High intensity interval training (HIIT) is working at 80-90% of your maximum effort for short periods followed by periods of active recovery in which you work at a lower intensity. Achieving maximum effort requires focus. Your focus determines the number of muscle fibers that need to contract and the speed of those contractions. It’s important, then, that you are actively engaged, not reminiscing about vacation or stressing about your workday, when you are performing HIIT. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise five days a week, or 20 minutes of high intensity exercise three days a week. That means that if you work at a high intensity, you meet your exercise goal in less time. For that reason, HIIT is popular in all types of exercise, both on land and in the water. Whether you are taking a water fitness class or working in your backyard pool, you may be wondering how to achieve high intensity in the water.
Step One: Start with the Base Moves. In shallow water the base moves are walk, jog, kick, rocking horse, cross-country ski, and jumping jacks. Walking is good for warming up and cooling down. Jog, kick, rocking horse, cross-country ski and jumping jacks all have multiple variations. (1) Jog. You can jog with the feet hip distance apart or wide. You can cross the midline in front with an inner thigh lift or cross the midline in back with hopscotch. You can lift the knees in front or the heels in back. (2) Kick. You can kick forward, kick across the midline, kick side to side, or kick backward. (3) Rocking horse. Rocking horse can be done front to back or side to side. (4) Cross-country ski, jumping jacks and all the base moves can be varied by using different arm movements or different foot positions.
Step Two: Increase the Range of Motion. Large moves take more effort than smaller moves. Increasing the range of motion is one intensity variable. Get the knees high in your jog and pump the arms in big movements. Start your inner thigh lift with the feet wide apart and lift the inner thigh high. Start your hopscotch with the feet wide too. Kick higher – front, side or back. Lift your knees high in front and your heels high in back with your rocking horse. Perform cross-country ski with your full range of motion. Take your feet as wide as possible in your jumping jacks and cross the legs in the center. Focus on achieving your full range of motion. Depending your level of fitness, you may find large moves to be really intense. Alternate base moves with exercises using full range of motion for your intervals until that becomes easier.
Step Three: Add Speed. Faster moves increase intensity. The tendency, however, is to decrease the range of motion as speed is increased. You work much harder if you maintain the same full range of motion while speeding up. Pay attention to your exercises to avoid slowing down. Speed is a second intensity variable. Alternate base moves with faster exercises for your intervals until that becomes easier.
Step Four: Add Acceleration. There are two ways to do this. (1) Accelerate off the pool floor, or jump. Take your jog to a leap and your wide jog to a frog jump. Perform your inner thigh lift and hopscotch with a rebound. Rebound with your kicks as well. Jump and tuck your feet under you with cross-country ski. With jumping jacks, jump and touch your heels together before landing with your feet wide. (2) Accelerate against the water’s resistance, or add more force to the move. Take your jog to a steep climb by stretching out your arms and pressing alternating hands down while at the same time lifting the knees high and then pressing the heels down toward the pool floor, as if climbing a steep mountain with trekking poles. Lift your inner thigh with power as your press the opposite hand down forcefully toward the thigh. Perform a high kick powering the leg on the downward phase, or power both upward and downward. Kick side to side with arms and legs opposite, adding power to the move. Instead of rebounding as you kick side to side, you can stay grounded, and you might be surprised at how hard it is. Karate front kicks and side kicks also involve using force against the water. Kicks backward, cross-country ski and jumping jacks can all be performed with power. Try the cross-country ski low in the water so that more of your body has to push against the water’s resistance. Be mindful about what you are doing because the harder you push against the water, the harder the water pushes back. Acceleration is a third intensity variable. Alternate base moves with accelerated moves for your intervals until that becomes easier.
Step Five: Combine Intensity Variables or Work in More than One Plane. One strategy for continuing to perform HIIT once you have achieved your fitness goals is to combine intensity variables. Go for full range of motion, speed and jumping, or full range of motion, speed and power all at the same time. You can also continue to accelerate while traveling, either by rebounding and jumping or by continuing to use force as you move across the pool. Another strategy is to work in two or three planes at once. You can do this by alternating one move in the frontal plane, such as a frog jump with another move in the sagittal plane, such as a tuck ski. A second way to work in two planes is to combine arm moves in one plane with leg moves in another plane. Examples include kick side to side (frontal plane) with arms sweeping side to side (transverse plane); cross-country ski (sagittal plane) with palms together sweeping side to side (transverse plane); and high kick (sagittal plane) clapping over the kick (transverse plane) then under the kick (frontal plane). Continue to focus on what you are doing, and your periods of high intensity will leave you breathing hard. You will need those periods of active recovery to catch your breath. For more information on interval training in the pool, see my book Water Fitness Progressions.
High intensity interval training is also done on land, and it’s always a good idea to cross train if possible, doing some of your workouts in the pool and some on land. For those who are not comfortable training in a gym, you can still do HIIT at home. If you enjoy walking in your neighborhood, try picking up the pace to a fast walk for short periods, again being mindful of what you are doing, followed by periods of walking at your normal speed for active recovery. As you continue to practice, you will find that the pace of your fast walking increases. If you prefer to run, try HIIT running. There is some great information on HIIT running at home on Garage Gym Reviews at https://www.garagegymreviews.com/hiit-running-workouts
See you in the pool!