Crush Plateaus & Complacency: A HIIT Workout Challenge

By Laura Tarbell

If you want to run, jump, press, and squat at the highest level possible, variety in your training program is the key to continued improvement. So if you've been doing the same type of program over and over, I've bet you've noticed a bit of physical and mental complacency. Lack of variety can make us too comfortable in our training, and this comfort is what often leads to plateaus.


But periodizing your workouts, varying your tempos, and adding bouts of high intensity can counter those complacent feelings and crush through any stubborn plateaus. In the following workout, you'll be lifting heavy weights with a slow eccentric tempo as well as implementing explosive plyometrics and animal movements to spark strength and ultimately burn more fat. Here are the essentials you need to know about how the program can make you stronger, faster, and leaner so you walk into the gym and rock this program with confidence.

Why HIIT It?

The more oxygen you consume during a workout the more calories you'll burn, especially AFTER your workout. Oxygen needs to be “repaid” post workout to bring your body back into balance. This is scientifically known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC for short. EPOC is a fancy way of saying how much oxygen your muscles require to recover from a workout. A greater EPOC means your metabolism stays elevated for a longer period of time, up to 3 days in some cases, after you finish your workout. The following workout will make your muscles CRAVE oxygen because it demands a great deal of oxygen through high intensity sprinting and plyometric intervals. When done correctly, they put you in an awesome oxygen debt.

Additionally, the more muscle fibers you “recruit” during any given exercise, the more oxygen and overall energy your body will require. Your body is comprised of three types of muscle fibers -- type I, type IIa, and type IIb. Type I fibers are slow to contract and can sustain muscular endurance over an extended time, which is why we refer to them as 'slow twitch' muscles. Type IIa fibers are in the middle of the muscle fiber spectrum as they produce more muscular force and contract at a faster speed than slow twitch fibers, but are less fatigue resistant than type IIb. Type IIb fibers then produce the most power and force overall and are recruited in activities that require all out bursts of power for an extremely short period of time. The total length of type IIb contractions usually last is only 7.5 milliseconds. Now the amazing thing about type IIb muscle fibers is that once they are activated, everything before them is activated as well. Think about it like driving stick - you can’t get to third gear without going through first and second. So once you activate your type IIb fibers with high-intensity work, type I fibers and type IIa are automatically recruited as well. Therefore high-intensity, or HIIT, type training where type IIb fibers are recruited is the most effective workout for creating a large “oxygen debt."

Why Bear Crawl?

Out of the box exercises that venture away from traditional reps and sets amp up the intensity of your workouts and have substantial training benefits as well. Animal training exercises such as the bear crawl, gorilla, and alligator are serious bang-for-your-buck exercises that engage your entire body and increase mobility. Using the same tight, neutral torso you would while in a plank position, these exercises now also require you to move forward, backward, or side-to-side. Not only will the arms, shoulders, and legs be activated, more than two dozen muscles in your core must resist the urge to rotate and flex. This improves your ability to stabilize your spine and boosts athletic performance. And with consistent practice, you'll soon notice more stability, strength, and power in everything you do both in and out of the gym.

Why Focus On TUT?

Playing around with the tempo of a resistance exercise is a great way to catapult your results. In weight training, the concentric portion, or movement through the application of force, normally gets all the attention. We tend to focus on making this part of the lift explosive. This is an extremely useful practice for training athletic qualities such as speed, power, and type-2 muscle-fiber development. However in this case, our focus will be slowing down the eccentric contraction, (pronounced “eee-centric”), which is the resistance of force, i.e. the descent of a squat, the lowering of a bench press to your chest, or the slowing down of a run.

Concentrating on the eccentric portion of an exercise also gets you stronger and faster by allowing you to control the total amount of time your muscles spend under load or tension. Slowing down your reps increases time under tension, or TUT, and therefore, increases strength gains. For example, if you train at a 1-0-1-1* tempo, your total TUT is 3 seconds. But, if you train at a 3-0-1-1 tempo, your TUT is 4 seconds. During a 10 rep set, you'll spend an additional 20 seconds under the load, making your muscles work that much longer and harder. That’s time well spent!

And what's more - your body can lower up to 40 percent more weight than it can lift. Being able to control a heavy weight eccentrically can in turn prepare your body to lift more weight up the next time around.

Be safe in your HIITs.

Pamela Fitzgerald, a Toronto-based PT, RTS, and MAT Specialist, notes that, “it is important to progress one's HIIT exercise according to individual tolerance and current capabilities. Although studies find it to be more  beneficial for fat loss and developing strength when compared to steady state cardio, be sure to avoid injury and discomfort by progressing your HIIT according to your unique physiology, goals and ability.”

If you are a beginner to exercise or high intensity work, start with one of these days per week. As your body becomes adapted to the increase in intensity and new methods of movement, you can add more of these workouts one at a time.