Fast Exercise: warming up, the rules and the exercises

No fast exercise session should be started without preparation. Our guide will ensure you do things the right way.

How to warm up
No Fast Exercise session should be started without preparation. How much is largely up to you. If you are on a bike, pedal for a couple of minutes at a gentle pace. Jog for the same time if you intend to do a running HIT session. Most HIT studies are based on a warm-up of 2-5 minutes of gentle, workout-specific activity (so, walking or running if you are sprinting, cycling if you are Fast Exercising on a bike). Some researchers think you need less. There are no clear rules. I warm up in just 1 minute for my cycle sessions, sometimes less. Peta prefers 5-10 minutes for her running workouts. A warm-up should literally heat the body to increase blood flow, and loosen the muscles to ensure they are ready for activity. Warm muscles pull oxygen from the bloodstream more easily and trigger the chemical reactions needed to produce energy more efficiently.
How hard should you push yourself
The actual intensity of the Fast parts of the exercise should be around 85-90 per cent of your maximum pace. In practical terms, this means that on short sprints lasting 20-30 seconds, your thighs should start burning after about 15 seconds . If you wear a heart-rate monitor it will indicate how hard you are pushing yourself, but the important thing is to start slowly and build up gradually so your body has time to adapt. Don’t overdo it in the first week.
The rules
Wear whatever you like to do a Fast workout. I do it in my ordinary clothes, Peta prefers workout gear. You won’t sweat a huge amount, so it’s up to you.
Fast Exercise is based on a combination of Fast Fitness (outlined today) and Fast Strength (starting in tomorrow’s paper). As you get fitter, aim to split your time 50:50 between the two.
Warm up for at least a minute, preferably doing the activity you will be performing Fast in the main part of the workout.
With HIT or Fast Fitness, push yourself hard on the Fast sections. If your thighs begin to burn after about 15 seconds of a 20-second sprint or 20 seconds of a 30-second sprint, you know the intensity is right.
Allow yourself to recover, preferably by walking, pedalling or jogging at a gentle pace before “sprinting” again.
With Fast Strength workouts (starting in tomorrow’s paper), move through the exercises with a minimal 10-second breather. Make sure technique stays good.
Always cool down with at least a few minutes of gentle exercise to allow heart-rate and blood pressure to return to normal.
Stay active: to be truly effective, Fast Exercise should involve more than the short bursts of daily activity. It means increasing the amount of daily activity in your everyday life, with less sitting, more stairs, more walking. Ultimately, it is the combination of the two that will have a dramatic effect on your health, fitness and longevity.
The exercises
1. An indoor rowing machine will, like a cross-trainer, work the entire body and be extremely challenging, but it is one of those pieces of equipment you need to be wary of as you can hurt yourself quite badly if you don’t know what you are doing. Good technique is crucial. Start each stroke by pushing with the legs, not pulling with the arms, and keep your wrists in line with the handle so that the pulley wire is parallel to the floor. Make sure your back is straight, not rounded, to increase the power of each stroke and reduce the pressure on your lower back.
2. Skipping is great for HIT beginners. However, it’s quite hard to achieve the necessary intensity once you get fitter. Avoid buying traditional woven ropes as these are heavy (even more so when wet) and slow to turn. Your best bet is a lightweight, flexible plastic or leather gymnastic “speed” rope. Knees and ankles should be flexed but your torso kept straight when jumping. Arms should be at your side with the rope turning from the wrists and forearms.
3. To make an outdoor run into HIT you will have to inject intensity , which means you need to throw in a few sprints, preferably up a hill where you are working your muscles much harder than when on the flat. A hill should be challenging but not so steep that you can’t run up it fast. If you are not especially fit, build up to this . Running well uphill requires rhythm: shorten your stride slightly compared with when you are on the flat and aim to keep your legs moving at a constant rate . Don’t lean forward or back from the waist — your head, shoulders and back should form a straight line over your feet.

When it comes to HIT on a treadmill, the major downside is the mechanics. Switching speeds between the desired intensity for HIT and recovery can be tricky and is almost never instant. Studies have also shown that indoor running burns about 5 per cent fewer calories than running outdoors, partly because of the lack of wind resistance and because the treadmill’s motorised belt propels you slightly. For these reasons, it’s advisable to crank up the gradient . Research at the University of Brighton suggests that treadmill users who want to achieve the same workload intensity as running on flat terrain outdoors need to set the machine at a 1 per cent incline.
4. Stair-running can make a terrific HIT circuit. The American Lung Association says that it provides the same benefits as conventional running in half the time, because you are constantly working against gravity. Stair-running is fairly low-impact on the knees and feet and is one of the best ways to tone bottoms and legs. Make sure that your whole foot lands on each step, to avoid straining the Achilles tendon — and walk (don’t run) back downstairs during recovery periods.
5. Indoor cycling is a good way of getting HIT because a modern indoor bike lets you add resistance, changing the intensity of the ride and it is less likely to cause injuries than some other forms of exercise. However, many people prefer the fresh air and unpredictable terrain they encounter outside. On a road or mountain bike the exercise intensity can be altered by switching to a higher gear and by cycling uphill. Wind can also add resistance, making an outdoor bike ride more intense.