replace what you currently do with a different activity.

Every time I see someone feel less fit after making a change in the fitness plan, it’s often because they stopped doing what they were doing in the first place. Balancing everything out is important.

If you’re used to low-intensity aerobic work—perhaps training for a marathon or regular yoga classes—then dedicated strength training like heavy deadlifts or chin-ups should be the focus.

When deadlifts are your norm, getting into a pool to swim laps is the priority. Have the extremes of strength and endurance covered? High Intensity Interval Training is what you add.

Our bodies will be the healthiest and fittest if we can regularly engage the full breadth of metabolic pathways that our bodies use to make energy. Remember those pretty charts from 8th grade biology? This stuff is so much more important than our teachers made it out to be:

Ultimately, we’re able to focus on each of these energy systems over the course of a week, becoming healthier and fitter versions of ourselves.

HIIT Me With Your Best Shot

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is all of the rage these days, and that’s because it sits smack-dab in the middle of our energy systems charts.

Make no mistake, if you have to choose one single thing to do for exercise, an interval-based workout will get the most bang for your buck. The idea is pretty simple: elevate your heart rate, then provide enough time to recover before you do it again.

I often find that true HIIT is neither comfortable nor sustainable for long workouts, and that most of us don’t appropriately find an intensity that is physically challenging enough.

During MFF’s Snatched: Project X programming, I often see Ninjas in the first two weeks learn to rectify the differences between emotional perception of intensity and measured metabolic intensity. I attribute most of this learning to the use of the MyZone heart rate monitors that we use to measure heart rate and intensity during class.

Strap It On

Measuring your heart rate is important if you’re tracking interval training, and a chest strap is your best option. Chest-strap based heart rate monitors that measure the electrical signal from your heart will measure intervals with far more accuracy than a wrist-based tracker that uses optical sensors to measure blood flow through the skin. I’ll take a wrist-based measurement over no measurement, but if you really want to make the most of your fitness adventures, using a chest strap is the way to do it. Here’s why:

Training at high intensities doesn’t feel good. It sounds good, but it doesn’t feel good, and it certainly isn’t fun.

You may currently be thinking, “Hey Harold, I train at high intensities, and it’s actually fun!” But a challenge arises, my dear reader: Measure your intensity with a heart rate monitor before you define any activity as “high intensity.

While I do trust everyone’s subjective thoughts on intensity, I think it’s important to have an objective metric in addition to our perception. The chest-strap heart rate monitor is the best way to measure heart rate, and therefore intensity, while you work out.

If you’ve taken classes at Mark Fisher Fitness, you may have noted that Ninja Essentials and Superhero Strength are more focused on, well, strength development. Circuit Party and Kick-Ass Conditioning, focus on—you guessed it—conditioning! While there are some obvious differences between our class offerings, they are more similar than they are different.

Those differences may seem significant if MFF classes are the majority of your workout experience, but there’s far more fitness capacity to be generated as we explore other modalities.

If you only take MFF classes, then the differences between these workouts seem significant, and our Program Design Team is actively working to diversify our classes. That being said, you can get even more fit if you add other fitness modalities to your routine.

Diversify With Intent

I implore you—explore the fitness modalities at the ends of the spectrum. If you haven’t lifted truly heavy weights, get under the bar. Exploring strength in semi-privates can open you to a whole new world of strength that’s extremely beneficial for your skeletal health – think bones, connective tissue, and muscles.

If you haven’t done lower-intensity aerobic work, go for a swim, get on a bike, go for a hike. Sustained moderate intensity cardio is fantastic for our cardiovascular health and exploring the world around us. We’re in the dog days of summer – it’s a perfect time to get outside!

Ultimately, a well-planned-out week on the fitness front includes activities that are solely focused on our cardiovascular abilities, activities that are solely focused on our muscular abilities, and activities that challenge a combination of the two. The broader our range of fitness activities, the greater our ability to develop our health and fitness.

How To Make It Work

If you’re looking for the most bare bones approach to fitness possible, say 1-2 hours of exercise per week, then MFF’s classes would be the place to start for an equal balance of strength and conditioning.

When adding more, my preference is to include a day of dedicated strength training, as one would do in our semi-private training sessions. That addresses one end of the spectrum, so the next training addition would be to include more dedicated low-intensity work.

Interested in maximal effective dose? Currently, I think that two days of semi-private training, two days of interval-based classes, and two days of continuous-effort steady-state activities is the best combination for fitness optimization. Pick your day of rest, and get after the rest!

Inquiring Minds

Want to learn more? Join me on Sunday, August 26 for a free Best Life Sunday workshop where I’ll share with you MFF’s program design rationale so that you can get better at planning your own workout activities and schedule!

Wanna chat ASAP about a creating a fitness plan that works for you? Sign up for one of our Health & Hotness Strategy Sessions at MFF.

Book Here

Harold Gibbons is the Steward of Strength at MFF, where he teaches classes & semi-privates, manages the program design team for semi-private training, is the director of the Trainer-in-Residence program, and the founder of the Motivation and Movement LAB. When not teaching, he loves cuddling up on the couch with his fiancée Katie, sliding through the woods on his mountain bike, and considering why Thestrals are the best.


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