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Where HIIT Workouts Go Wrong!

This past week I had the amazing experience to present along side Jessica for the first time to over 100 trainers in Tokyo! It was also awesome because I got to present alongside my friend and mentor, Robert Dos Remedios. Many of you may be familiar with Coach Dos’ name coming up in many of our DVRT blogs especially for the way he changed the way I see HIIT and how his Metabolic Resistance Training program (MRT) solved some questions for our DVRT system. 

sandbag training

Spending time with Coach Dos and seeing him present never gets old and I always learn some great things about teaching and training. We spend a lot of time talking about the misunderstandings of HIIT as it can be such a powerful tool for so many different fitness goals, but that’s assuming we do it right!

What has been funny to see is the fitness pendulum swing a bit back against HIIT. People are claiming it OVER stresses the system and people shouldn’t use it very much at all. Sadly, one of the big reasons that people are revolting against HIIT isn’t because of true HIIT, but the misuse of the training. 

It really begins with the difference of HIT (high intensity training) and HIIT (high intensity interval training). That one extra word makes ALL the difference in the world! You see, most people that are promoting high intensity are focused more on HIT and just smoking people as hard as possible. I’ll give you an example.

Coach Dos presented many examples he pulled right from social media of people saying they were programming high intensity, but you will see it really isn’t! An example might be something along the following….

sandbag workouts

Jumping Jacks for 50 seconds, rest for 10 seconds

Mountain Climbers for 50 seconds, rest for 10 seconds

Burpees for 50 seconds, rest for 10 seconds

Thrusters for 50 seconds, rest for 10 seconds

Repeat 5 times

Is this program hard? Yes it is Will it make you pour sweat on the ground? More than likely. Is it high intensity? Not really! Why? Most people make the incorrect correlation with being exhausted to being high intensity. 

The problem comes in the duration of the work and the lack of rest involved. The easiest way to explain the issue is to think about running. If I asked you to run as hard as you could for 15 seconds, you would more than likely be at a top speed. If I asked you to run for 60 seconds that intensity is going to come down so you can last the full 60 seconds. It is the old saying, you can’t sprint a mile. 

That means if we want to get the fat loss, the post-exercise burn, the improvements to our blood profile, increased insulin sensitivity, and the muscle gain that HIIT has to offer, we need to re-think how we are applying HIIT. The interval aspect of HIIT means a work to rest ratio. We work for a period and we rest for a period. The rest is ESSENTIAL as if we want to create repeated efforts of high level effort we need rest. 

This is how HIIT started in many track athletes and we would see big ratios of work to rest. Meaning if you sprinted for 15 seconds, it wouldn’t be unusual to see someone rest 150 seconds or more. This is OPPOSITE how most people approach HIIT as you saw in my example above. 

As Coach Dos says, performing true HIIT requires you to be VERY honest about your effort. If you think going 15 or 20 seconds kinda hard is going to create the effect we want from HIIT you are off base. That is where Coach Dos’ MRT program helps give us direction and helps also overtraining. 

sandbag training

Can you work super hard EVERY workout? Of course not! That is why Coach Dos outlines three intervals he likes to use…..




These may not seem like big differences, but when you are going as hard as you can, even a five second change can alter everything! What do these intervals mean? 

15 seconds of work and 45 seconds of rest is a 1:3 ratio of work to rest (you can probably figure out what the rest means) and that isn’t all that much. However, by using a circuit we can avoid specific fatigue and gain greater recovery of a movement pattern. A 15:45 DVRT HIIT workout may look like the following circuit….

A1. MAX Lunge

A2. Push Press

A3. Power Clean

A4. Pull-ups

A5. Lateral Drags

That means you perform 15 seconds of MAX Lunges, then rest 45 seconds and you hit Push Presses and so on. Doing this for 15-25 minutes (depending upon your fitness level) will make you see the difference of true HIIT. How do you know you are going hard enough though? 

Coach Dos recommends you use a weight for a 15:45 where you stay between 6-8 reps while 20:40 is probably 8-10, and 30:30 is 12-20 (I’ll explain some exceptions and differences in a second). This means that if you chose a weight that you can get 9 reps on a Push Press, for example, that is too light and if you can only get 4 you are using a weight that is too heavy. 

Some common questions we have to think about is what about more unilateral exercises like MAX lunges? It is better to perform one side, rest, and then the other side. You also want to select exercises you have more mastery upon because the weight has to be heavier and you HAVE to get moving. 

I’ll admit, 15:45 and 20:40 protocols can be quite advanced, this is where both 30:30 and even 60:60 protocols come into play. The goal of both are to build work capacity through doing more  work to build up our system, proficiency, and tolerance to more intense work loads. According to Coach Dos, people should work with circuits of 30:30 for about 6-8 weeks before integrating a 20:40 workout and even a few more weeks after till they try a 15:45. 

Once you get to that level a week workout might look like the following…..

Day 1: 15:45

Day 2: 30:30

Day 3: 20:40

If you train 4 days a week it could be 

Day 1: 15:45 

Day 2: 30:30

Day 3: 20:40

Day 4: 60:60

What is in a 60:60? This is where DVRT complexes are great, or exercises that don’t typically fit the other models like possibly different carries, loaded mobility, and even methods like battle ropes. These types of workouts are more about facilitating recovery from the more intense intervals during the week. 

Even though I’ve written about these ideas before, I thought outlining them more effectively again would be worthwhile. I see so much talk about HIIT and most people STILL sorely misunderstand its intent and use! If you have questions drop some line on our Facebook page HERE

Check out Coach Dos’ MRT program he did with us for 30% off along with our other great HIIT workouts with coupon code “holiday2020” HERE as well as our Ultimate Sandbags and Online DVRT Certifications/Courses HERE