How to Interval Sculpt
Metabolic Conditioning using the Little Method
Metabolic Conditioning classes (MetCon3, Tabata, and other forms of High Intensity Interval Training [HIIT]) are all the rage. I recently read yet another article that touts the benefits of Tabata training, and the internet is teeming with various iterations of Tabata workouts.
For today’s post, I’m featuring the Interval Sculpt or Interval Strength (as I prefer to call it) class program design, because I teach it twice a week: once on Monday mornings in Pasadena, and the other on Thursday evenings in Woodland Hills.
The science behind Interval Sculpt is easy enough to understand. It’s based on the Little Method, where one varies high-intensity stages (interval) with low-intensity stages (sculpt/strength). Here are the work-to-rest ratio differences between the most popular of these HIIT class formats.
Work:Rest ratio is 1:1 (1 min work, 1 min rest). The Little method/protocol is actually 75 seconds, and true rest that allows for 95% effort during the work stage. In the group fitness room, people expect to be doing something, so our “rest” is in the form of a much less intense sculpt/strength exercise. Thus, Interval Sculpt is an iteration of the Little protocol.
Work:Rest ratio is 2:1 (20s work, 10s rest).
Work:Rest ratio is not considered a factor, as it is not a rest-based protocol.
Designing an Interval Sculpt Class Program
1. Exercise selection is important.
For the interval phases, I prefer using body-weight based exercises that have plyometric potential. This allows us to achieve near-max efforts. A second option is to use a squat or lunge based combination that includes an upper body motion, again allowing for near-max effort. This 2nd option tends to lead to muscle fatigue more quickly than systemic fatigue, so keep that in mind, when choosing your exercises. Here are some examples:
- Long-jump to step/Bosu
- Lateral leaps or ice skaters
- Split jumps
- alternating forward lunges with overhead press,
- alternating tap downs from hi-step with rotation
For the sculpt/strength phases, I choose upper body or trunk/core dominant exercises that allow for cardio-respiratory recovery, while focusing on upper body or core conditioning. For true recovery, emphasis need not be on performing these quickly.
Upper body exercises:
- Bent-over rows (3 angles)
- Shoulder combination of overhead press, upright rows, and scapular raises.
- Arm combination of curl-to-overhead press to elbow extension from overhead
- plank variations,
- DB windmills, etc.
2. Use the basic movement patterns as your warm-up.
When the basic movement patterns are taught via the warm-up, the class gets a better idea of what to expect, and what movements are planned. I personally emphasize squat, deadlift, and swing techniques with body weight, while talking the class through postural key points. This helps them sense their level of preparedness for the class program.
I also include corrective exercises that I think are generally useful for the class, such as shoulder mobility, hip mobility, and core stability. Even if what each person needs will vary, it’s easy to spot the areas where most of our students need these exercises. Use them as specific homework, for students whose movements are more limited than the rest.
3. Make technique or execution your primary goal, before adding more speed or weight.
Without good form, faster rates of movement or heavier resistances lifted are likely sources of injury.
4. Emphasize the importance rest periods (i.e. sculpt or strength) play, toward ensuring a higher energy output during the interval periods.
Most of our students want great bang for buck on the time they spend in our classes. I actually have people who want everything to be constantly high heart rate, such that in classes where total rest is called for (i.e. 10 seconds in Tabata), they’re still jogging in place or doing jumping jacks. Perhaps, in the overall picture, their calorie expenditure will end up greater with that approach. However, the metabolic effect that intervals offer are no longer the end result.
5. Incorporate counter-balancing movements as much as possible.
The group room leaves us very limited in offering balanced planes of motion. As my friend and mentor Keli Roberts often says, many group programs don’t realize how much forward flexion they expect from our shoulders, hips, and low back. It’s no wonder that overuse injuries are more common than they need to be.
- Boring Workout? Rev It Up with Tabata Intervals (greatist.com)
- The Complete Guide to Interval Training [Infographic] (greatist.com)
- 10 Interval Training Mobile Apps to Download Right Now (greatist.com)
- Scorch calories in less time (cnn.com)
- HIIT – a 20 min calorie torcher (gofitmoms.com)
- Respect Your Intervals (haroldgibbons.wordpress.com)