MATT ROBERTS: Mix up HIIT for max benefits

MATT ROBERTS: Mix up HIIT for max benefits… how to improve your fitness even in later life

A man in his 70s asks Matt Roberts whether he would benefit from some high-intensity interval training (HIIT), picture posed by model

I am a 70-year-old male and reasonably fit for my age. 

I visit the gym three times a week and have done so for years. 

I do weights followed by a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout, mainly on a static bike with 20-second bursts of hard work, followed by a less intense 40-second gap, repeated three or four times. 

Should I be putting up the resistance on the bike to simulate cycling uphill or just pedalling really fast with a low resistance?

HIIT training is a great way to force the body to gain fitness. It’s a type of exercise suitable for any age and can be particularly beneficial to older, less fit people. 

But there is often confusion about what you should be doing and for how long, and just what constitutes intense.

So here is my answer. High-intensity means you could only do whatever it is you’re doing – sprinting, rowing, cycling, using a gym cross-trainer machine, or anything else – for short spells of 20 to 45 seconds at a time, followed by a short recovery period.

During the intense ‘on’ burst, if you were scoring yourself you would give yourself a nine out of ten in terms of intensity and you would feel a strong urge to stop in the final ten to 15 seconds. You don’t stop dead during the recovery ‘off’ period, but carry on doing whatever you’re doing at a relaxed pace. 

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The length of the off period depends on how long it takes you to feel recovered to the point where you’re giving about a five out of ten in terms of effort. About 40 seconds seems fine but this could be a bit longer, or shorter. 

On a bike or cross-trainer, you’ll find you naturally have to up the resistance when you speed up or you end up making the pedals spin faster than you can keep up with.

Suddenly upping the resistance and trying to go faster will make the transition between ‘off’ and ‘on’ less effective – it will be impossible to start sprinting as you’ll need to slowly gather speed.

The health benefits of HIIT come from changing speed, resistance, movement patterns, or all of these combined.

Aged 48 and with ten-year-old twins, Jennifer Lopez, pictured, has the toned midriff of a teen

 At 48 and with ten-year-old twins, Jennifer Lopez has a teenager’s toned midriff.

A lifelong dancer, J-Lo probably has a body-fat percentage akin to a top athlete of between 15 and 20 per cent. 

The healthy range for women is 25 to 32. Having very low body fat – below 12 per cent – is dangerous, and many female athletes suffer health problems such as the absence of periods, as body fat is linked to the production of oestrogen. 

My clients often say they’d like a flatter tummy – and so much can be achieved by just about anyone who’s prepared to devote time to exercise and a good diet. But be realistic. 

Will you look like Jenny? Perhaps not. 

Can you be the best version of yourself? Yes you can.

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