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Project Louise: Stop Worrying And Learn To Love The Zombie Workout

Yes, I promised that my next post would be an interview with a stress expert. But I cannot deliver that post to you, because finding the right person to talk to has just been too stressful.

I wish I were kidding. And I wish I could say I had done a thoughtful and comprehensive search of all the possibilities. But we know me better than that by now, right? So let’s just keep this brief and move on: I have not succeeded in interviewing a thoughtful, reliable and accessible expert in the field of stress reduction. I’m sure there’s one out there, and as soon as I find him or her I will let you know.

Meanwhile, though, I have returned to my long-neglected trainer, the wonderful Rick DiScipio, and he’s been giving me some great advice about exercise. So let’s look at that, shall we?

Rick’s watchword for today is “HIIT.” You may already know, as I kinda-sorta did, that this stands for “high-intensity interval training.” Basically, it means that you work at maximum intensity for a very brief spurt – as little as 10 seconds, Rick says – then recover for a similarly brief time, then repeat. It’s quite the thing; do a search on YouTube and you’ll get about 557,000 results. Including this one:

Rick recommended that one to me as an example of "training to failure" — that is, working to the point where your muscles are too tired to do even one more rep. "That's high intensity," he told me.

"Notice the slow reps, supersets, force reps, and isometric holds at each point of the exercise," he added in an email. "My thoughts are everyone should train with intensity because intensity = work = results but training needs to be personalized." That's important, Rick points out, because your individual health history, injuries, motivation, energy level and goals will help determine what's most likely to work for you.

Elsewhere in the vast YouTube library, I came across the one at the top of this post. I haven’t made my way all the way through that video yet – it’s a deceptively simple killer, one that Rick points out is similar to the notorious Insanity workout – but I think it’s the very simplicity of the concept, and of the execution here, that makes it so appealing. Knock yourself out, then catch your breath. Knock yourself out again, breathe some more. I’ve been doing an even simpler version of this on my home treadmill, and I’m finding it surprisingly easy.

Well, not easy, exactly. The quick bursts are really hard. But then they stop, and I get a chance to recover before the next “hill.” Here’s how it goes: I warm up with a slow-to-medium walk for two minutes, then walk a little faster for another minute, then walk as fast as I can on a fairly steep incline for 30 seconds, then do a slow, level-surface walk for a minute; repeat until 20 minutes have gone by, then cool off with a couple more minutes of moderate walking.

What’s great is that I can do the slow part in my sleep – and, given my night-owl tendencies, doing this at 5:30 a.m. means that I essentially am doing it in my sleep – and the fast parts are over almost before I know it. Plus, I just roll out of bed, throw on some shoes and do this in whatever I wore to bed.

It struck me the other morning, as I was trudging along in zombie mode during one of the breaks, that all of this is a lot like labor – only much shorter! (Yeah, OK, you also don’t get the reward of an adorable baby at the end of it, but we cannot have everything in this life.) So, who knows, maybe it’s even something that’s particularly useful for women, like me, whose hardest workout ever was that time in the delivery room.

In any case, what also thrills me about HIIT is that several studies have shown that it’s especially effective in reducing insulin resistance – a dangerous precursor to my genetic bugaboo, Type 2 diabetes. It’s also highly effective in reducing body fat and building muscle, Rick (and more studies!) say.

And I can do all this in just 30 minutes a day? Plus, if I try an older and slightly different approach to HIIT, I get to say “Fartlek” with a straight face?

Somehow, all that makes me feel a lot less stressed.

Louise Kennedy Twitter Contributor
Louise Kennedy previously worked with The ARTery and as editor of Edify.

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