An article that came out in the May-June issue of the Health Fitness Journal of the American College of Sports Medicine unearthed a new dimension of fitness. It is the High-Intensity Circuit Training using body weight. In interval training, the incredibly intense activity must be intermingled with brief periods of recovery.
In this 7-minute workout outlined by Mr. Chris Jordan and colleagues, they provide recovery in part by a 10-second rest between exercises. And by alternating an exercise that emphasizes the larger muscles in the upper body with those in the lower body.
High-Intensity circuit training significantly improves your muscular and aerobic fitness. HICT is not a new concept but is growing in popularity because of its practicality and efficiency for a time-constrained society. Bodyweight circuits are convenient to do at home or while traveling.
This form of exercise combines aerobic and resistance training in a high intensity, limited rest design. It offers numerous health benefits in much less time than traditional programs. When you use your body weight as resistance, then you can eliminate the limiting factors of access to equipment and facilities.
This training includes a single exercise bout of 7 minutes. But you can repeat the 7-minute round 2 or 3 times depending on the amount of time you have. As your body weight is the only form of resistance, you can do this program anywhere.
Benefits of HICT
Lose body weight. HICT is a fast and potent way to lose excess body weight and body fat. The resistance training incorporated into this workout contributes largely to the amount of burning of fat. The strength training exercises use multiple large muscles with very little rest and elicit aerobic and metabolic benefits. Studies say that you can enjoy these metabolic benefits even after 72 hours after you’ve completed a high-intensity exercise bout.
Improves markers of health. HICT is extremely efficient in increasing your V˙O2max, an established marker of cardiopulmonary health. VO2 max is your maximal oxygen uptake. It is the measurement of the maximal amount of oxygen that you can utilize during intense or maximal exercise.
Antiaging. Studies say that there is a direct link between physical activity and life expectancy. Exercise activates your anti-aging enzyme telomerase. HICT not only increases telomerase but lowers p53 expression an essential protein that contributes to premature aging. HICT also results in firm skin and fewer wrinkles, boosts metabolism and energy and improves muscle tone.
HICT balance essential hormones.
- Gherlin. Also known as hunger hormone it is responsible for long-term weight gain. Ghrelin is released directly during stressful situations and perpetuates the stress-cycle which leads to weight gain.
- Leptin. It is known as a starvation hormone because it gives you the sense of feeling full. It helps to induce weight loss. HICT controls these hormones and balances other hormones naturally which increases fat burn and weight loss.
- Insulin. HICT decreases insulin resistance as well. It is a major factor for developing type 2 diabetes.
HICT targets more belly fat. The intermittent circuit style training protocol, increase the loss of subcutaneous body fat. If you do HICT, it enhances the level of catecholamines and growth hormone found in the blood, during and after HICT exercise with shortened rest periods. Researchers observed positive changes in insulin resistance in little as 8 minutes per week when done with intensity more than 100% V˙O2max.
The No-Equipment HICT Core Workout
The study authors who designed the HICT workout used the following parameters to test its effectiveness.
- Nine-Twelve exercises that contain a mix of cardio and body weight exercises. When choosing activities, they looked for
- Activities that utilize the larger muscles of the body such as butt, chest, and back.
- Whole body compound exercises
- Moves that can be modified for different fitness levels
- The researchers alternated between muscle groups and intensity. For example, an upper body exercise followed by a lower body exercise and a high-intensity exercise was followed by a lower intensity exercise. This process allows some energy between muscle groups and energy systems. So, you can maintain proper form and avoid being tired too quickly.
- To maximize the intensity the researchers made the participants do each exercise for about 15 to 20 reps or 30 seconds.
- The circuit they put together was 7 minutes long. They recommend you repeat the cycle up to three times for about a 20-minute workout.
Sample HICT Workout
Gretchen Reynolds who made the article famous writes in New York Times blog
“During the intermezzo, the unexercised muscles have a moment to, metaphorically, catch their breath, which makes the order of the exercises important.”
This workout has a complete set of 12 exercises that require no equipment. The High-Intensity Circuit Training protocol works all the muscles of your body. Perform each exercise in rapid sequence for 30 seconds and take rest for 10 seconds in between. Repeat1-3 or more times if you have time.
Jumping Jacks: Start by standing with your feet simultaneously. Move your feet out to the side and raise your arms above your head. Immediately reverse the motion by jumping back to the starting position.
Wall Sit: Just drop into a static squat, spread your feet shoulder width apart and just stay. If you have an open wall, try this exercise leaning up against it. Gently try to keep most of your weight on your heels. Keep your hands folded near your chest. Make sure you’re holding your breath. Stay low if you can.
Push Up: Come into the plank position, with hands under, slightly outside your shoulder length. Lower your body until your stomach nearly touches the floor. Pause and keep your stomach pulled in. Try not to round your shoulders. Move back to the starting position as quickly as possible. Keep your core braced the entire time.
Abdominal Crunches: Lie on the floor. Keep your hands on both sides of your head, bend your knees with your feet on the floor. Keeping your feet planted firmly on the floor, raise your shoulders and upper back away from the floor. Exhale as you come up and inhale as you go down.
Step Ups: All you need for the move is a sturdy chair, short bench, or solid coffee table to step. To start, place your right foot on top of the seat. Press through your right heel as you step onto the seat. Gently bringing your left foot to meet your right, so you are standing on the bench.
Return to the original position by stepping down with the right foot. Then bring your left feet down, so both are on the floor. Complete one set of reps with the right foot and the other with the left one.
Squat: Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Sink down, press back up to your heels. Stick your butt out sink down as low as you can control. Press back up to your heels.
Dips: Use a coffee table or a sturdy chair for this exercise. Keep your upper body straight, and your elbows should stay close to your body. This action helps to better focus on the Triceps involvement. Lower yourself until there is a 90-degree angle formed between your upper arm and forearm.
Exhale and push your frame back up using your triceps. This move helps to bring your body back to the original position. Repeat the movement for the prescribed amount of repetitions.
Plank: Plant your hands directly under your shoulder slightly wider than shoulder-width apart like you’re about to do a pushup. Ground your toes into the floor. Squeeze your glutes to stabilize your body. You should work your legs on the move.
Neutralize your neck and spine. You can do this by looking at a spot on the floor about a foot beyond your hands. Keep your head on the same level as your back. Hold the position for 20 seconds. As you get more comfortable with the move, hold your plank long without compromising your form or breath.
High Knee Jog: Begin in an athletic position with your knees bent. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart. Your arms bent at your sides. Brace your hip and bring your right knee up toward your belly button. As your right leg comes down, bring your left knee up. Alternate lifting the knees as you jog in place.
Lunges: Keep your upper body straight with your shoulders back and relaxed and chin up. Pick a point to stare at in your front, so you don’t keep looking down. Engage your core always.
Step forward with one leg. Lower both legs so your knees are bent at 90-degree angle. Make sure your front knee is directly above your ankle. Don’t let your other knee touch the floor. Keep the weight on your heels as you push back to the starting position.
Pushups: Keep your arms straight, butt clenched, and abs braced. Steadily lower yourself until your elbows are at a 90-degree angle or smaller. Keep your elbows close to your body. Try not to let them fly away out with each repetition. Once your chest touches the floor, hold slightly and then explode back up until you’re back to the starting position.
Side Plank: Lie on your right side and keep your legs straight. Hold up yourself with your right forearm, so that your body forms a diagonal line. Rest your left hand on your hip. Brace your abs for 60 seconds. If that’s difficult for you, then just hold for 5 to 10 seconds and rest for 5. Continue for 1 minute. Make sure your knees and hips stay off the floor.
The authors warn that though there are plenty of benefits associated with this workout. You must be careful if you are overweight/obese, detrained or previously injured. Elderly and individuals with comorbidities must also avoid this exercise.
If you have hypertension or heart disease, it would be better if you avoid isometric exercises such as plank, wall sit, and side plank. You can substitute isometric exercises with dynamic exercises such as lunge with a twist, knee to chest, high kicks, hip stretch with a twist and T pushups.
The authors warn all of you not to perform the Valsalva maneuver, particularly for the isometric exercises. It is important that you understand proper exercise form and technique.
“Proper execution requires a willing and able participant who can handle a great degree of discomfort for a relatively short duration,” they write.
Complementary HICT Workout
To complement the original and give you more options Yusuf Jeffers certified personal trainer and Head Coach at Tone House in New York City, created a companion abs workout at the request of Greatist.com that requires the use of only your body weight.
The exercise includes:
- Fire Fighter
- Knee in Crunch
- Glute Bridge
- Bicycle Crunch
- High Knees
- Reverse Crunch
- Mountain Climber
- Windshield Wiper
- Push Jacks
- Hollow Body Hold
How to use this list. Make each of these moves for 30 seconds. You can take rest for 5-10 seconds in-between. Work with your highest possible intensity for as many reps as you can without sacrificing your form. You can perform with 15-20 reps but do remember that quality always top quantity. If you have time repeat the circuit 2-3 times.
Since you’re doing these exercises in quick succession, you must be familiar with the activities, so that you can have good form, even when you get tired. A wise suggestion would be to practice these exercises, with as much rest as you need. Then you can shorten rests as your fitness improves.
Always keep in mind that too much of high-intensity training, no matter what kind it is can lead to overtraining, injury or burnout. So, it becomes necessary to give your body enough time to recover.
Try doing these workouts about twice a week with rests in between. You can also try Pilates, yoga or cardio to train your muscles in different ways.