Authors: Jillian Michaels
Always work a muscle to failure.
While you may have read in some muscle magazine that pushing your body to the max during every single workout is a great idea, it’s not. It can lead to
overtraining, decreased strength, and potential injury. Work to the point of
fatigue (the point where you could do one more rep but you’d have to cheat on form to do it) but not failure.
Numerous studies have looked at this type of
intermittent training—alternating high- and low-intensity cardio, whether it’s walking/running on a treadmill, cycling, or you name it—and the end results point to the same conclusion: HIIT burns more fat and creates a greater
afterburn than does steady training at a lower heart rate. For those who must know, this afterburn is called
excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (
Researchers have also found that HIIT workouts seem to elevate metabolism significantly more than other forms of cardio. The last reason to do HIIT, as if these two aren’t enough, is that your workouts will be significantly shorter! You don’t need 60 minutes when 20 to 30 minutes of hard, busting-it-out intervals will give you more than the hour you’re struggling to get through.
While HIIT sessions are traditionally short and utilize a cardio workout, I’ve adapted the philosophy to incorporate it into any type of workout, whether it’s cardio or strength training.
During your weekly splits, you can do HIIT on your two cardio days or during circuit training. Simply work a high-intensity cardio interval into the end of your circuit for 30 seconds to a minute.
Researchers target 30 seconds to two minutes as the ideal window for pushing the
intensity ceiling. To perform HIIT correctly, you want to target 85 to 100 percent effort, then recover. I like shorter bouts myself, because you can push the top end for a shorter time. Trust me—if you do any of the following exercises at the intensity I’m asking you to, you won’t be able to continue for longer than 2 minutes; that’s the beauty and the efficiency of HIIT. Don’t think you can do an hour of mountain climbers and burn 900 calories in an hour; I know you’re going there. These moves are meant to be intense and short, and you get this kind of calorie burn only if you’re exercising at above 89 percent intensity.
Here are a few exercises to choose from:
• Switch Jump Lunges—12 calories per minute
• Squat Jumps—13 calories per minute
• Jumping Jacks—13.5 calories per minute
• Speed Skaters—13.5 calories per minute
• Mountain Climbers—15 calories per minute
• Butt Kicks—12 calories per minute
• High Knees—13 calories per minute
• Jump Rope—11 calories per minute
And here’s a sample circuit. The first four exercises are resistance and conditioning moves; the last exercise is a HIIT interval:
• Assisted Pull-ups (unless of course you can do them without help) or Bent-over High Rows
• Pendulum Lunges (same leg, a front lunge followed by a rear lunge) with Corkscrew Biceps Curls (curls that rotate from palms out to palms up)
• Seated Rows
• Double Under Jump Rope (two rotations of the rope per jump)
When you’re using HIIT on a cardio day, a classic example of the HIIT protocol is Tabata, with a 2-to-1 ratio, as in 20 seconds of high intensity as hard as you can go followed by a 10-second rest. You repeat this pattern for 8 intervals. Yes, it lasts only 4 minutes. That isn’t sustainable for the average person but is best for advanced athletes. I’ve modified the principles a bit so they work better for beginning to intermediate athletes, so it’s manageable yet extremely effective. Following this protocol, I can rip 500 calories off one of my
contestants in 30 minutes. So the high-to-low-intensity ratio I recommend is 30 seconds of max intensity (90 to 100 percent) followed by 30 seconds of lower intensity at roughly 50 percent effort.
Regardless of which of your workouts you work HIIT into, these short, intense routines hugely improve athletic capacity and conditioning, lead to better glucose metabolism, and dramatically enhance fat burning.
You can play with the speed of your repetitions to challenge your body and increase your calorie burn. When it comes to rep speed, most people stick with the tried and true: a slow and controlled pace of about 2 seconds on the positive (lifting, pushing, or pulling the weight) and about 2 seconds on the negative (lowering or releasing the weight). This is totally fine, but if you’re looking to get more out of your workout, consider lifting faster for the positive part of the repetition during a few of your weekly workouts. Superfast and explosive reps can help you build more strength and power while increasing your burn and helping to shed more fat.
On these speed reps, lift, push, or pull during the positive contraction as fast as you can with good form. (If you can’t maintain good form, lessen the amount of weight you’re lifting.) Then lower
for 2 to 4 seconds back to the start position. Don’t use speed for the negative portion of the rep—
For those of you who are wondering about negatives or slow reps for the purposes of slim, don’t do them. Some studies show an increase in muscle size from this methodology, but they don’t note significant changes in conditioning or fat burning. It’s more effective as a bodybuilding technique for gain in muscle size. And I don’t want your heart rate to drop while you’re working at a decelerated pace. You don’t have to speed-lift for every workout, but at least once a week be sure to change up your rep speeds, just as you change up other aspects of your workouts—to build strength and power and accelerate fat metabolism.
Meet the aptly named “superset”—a safe and natural way to get leaner and stronger in a shorter period of time. There are different types of supersets, but for our agenda, we are going to do same-muscle-group supersets. This is an advanced training method in which you do two exercises for the same muscle group, one after the other, with no rest in between.
Superset training has several primary advantages over conventional, straight-set training. When supersetting, you’re getting rid of the rest period between sets and adding intensity to your workouts, and as we know, more intensity means better results. Supersets allow you to overload your muscles without using heavy weights—perfect for someone who wants to get lean, and to improve their strength and endurance, without gaining size.
Here are some examples of effective supersets:
• Lat Pull-downs followed by Plank Dumbbell Rows
• Push-ups followed by Cable Chest Flys
• Leg Extensions followed by Jump Scissor Lunges
Bicycle Crunches followed by Leg Raises
• Dead Lifts followed by Roman Chair Back Extensions
• Alternating Front Lunges followed by Jump Squats
And here’s how supersetting might look in a circuit format:
• Dumbbell Chest Presses
• Dumbbell Chest Flys with Pelvic Thrusts
• Mountain Climbers
Your muscles, bones, and joints act as a system of levers that work together and allow you to lift weight, whether it’s your own body weight or external resistance like a dumbbell. As you increase the distance between the object you’re lifting and the joint (the pivot point) that’s moving, your muscles must generate more force. Essentially, by extending the length of the lever—your arms, legs, or torso—you put your muscles at a disadvantage. They have to use more force to do the same job, making you stronger and leaner at the same time. Here’s an example of what I mean: when you’re doing push-ups on your hands and feet, then drop to your knees, you have essentially shortened the lever, and it’s far easier. Our goal is to make it harder, so we burn more and get better results faster. We want to make the levers longer when we train.
Here are some ways to apply this technique:
• Do push-ups on your hands and feet—even if your hands are on an elevated platform like a step.
• Do lateral raises with straight arms instead of bent ones.
• Do dumbbell flys or cable flys instead of using a pec deck machine, where arms are bent.
If you do leg raises, straighten your leg instead of bending it at the knee.
If you’re still confused as to how best to perform an exercise to maximum effectiveness, follow this guideline: keep your body as long as possible at all times. If you have an option to perform a move with bent legs or straight legs, or with bent arms or straight arms, choose straight for a more intense workout.
Here’s the caveat for all: do the harder version only as long as you can maintain perfect form. You may have to build up to it. I’d rather you try a few harder ones, and then do the easier versions perfectly, than never try. You’ll build strength and amp up results by continually adding more of the challenging versions to your workout.
Maybe you don’t need to shout, but I do want you to twist, a lot and in all different directions. While some machines, like the free motion cable or the cable crossover, require you to use your core muscles to perform the exercise correctly, the best way to implement this tip is to work with your body weight and free weights and avoid machines that artificially isolate muscle groups and function on one plane—front to back, side to side, up and down. A seated hamstring curl is a perfect example. Our bodies don’t work like that in the real world; when we train them that way, it’s unnatural and inefficient. The more you can exercise “three dimensionally,” the more calories you’ll burn, and the more fit and functional you’ll be.
Here are a few exercises to try:
• Lunges with a Chop (a chop is a straight-arm diagonal motion that you do as you lunge)
• Speed Skaters (leap side to side)
• 180 Jump Squats (squat, then jump and turn airborne 180 degrees, squat in the other direction, and repeat)
Lateral Burpees (thrust legs out sideways in plank rather than behind you)
• Surfer Get-ups (jump up from a facedown, lying position as if on a surfboard)
If you don’t feel well versed enough to trust yourself with multidimensional body weight training at first, try working the following classes into your regimen, once a week minimum, to bring yourself up to speed: kickboxing, dance, yoga, or my BODYSHRED.
range of motion, or the distance your body moves from one point to another during an exercise, is key both to being functionally fit and to getting the most out of your workouts. By moving through the full range of motion for each joint, you gain flexibility, mobility, strength, and a better calorie burn.
Muscle turns into fat and or fat gets converted to muscle.
Just as fat can’t transform into muscle, muscle won’t transform into fat. Building muscle and losing body fat are two completely different processes. You burn body fat and build muscle, but the idea of converting one to the other is about as possible as turning lead into gold.
Here are a few ways you might be cheating your range of motion during your training:
• A squat where you fail to bring your thighs parallel to the ground.
• A biceps curl or lat pull-down where you never fully release the weight back to the start position or straighten the arms.
• A lunge where the rear knee comes only about 6 inches from the floor instead of 2 inches.
• A military dumbbell press where you never fully straighten your arms overhead.
Of course, if you’re extremely tight and can’t get all the way down or all the way up, don’t injure yourself trying. But if you’re mindlessly moving through your workout, phoning it in or just not pushing hard enough, stop cheating yourself. Moving your body those few extra inches will increase your burn during and after your training, while simultaneously creating a far more fit body.
Hop, bound, jump, spring, soar, skyrocket—that’s right. I want you to fly, with an advanced fitness technique called
jump training. Although it was first introduced to athletes in the 1960s and 1970s, in the last decade or so, jump training has become a go- to method for improving athletic performance.
Plyo is a form of high-intensity training that can significantly increase your strength, speed, and endurance, allowing you to burn more calories and lose body fat. Additionally, because plyometric training is so strenuous, it increases your metabolic rate or afterburn for hours afterward.
Here’s how it works: you perform a high-velocity movement (like a squat jump) that relies on power generated through the “stretch-shortening cycle.” A muscle that is stretched before an explosive contraction (recoil) will contract more forcefully and more rapidly. Using a squat-jump as our example, “squatting down” just prior to the jump lowers your center of gravity and slightly stretches the muscles involved. This is a prep phase. Then as you straighten your legs to jump and leave the floor, you ignite more explosion potential due to the recoil you just created with the lowered squat.
Here are some other examples of how to use it in your workout:
• A lunge in which you jump as you straighten your legs.
• Box jumps, where you literally bend your knees and then jump onto a box or platform.
Push-ups where you thrust your upper body vertically from the lowered (stretched position) with such force that your hands leave the ground.
To clarify and simplify yet again, adding a jump or a hop to your basic fitness exercises will increase the intensity and calorie burn that comes with the added impact. To get the full benefits of plyo and dramatically enhance the effectiveness of the move, be sure to recoil on the landing. You’ll get the added benefit of the “stretch-shortening cycle” when you explode out of it. Make sure, too, that you protect yourself from injury by landing softly toe to heel.