Ally Taylor talks high-intensity functional training, ViPR and time-efficient workouts.
Traditionally, cardiovascular fitness, muscular strength/endurance and flexibility/mobility have been worked on separately; however, we need all these components for all-round wellness and health. We need to be fluent in creating energising workouts that offer all the main components of fitness congruently and intelligently – strength, endurance, power, cardiovascular fitness, mobility and flexibility.
So, how do we achieve this in a short space of time? Enter high-intensity functional training (HIFT), which sits within modes of training considered as concurrent or concomitant training.
Concurrent training refers to undertaking aerobic and strength training within the same week. The definition of concomitant is ‘existing or occurring with something else, as a related feature or circumstance’. This is training cardio, strength and mobility/flexibility at the same time. Each exercise should increase heart rate, improve strength and endurance, and work at or near end range of a joint to improve mobility.
HIFT is an exercise strategy that variably incorporates functional movements from weightlifting, gymnastics and traditional cardiorespiratory exercise into workouts, which are intended to be performed at high intensity (>70% HRR) from 5-30mins but rarely longer.
There are infinite possibilities for how to structure a workout in this way and progression/results are achieved because workouts are typically accompanied by instructions that encourage a specific effort (e.g., repetitions completed within a set time, time taken to complete tasks, frequency of rests). This is ultimately self-regulated and leads to acute physiological responses which improve markers in cardio fitness (both aerobic and anaerobic), physical composition, muscular strength/endurance/motor skill and, potentially, flexibility/mobility depending on exercise.
HIFT differs in three key areas:
- Structure – Workouts are usually organised into circuits that emphasise density (e.g., completing as many reps as possible in time limit).
- Exercise selection – ‘Functional’ exercise could be classed as whole-body movements that activate multiple muscle groups through universal motor recruitment patterns, mirroring activities of daily life or sport. Functional movements tend to elicit greater force and power outputs, which are linked to better developments in neuromuscular function, muscle mass/muscle quality and strength compared to non-functional exercises. Exercises could also include less-complex segments that build up a bigger skill over time. For example, someone learning to perform a muscle-up might include pull-up variations and triceps dips as part of purposeful skill learning and strength building.
- Variability – The theory of progressive overload states that training must consistently challenge a physiological trait to elicit adaptation. This occurs in HIFT because the overload stimulus is usually accomplished by performing as many good-quality reps/sets in the given time. Every HIFT workout is unquestionably different. This allows the participant to auto-regulate pacing and rest intervals, as well as scale intensity, duration and complexity of movement skill. Across workouts a huge variety of exercises could be given, which elicits adaptation in all areas of fitness.
So, how do we programme HIFT for clients and create exercises that simultaneously increase heart rate, recruit high-intensity motor units for strength/hypertrophy AND work in joint end ranges to train for improvements in mobility/flexibility?
1. Equipment choice
My tool of choice is ViPR. I love how versatile and scalable it is, but you can use other equipment such as dumbbells, kettlebells, TRX or even barbells to work at end range when you use them less traditionally.
Training with ViPR challenges and conditions muscle, fascia, nerves, skin and more because of the long-range positions you can achieve. Moving with load improves balance, agility and dynamic strength in a way you can’t with traditional static strength work and all ViPR movements can be regressed and progressed.
You can achieve HIFT and mobility with bodyweight and a towel too, as well as almost any piece of equipment you can think of. The only limitation is your imagination and understanding of how joints move and muscles load.
2. Strength theme
With HIFT, we draw from movement-based strength and power-based strength, as well as traditional strength. Movement-based strength is whole-body integrated and task specific. The themes include:
We identify which movement patterns are most important to our client’s goal or look most like their sport and create movement patterns with as many variations as possible, including loaded, unloaded, linear and multi-directional, to create variable strength within the basic pattern.
Dead strength is the ability to produce high levels of muscular force with minimal contribution from our elastic tissues such as fascia, ligaments and tendons. Dead strength can include:
- Dead starts – Moving from a static position with a high amount of force, such as a 100m sprinter leaving the blocks. Also useful for general population, as power and the ability to move fast from a resting position can come in handy!
- Deadlifts – Overcoming resting inertia to move a mass vertically against gravity, such as picking up a heavy bag. Deadlifts train muscular strength and endurance.
- Dead shifts – Overcoming resting inertia to move a mass horizontally through gravity, such as lifting a bag into a car without any momentum. Moving a mass perpendicular to gravity trains our muscles, especially our core, to handle force in front and to the side. So, if we need to lift a child into a bath, the body and brain are prepared to accept the load and allow it without pain.
- Ground to standing – Overcoming one’s own resting inertia from ground positions to standing, such as falling and quickly getting up to avoid a car. Ground to standing allows greater independence as we age.
As with fundamental strength, the more variables we programme, the more we work differential parts of muscle, tendon, ligaments and bone to create a robust meatsuit!
Odd-position strength is the ability to move and produce force in odd or uncommon postures/positions while maintaining movement integrity. Many tasks demand the body to move in and through odd positions. We MUST replicate life and sport in the gym.
Lengthening under load (tensile strength) strengthens us in our more vulnerable ranges and creates hypertrophy at end range, meaning you get stronger and more resilient to the potential threat of injury when you need to find these positions quickly in life. Odd-position training also trains neuromotor skill and movement efficacy as the motor system must be intelligent enough to navigate through odd positions safely and effectively. This takes time and practice and the more variables you give the motor system, the more it learns how to deal with many eventualities.
Agile strength is the ability to sustain momentum. Think swings with a kettlebell, skater-type movements and gymnastics. To sustain momentum, the body looks to capture potential energy from elastic tissues (fascia, skin, ligaments and tendons), which reduces the energy required to accomplish the task.
Relative strength is about how much of your bodyweight you can lift for given tasks, from simple squats, lunges, push-ups and pull-ups to more advanced exercises such as muscle-ups and pistol squats.
Power-based strength themes:
- Acceleration – Overcoming inertia to move as fast as possible.
- Deceleration – Stopping momentum or putting on the brakes.
- Agility – Stopping, starting and changing direction rapidly.
- Speed – Moving as fast as possible in one direction.
- Quickness – The ability to react or change body position quickly in any position and any plane of motion. This could be to a coach’s auditory or visual cue or when reacting in sport.
- Plyometrics – Training our body’s elastic system. Plyometrics comprise an eccentric phase (tissue loading), amortisation phase (transition) and concentric phase (tissue unloading). We want a short transition time for greater plyometric effect. When we have good plyometric ability, we have efficient locomotion.
3. Workout structure
When designing a HIFT workout, we borrow from HITT and CrossFit and use protocols such as AMRAPs (as many reps as possible in timeframe), Tabata (20 seconds’ work/10 seconds’ rest x8), AMSAPs (as many sets as possible in timeframe), EMOMs (every minute on the minute), intervals, supersets, pyramids, etc.
Protocols that work to a set time allow the client to self-select pace and work as hard as they can. Other protocols might ask for a certain number of reps or sets and the total time to complete the circuit is recorded. This protocol is helpful if it is repeated to track progress of general fitness and ability. As one of the key tenets of HIFT is variability, you would change your workouts often and avoid repeating them for too long, if at all, based on client preference and ability. Some clients may benefit from performing a workout a few times before moving on, especially newer clients who need to develop skill in movements. HIFT has a non-linear periodisation profile, meaning clients will achieve progression through variety rather than repetition.
4. Circuit sequence
You’ve decided on a strength/power theme. You’ve decided what structure you will use to elicit the intensity, so what order do you place the exercises in? Do some of the workouts you programme and see how they feel to get better at programming the right variables for your individuals. Here are a few pointers:
- Put most complex and new exercises first while physically and mentally fresher.
- Consider vascular blood shunt effects of moving between lower and upper body as, while this creates a higher calorie burn and increased heart rate, it can make some people dizzy and push them too hard.
- Consider whether certain muscles have been pre-fatigued by other exercises (e.g., a push-up fatigues the shoulders and core, so following it directly with a squat thrust is nasty!)? Newer trainees need less stimulus on an area to create high fatigue and reduced performance.
- Do the first and last exercise in a circuit complement or conflict? When repeating a circuit several times, ensure the last movement will not make the first movement more challenging than necessary.
- Every session is whole body, but you can have a bias towards an area such as legs, arms or core.
- Does the circuit increase heart rate but offer exercises within the sequence that give the participant a chance to recover while working muscularly?
In the main video I have programmed a circuit using the following:
- Equipment – ViPR
- Strength Theme – Odd-position Strength, Ground to Standing and Acceleration/Deceleration
- Workout Structure – AMRAP
- ViPR (offset grip) XXX Squat with Shlift then Reverse Lunge opposite leg (Odd Position 30secs) R & L
- ViPR (offset grip) Lateral shuffle into Squat React with Rainbow ViPR Overhead (Odd Position 30secs) R & L
- ViPR Kneeling Lunge, start with ViPR wide hold at chest – quickly lunge back leg through with ViPR Overhead Press (Ground to Standing 30secs) R & L
- ViPR Diagonal Burpee Rainbow to Ground (Ground to Standing 30secs)
- ViPR (cylinder) Turning Knock Run with hard stop from static start (acceleration/deceleration – 30secs) R & L
- ViPR (neutral grip) Turning Squat Jump with High Cartwheel (Acceleration/Deceleration 30secs)
- ViPR Mobility Squat with High Cylinder Lift (Odd Position 30secs)
- ViPR Roll Up into Lunge and Press Oh with Twist (Ground to Standing 30secs)
- ViPR Kneeling Lean Back with Swing Down from Overhead (Acceleration/Deceleration 30secs)
This gives a total work time of five minutes for the first round and 90 seconds for the second. Repeat each circuit three times for a total of 18 minutes’ continuous work or with a small break between sets/circuits depending on the client.
The next two videos show how to use dumbbells and a CMT for the same movements, but changing the equipment will give a different feel to joints and muscles.
This gives you an idea of how to put together a HIFT sequence; however, this is a modality with a lot of flexibility, so be creative while using the guidance above. Have fun playing with less traditional pieces of kit such as ViPR to create loaded movement experiences that offer simultaneous cardiovascular, strength and mobility gains in a time-efficient manner for maximum enjoyment and benefit.
Ally Taylor has been a personal trainer and group exercise instructor for over 21 years and runs a private studio in East Horsley, Surrey. She specialises in training the human being, not just the human body and believes we need more focus on movement for health, rather than just aesthetics. She has also worked in fitness education for over 12 years and has trained over 1000 trainee fitness instructors in that time.
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