High Intensity Intervals “Tabata” & “Peak 8” - tools for enhancing VO2 Max

By: Dr. Gary Huber

Posted 10/31/2022

A quick tutorial on HOW to start HIIT training. Its one of the best tools for improving cardiovascular and nervous system health.

Interval training simply means you exercise at an exceedingly high exertional energy output for a short period of time, followed by a recovery period before repeating the strong exertion again. Each cycle of work and rest is one interval. You can make the work to rest ratio change over time which is how you gradually build greater fitness.

Your “Anaerobic Threshold” is defined as the point of exercise intensity at which your body switches from aerobic (with oxygen) exercise into a more intense anaerobic (beyond the ability to supply adequate oxygen) exercise.  It is only when we exceed our “anaerobic threshold” by training at intervals above our present capacity that we get stronger or improve our fitness level. No amount of “walking” or steady state aerobics is able to advance our fitness like intervals.

There are dozens of different approaches or patterns to interval training and part of the fun of intervals is discovering new ways to use them. I am going to briefly discuss 2 options. Play with each one. Please start slow if this is your first time doing intervals and gradually build up. Any kind of aerobic equipment can be used: treadmill, elliptical, rower, stationary bike, road bike, running, etc.

Tabata interval training

Warm up for 5 to 7 minutes and prepare for an “all out” maximum effort. Do not start until you feel warmed up enough to engage in such a workout. Once warmed up set your clock or timer and begin:

  • 20 seconds all out effort – sprint as hard as you can go. Then . . .
  • 10 second rest period – keep moving but just work to catch your breath.

Repeat this cycle eight times for a total of 4 minutes of extreme exertion. Then either do a slow cool down or continue on if you like at a more comfortable pace to complete your desired workout time. The beauty here is that in just 4 minutes of intense exertion you have completed a good amount of exercise and pushed your fitness level.

You may need to start slow and gradually build up to such an effort.  Here is a 12 week graduated schedule to get you there. You can also give it an 80% effort to start and work up to “all out”. 

Week 1 is 10 seconds all out followed by 20 seconds rest for 6 cycles or 6 repetitions. That is written as 10/20 x6. Week 2 sees an increase in reps to 7. At week 4 you increase the duration of work to 15 seconds and reduce the rest to 15 seconds for 5 reps. At week 8 the work increases to the full 20 seconds all out while the rest is now reduced to the short 10 second interval. As you increase the number of reps each week you will arrive at 8 full reps or cycles by week 12.

Tabata 12 week graduated course

  • Week 1: 10 seconds work / 20 seconds rest.   x6 reps
  • Week 2: 10/20 x7
  • Week 3: 10/20 x8
  • Week 4: 15/15 x5
  • Week 5: 15/15 x6
  • Week 6: 15/15 x7
  • Week 7: 15/15 x8
  • Week 8: 20/10 x4
  • Week 9: 20/10 x5
  • Week 10: 20/10 x6
  • Week 11: 20/10 x7
  • Week 12: 20/10 x8    Short but sweet!

The 8 Peaks Program

This is another approach and can be used interchangeably with the Tabata. The idea is very similar and all of the above guidelines apply. Start slow and build up if this is new to you. There are still 8 cycles but these are a bit longer. Start with a 5 to 10 minute warm up and when you are ready begin:

  • 30 seconds all out, as hard as you can go – don’t let yourself slow down
  • 90 seconds rest – a longer recovery. Catch your breath and as you feel good again then start to build slowly preparing for your next all-out effort.
  • Repeat this for 8 full cycles which will take 16 minutes but only 4 minutes of it is hard.

Intervals should not be done more than once or twice a week. Daily use of intervals training will cause too much stress on the body and lead to overstraining syndrome as well as spiked cortisol levels which is your stress hormone. Be smart with your training at all times and listen to your body.

Breathing hard is a part of good exercise but if you ever experience chest pain, lightheadedness or feel close to passing out then contact our office as well as your primary care doctor and seek emergency help if appropriate. Remember that this type of hard training is the best way to avoid a heart attack, not cause one. This type of exercise will increase your “Heart Rate Variability” which is a key marker for longevity and health. Heart Rate Variability (HRV) is the beat to beat variation that naturally occurs in a healthy nervous system.  If this concept is new to you then see my discussion of HRV: Heart Rate Variability Introduction & Explanation

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