All posts tagged high-intensity interval training

Take Imperfect Action.

How regularly screwing up can help you get stuff done.

By Brad Beckstrom

I’ve always liked taking action. Getting stuff done. A friend once told me, “The best way to fall asleep is to lay in bed and think of each thing that you did that day from beginning to end.  Include the little stuff, washing your face, taking the dog out. If you’re like most people you probably do a lot of things even though at times it doesn’t feel like much. By the time you get near the end of the list, you will be asleep.” This trick didn’t work too well for me, sometimes I would lay there and think of the things I forgot to do which was a great way (not) to fall asleep.  It’s okay that it failed. I was trying to do something that would help me fall asleep. I’ve learned something by trying this out, it didn’t really work, I’ll try it again, I took imperfect action.

What’s “imperfect action”? My first thought was doing something that didn’t work or trying something like a shortcut that just made the task longer. It could be something that was unproductive but got you 1% closer to reaching your goal. Maybe it wasted a good chunk of your day but you learned something from it.

Taking imperfect action is something that can help both the perfectionist and the procrastinator. Read more…

Living like a Lightweight.

By Brad Beckstrom

You still hear it occasionally. “That guy’s a lightweight.” When I was a kid, it may have meant you couldn’t hold your own on the playground. In college, this term was often used to describe someone who was a sloppy drunk or couldn’t hold their liquor. In business or politics, lightweight may be used to describe someone who can’t take a little heat, or bails out when the going gets tough. Today the word lightweight implies something very different. If you’re a lightweight who can compete or dominate above your weight class, then you have something. If you’re talking about a boxer like Roberto Duran, a legend like Bruce Lee, or the UFC fighter Conor McGregor then lightweight can take on a whole new meeting.

Look at any sport in the racing world, “lightweight” is the hottest thing going. Carbon fiber tubing is used to make incredibly fast racing boats to compete in the America’s Cup, and superlight racing bikes that weigh as little as 13 pounds. In a competitive world, lightweight can have great advantages.

If you’re not a professional athlete, or in the market for a $9,000 bicycle, you can still live like a lightweight. Let’s apply this term in three areas: Health, Life, and Work.

Health, Physical and Mental.

There’s a memorable scene from the documentary Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead. The movie is about Joe Cross who lost 100 pounds juicing. You hear stories all the time about people losing tremendous amounts of weight. What Joe did differently is he that he visually demonstrated how much weight he’d lost by carrying around six professional bowling balls to represent the weight. This really clicked with people and helped him kick start the green juice trend. Most of us could not imagine carrying around even one or two bowling balls all the time.

The bowling balls Joe carried around are a great metaphor. Think of all the excess stuff we carry around, garages and closets full of stuff we don’t use, those extra pounds, guilt and regret about things that happened in the past, huge SUVs to haul all this around, while sitting in traffic. It’s time to start looking at the benefits of becoming a lightweight. Read more…

The world’s fastest workout. Super efficient and kind of crazy.


You’re going to start seeing more crazy people working out.  They’ll be easy to spot. They’ll be running in place with all their might, then they will huff and puff for 10 seconds and drop to the ground pedaling their legs madly doing bicycle crunches. They will work through an entire set of 8 exercises in four minutes flat.  These folks have discovered high-intensity interval training. HIIT.  If they’re doing it right they will be putting out 100% effort in eight 20 second bursts.  They will look a bit crazy. I am now one of them.

I used to hate workouts.

Not so much the actual workout but the whole time / getting ready thing. At one point , my whole workout (process) was an hour and a half. Due to this hassle, I would only get around to it about 3 times a week.

I then discovered (HIIT) high intensity interval training. I stumbled across HIIT while I was searching for the best exercises for a heavy bag.  What I discovered was there was a ton of research on HIIT dating back to successful tests with Olympic speed skating teams in Japan. The original process was invented by Professor Izumi Tabata in 1996. It is also referred to as Tabata training. The basic concept allows Non-Olympic athletes like me to incorporate HIIT into a short 20 minute workout which provides the same benefits as a one-hour workout.

I do 8 minutes of warm-up exercises, 4 minutes of HIIT, and 8 minutes of cool down exercises for a total of 20 minutes. The catch is that during the high-intensity portion of the workout you’ll be going 100% in 20 second intervals with 10 seconds of rest for a total of four minutes.

You will look a bit crazy doing this.

For this reason, I prefer to do this type of HIIT exercise in my basement where no one can get hurt, other than me of course.  I use core exercises as a warm-up (8 minutes), a heavy bag for the high-intensity part (4 minutes), then 8 minutes of cool down with weights (total 20 minutes). The heavy bag makes such a ruckus in the basement that it shakes the whole house. Recently SuperK came downstairs to create a quick video clip on her iPhone of this high-intensity heavy bag portion of my workout.  The five or six people people who saw the video prior to it being deleted collapsed on the ground laughing.

I can only imagine how crazy I would look doing lots of different exercises, as illustrated here in this infographic provided by Tiny Hearts.  The great thing about this type of exercise is that you can mix it up or focus on one type of exercise for your intervals like sprinting, spinning or boxing. Read more…

Crush your ADD tendencies using a Pomodoro.

Crush your ADD tendencies using a Pomodoro.

ADD. Attention Deficit Disorder. You hear this term so often now “She’s so ADD” or “Oops, that’s my ADD kicking in again.” Seems like many people have just self diagnosed.  I believe most are just suffering from ADD tendencies created by our time crunched, multi screen lifestyles. The constant stream of Facebook updates, Twitter streams, and 24/7 streaming video, news, weather, celebrity updates.  It’s difficult even for the most focused of us to get stuff done. There are a lot of “get stuff done” systems out there. Sure!!!!  Just add one more checklist or website I need to go to to get stuff done, right? No thanks.

The High Intensity Answer

I’ve stumbled upon what I believe is an excellent solution for those with ADD tendencies. The answer lies in high-intensity training methods. Recently, I switched from traditional workouts, maybe two or three times a week to daily workouts, incorporating high-intensity training for short 20 minute periods.

This has been very effective for several reasons. When you know you can get something done in 20 minutes, there’s less dread involved in the task. Using high-intensity training, my workouts are so quick that they’re over before they feel like they’ve gotten started. The big advantage here is that I can always find 20 minutes to squeeze one of these in daily. This versus the two or three days a week I was trying to fit in a 60 minute workout which was significantly more difficult.

This worked well for me, so I began thinking about how the  theory behind high intensity training could be applied to other everyday tasks. In my search, I came across the Pomodoro technique.

Are you ready, because it kicks ass.

The Pomodoro technique was named after a popular kitchen timer called the Pomodoro.  This is a basic 25 minute kitchen timer.  The Pomodoro technique involves focusing on single tasks in 25 minute intervals. The technique is designed to block and manage distractions during these intervals. (Don’t worry, you don’t need to set a kitchen timer on your desk. You can use any timer, or your smartphone, to time your intervals)

The technique works by training you to block distractions during, and completely focus on, the single task at hand during each 25 minute period or “Pomodoro.”  Once you start a Pomodoro, you’ve committed to avoiding any distraction until the 25 minute period of focus is completed. It’s fine to mentally acknowledge a distraction and then train yourself intentionally avoid it.  See – just now I acknowledged a distraction to search for the Molly Cyrus Wrecking Ball video I heard someone talking about. By the time I finish typing this, that distraction may be forgotten. If not I can just get to it after this interval.

Over time you learn to use these Pomodoros effectively, assigning one or more to each project you need to get done during the day. You’ll learn to quickly estimate how many Pomodoros certain tasks will take. For instance, this blog post may take two Pomodoros with a break in between.

 Eliminate Burnout

Just like in interval training, the breaks are important.  Essential to the Pomodoro method is the notion that taking short scheduled breaks while working helps eliminate task burnout and keep you focused.


The endgame is you get more done and take more breaks. You’ll find that the 25 minutes of focus makes it a lot easier to ignore phone calls, tweets and other distractions while that timer is running. It also helps you identify the distractions. When I first started using it, I had to set my phone, with the timer running, in clear view so if I had the urge to check something online or pick up my phone, I quickly saw I had X number of minutes left in that interval.

The more you do this, the better you’ll get. Check out the video and read the book on becoming a Pomodoro Master. Clearly something you’ll be able to brag to your friends about.  “Wow, who would’ve thought Brad would ever become a Pomodoro Master.”

The Frug Workout, Less = More

frug workout

Why is it so easy to miss a workout?

I used to try to do three one-hour workouts per week. To be honest, I generally ended up with 2.5 as an average then 2.2 and finally 1.9 workouts per week. The problem is timing. Getting ready for a one-hour workout is a bit of a hassle. Even with the equipment in the basement, I still had to schedule it early in the morning, motivate, and get down there. Then, stretch out and slowly start going through my eight exercises, two or three sets each. I was pretty good at getting at least a couple of workouts with weights in per week. I’d also find time for walks and bike rides. In my case, and I believe in many people’s lives, it’s more of a time issue than a motivation issue.

In addition to the time issue, early morning hours are prime time for me. It’s when I do some of my most creative work. A lot of people are able to work out, clear their heads and come up with ideas all at the same time. (A picture pops in the my head of an overweight executive shouting into his Bluetooth headset while on the treadmill)

I’m not a great multitasker, I prefer focus, no interruptions. Usually I’ll be working out and remember something I need to do, or have a great idea, and have to stop, put a reminder in my iPhone, write it down etc.  This disrupts the flow of the workout and adds additional time. Sometime these interruptions go up to 15 minutes, running out of the room to go scribble something down and end up looking at some article online.  What I need is a workout that’s over in 20 minutes, less chance for interruptions.

I researched a few of the current hard-core fitness workouts like P90X and CrossFit. I look at these programs and I see complexity, I see additional time, I see pain.  It would take me 20 minutes just to warm up, set up the DVDs and fill out the charts. Try a Google search on either of those terms and check out the workout charts.

Let’s be honest here. Most people can’t even stick to the type of low intensity 2X workout I described above, a couple of 1- hour long workouts a week and some daily walking.  The more time and complexity added to the workout the less chance you’ll stick to it long-term.

What I was looking for was a highly efficient exercise that could be done in 20 minutes including warm-up and cool down.  Gym equipment would be optional and the exercise could be done anywhere, with many variations to keep things interesting. Most importantly, it would not require a CrossFit membership at over $150 per month, or any DVDs or tracking charts.

About a year ago, I read about High-Intensity Training using the Tabata regimen.  The basic idea is you can fit a workout that has the equivalent of 60 minutes of exercise compacted into approximately 12 minutes.  This includes four minutes of warm-up, eight minutes of High-intensity training in 20 second intervals followed by 10 second breaks, and four minutes of cool down. 12 minutes total.

There is a catch.  The high-intensity portions of the workout are tough. The Tabata workout calls for 20 seconds of maximum intensity exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, done eight consecutive times without pausing for a total of 240 seconds or just four minutes.

So if you’re running those 8, 20 second bursts are (all out sprints), followed by 10 seconds of rest (walking slow, catching your breath).  This can be applied to all types of exercise including cycling, mat exercises, elliptical trainers, kettle bell swings and a variety of weightlifting exercises.

If this all sounds a bit far fetched, take a quick look at this article on High Intensity Interval Training. There is some solid science behind it. In fact, the Tabata method, Described in the article has been used to train Olympic speed skaters, MMA champions, and many athletes that require explosive bursts of energy, and a high level of fitness. As the article states you should have a physical before beginning any high-intensity interval training program.

My research on Tabata conveniently coincided with my son requesting a boxing heavy bag for his 13th birthday. (Insert who is he really punching joke here)

I found that heavy bags can be a fantastic part of a Tabata training session.  They are inexpensive and always there, reminding you to hit it. They are often are bundled with a nice set of boxing or MMA style gloves which are sort of bad-ass. Everlast Heavy Bag Kit
Don’t want heavy bag taking up space?  There are plenty of other Low Cost
options, including your closet door which I’ll describe below.

So the Frug version of Tabata looks like this — I’ve increased the warm-up and cool down periods by four minutes each to allow for one additional set of light weight-training exercises. So, the total time commitment for the Frug Workout is 20 minutes per day, five days per week. You can take any two days off.

  • Warm up. 8 minutes of light weight training (your choice)

    • 2 sets of bench press

    • 2 sets of curls

  • Interval Training, 4 minutes total (your choice)

    • 20 seconds on the heavy-bag at 100% effort

    • 10 seconds of rest, basically catching your breath

    • Repeat 8 times

  • Cool Down. 8 minutes of light weight training (your choice)

    • Two sets of calf raises

    • Two sets of squats

I have found that each of these quick 20 minute Tabata sessions actually have more fitness benefits than my 60 minute low intensity weight training sessions. Because they are so quick, there’s less chance that I’ll miss them or be interrupted.  For the interval training sessions, I recommend using a free app for your smart phone or you can get an inexpensive Interval training timer
or just search “Tabata timer” in the app store.

Even though this exercise regimen is fast you still need to add some variety to keep it interesting. I alternate different types of mat or weight  exercises for the warm-up. These can be any number of low intensity exercises that can be slowly increased over time.

Not interested in buying a weight set?  One fantastic option is the TRX Suspension Trainer
developed based on a field training regimen used by Navy Seals.  It is basically a two handle strap you can anchor to any closet door and is fantastic for core fitness when combined with aerobic activity like Tabata Training.  Or you can go completely low-tech just a workout mat. Here’s a video of some gals at FitSugar doing Tabata training on a mat. skip the ad.

I know that’s a lot of information for such a simple workout but I like to share a lot of low-cost options so anyone can make this work.  Give this a try. I’d love to hear how it’s going and if having a workout regimen that includes a frugal use of time helps you miss fewer workouts.