High Intensity Interval Training - Charles Staley


I just read an article from your newsletter about HIIT training involving Dr. Izumi Tabata. Do you have any examples of this type of training?

Anyone else who may have some experience with this, please feel free to help out.


I am using it. The only bike I have is a recumbant lifecycle and tabata is kicking my ass! 6 minutes, 1 minute warm up, then 20 second all out max effort, 10 second rest, for 4 minutes, 1 minute cool down. Their protocol is different, suggesting adding wattage, but since I don’t have that option, I am doing what I can. That followed by heavy abs, and I am freaking toast. 20 minutes in and out of the gym. To top it off, I am using EDT and this on alternate days. I sleep well.

The study from which the protocol was derived was I believe originally carried out using an exercise bike. The protocol of 20 secs work/10 secs rest for 4 mins can theoretically be applied to any cardio machine-versa climber,air dyne, rower etc or indeed to a series of exercises (see for example some of the workouts at crossfit.com)although 15/15 work/rest might be more manageable. It cannot be applied to sprinting despite what some appear to suggest although less intense running is a possibility.


HIIT is simply alternating periods of max effort with periods of low intensity during a given workout. An example of this would be sprinting for 30 seconds and then jogging very slowly for thirty seconds. You can start with 5 or so intervals (5 minutes) and work your way up to ~15 (I would go any higher than this).

Research has shown that HIIT is the best type of workout to burn fat, elevate metabolism for extended periods of time (up to 48 hours) and increase both anaerboic and aerobic capacity (VO2MAX).

You can find two sample HIIT sprinting routines on my cardio page @ www.tcnj.edu/~marion4/cardio.html

Joel, I would like to add some HIIT sessions to my fat loss cycle but I am on a keto diet and your page recommends using some carbs after the HIIT workouts. I wouldn’t mind using some protein and glutamine but I just can’t use any carbs. Any advice? Thanks in advance. And in case you’re wondering I have a good bit of fat to lose so that’s why I’m using a keto diet and not the Don’t Diet. Thanks again.

Check Intensity Magazine #15 for Kelley Baggets glutamine/bcaa recommendation for cardio.

Also, Jason, would you mind explaining to ryan what you explained to me a while back about metabolizing carbs after a sprinting session (something about a very limited insulin response and that 25 grams of malto wouldn't even bring me near out of ketosis). Thanks!

I know you asked Charles but I’ll chime in here (I presented some ideas in the last article).

A good rule of thumb for interval training is that a 1:1 or 1:2 ratio of "work" (intense sprint) to "rest" (recovery low intensity period) is primarily aerobic while ratios of 1:3 to 1:6 are mostly anaerobic (lactic) glycolytic. And finally ratios of 1:10 are pretty much anaerobic (alactic).

Personally, I find that the super intense interval work in the anaerobic (lactic) glycolytic range get you in bad-ass shape. Your fitness goes through the roof (both aerobic and anaerobic), your body fat drops precipitously, and your legs actually end up growing.

The typical prescription I suggest is a 30sec all out sprint (bike, treadmill, or rowing) followed by a 90sec rest. This allows for each 30sec sprint to be similar in intensity. This way the quality of work is high as is the caloric expenditure.

Not disagreeing with Berardi, but I have had great results with a 1:1 ratio (even 1:1/2 at times), and personally, I want to get the workout over with as quick as possible. A 1:3 ratio would essentially be doubling the duration of the workout; and 15 minutes is already too long…I’m definitely not bustin’ my ass for a half hour.

A good hard session of sprinting involves significant energy expenditure. Post exercise is the most important time to eat carbohydrates and the most optimal time to eat them when on a ketogenic diet. If you are concerned about the addition of 25g of carbs post sprinting, just keep walking lightly while you drink your protein/carb shake. There are non-insulin mediated pathways for glucose absorption that are stimulated by exercise. 25g is a very small quantity and the muscles are going to want to soak up the glucose immediately upon ingestion. It is not going to ruin your diet or limit fat burning.

Nothing feels better than a post that can get people talking. Enough on that.

John I respect your opinion as well as all others, I just asked Charles because it was on his website. One thing about your prescription John, How long and How often? I would like to vary the intensity ratios to keep it different. So I may plan on a walk/run session for 30 minutes, may a rest/sprint session of 15-20 minutes. 3-4 x a week. Does that sound okay. I also would like to weight train and I train for the martial arts, so I should be careful not to overtrain.

Thanks I think this HIIT is pretty interesting.

I’ve done a few sessions of morning HIIT training on an empty stomach, and have been consuming my first meal of the day (which includes 25g maltodextrin in the form of a shake, but also whole food) about 40 minutes after the session is over. Should I try to get this shake in right after my sprint session (it also contains 40g protein), and then maybe make and eat the whole food 40 minutes later, or is this time fram okay? Should also mention that this first meal is a total of an hour and fifteen minutes after I get up, in case that is important.

Forgot to mention that I am doing the HIIT to maximize fat loss while cutting if it makes a difference.

Couple of comments:

In this industry, it's often the case that the current exercise programs that are en vogue are bastardizations of the true programs as they first appeared in the scientific literature. Now, you could argue that this occurs for 1 of 2 reasons...1)People are constantly trying to better and refine them OR 2) People truly dont understand the literature or the purpose of the programs and therefore make inappropriate changes to them. However, I dont want to argue this point.

Within the framework of this discussion, what I see happening is that people are "inventing" their own definition of what HIIT is and then following the program without any notion of what the goal of that program should be.

For example, as I stated, HIIT was designed to work specific energy systems (i.e. metabolize specific fuels and activation different training responses/adaptations). To this end, different work:rest intervals should be prescribed based on the energy systems utilized, the intensity that can be maintained, and the training adaptation that occurs as a result of the program.

While ANY exercise program will yield results, the goal of my work is to present the BEST (according to current knowledge) information available.

To this end, I believe that some of the most effective interval training is done at very high intensity throughout. In critique of Joel's ratios, I see the advantage - less total workout time. However, this certainly cant be a criterion for success or efficacy! The disadvantage of Joel's ratios are that you simply CANNOT maintain the same intensity from the first interval to the last (assuming that you are indeed using maximal or near-maximal intensity throughout). And this is a problem as the quality of effort diminishes. Using a weight training example: If you could bench press 300lbs for 10 reps and desired a workout with high quality of effort (the higher quality of effort, the better the results) you would rest long enough between sets to be able to nearly duplicate the effort for the 3-4 sets you are performing. Why not use this model for you interval work.

Now, I suspect that many of you will argue that you CAN maintain high quality of effort during your subsequent intervals. Well, all I can say is that you are deluded. I have a lab in which we continually test these things and in said lab we see some elite athletes. We measure watt output on the bike and rower and vo2 and work on the treadmill. It's impossible to duplicate the VERY HIGH intensity efforts necessary for HIIT training with inadequate rest.

I suspect that many of you simply are not achieving the necessary intensity during your “on” interval to promote the best adaptation. Therefore your rest interval seems adequate.

Here is my prescription:

Workouts should be 30 min in duration…(hell)

Bike work - Watts 300-400 (many club bikes will allow for this at the highest level - level 12 for most lifecycles) for 30 seconds followed by 90sec of recovery at level 1-2 (100 watts or so). That's 15 sprints followed by 15 rests.

Treadmill work - 30 min duration, 30seconds at 12mph at 0% grade or 10mph at 4% grade followed by 90 seconds at 5mph (whatever grade). 15 reps.

Rowing - virtually the same as biking although if your form is weak, you'll be producing less total watt output.

Dave, the example was presented in the article 7-8 repeats of 30 secs HARD followed by 10 secs rest. Berardi’s suggestions are bang-on also…


Is the 30-second sprint time the best duration to work with or is it just an example? Would results be similar if I used a 20-second sprint time followed by 60 seconds of rest, repeating enough times (about 23) to fill the 30 minutes? Also, what would be the optimum frequency for this type of HIIT workout? My guess is either 2 or 3 times per week.

Where do you fall on the post HIIT cardio nutrition? Should you be having your post workout carbs/protein (or surge) immediatly after the workout, or wait 50 minutes to an hour?

good thread! JB within your guidelines what would be your reccomendation for interval sprints,out on a field for example? It really is a pain in the ass waiting for my treadmill to gradulally slow down and the fresh air is nice. Also what frequency do you reccomend? thanks…Mike

It is fine to sprint outside, use the same guidelines. I always sprint outdoors; if you have ever tried to do HIIT intervals on a treadmill, it’s a pain in the ass waiting for the belt to speed up and slow down…very difficult to do.

2-3 sessions per weeks should be sufficient provided that your diet is in order.

20-30 second sprints are optimal, but you need to be aware that HIIT is a lot harder than it sounds…23 sprints is just out of the question. I don’t see the need for the duration of a given workout to exceed 15 minutes. You’ll get the workout of your life by simply doing 4 minutes of 20 second sprints with 10 second rest periods (8 total sprints).

I agree with John Berardi about having sufficient rest to maintain the intensity of
the effort. My understanding is that without adequate recovery between intervals peak lactate levels are much lower and accordingly work/rest intervals of 1:3 or 1:4 are routinely prescribed for lactic acid tolerance/training sessions. Of course there may be other benefits to working with short rest intervals but intensity has to drop off even though the effort may be demanding.

I did say in my original post that you could not apply the Tabata protocol to sprinting due to insufficient recovery and that remains my position. You may finish the session but you will not be sprinting.

I think that Steve’s proposed 23 x 20 secs sprints (say 150m or more) with 60 secs rest is excessive. See how many you can or want to do!

I also think that for most people engaging in high intensity work of 30 mins 2/3 times a week is going to be mentally and physically difficult to sustain for more than a limited period.