Go balls to the wall. Rest briefly. Go balls to the wall again. That’s idea behind high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a breed of exercise designed to torch fat, increase stamina, and build strength in minimum time. HIIT workouts are circuits of several 30-45-second bursts of intense activity followed by 15-second recovery periods. They take little time (most can be done in 30 minutes or less) but still build and burn an equal or greater amount of muscle and stamina than a standard workout — yes, because they’re intense, but also because the heart rate-raising balls-to-the-wallness helps your body continue to burn calories long after you’ve hit the showers.
By design, HIIT is ideal for busy dads. But there’s another benefit to the sprint-stop-sprint style: upping that kid-chasing cardio. “Keeping up with children is not a linear experience,” says Chris Jordan, Director of Exercise Physiology at Johnson & Johnson’s Human Performance Institute. While designed to help pro athletes more realistically train for the frenetic pace of on-field movement, HIIT’s random, intermittent bursts of activity — and the heart, lung, and general muscle stamina they build — also align well with the stop-and-go kid lifestyle. “When you do HIIT activity, you’re challenging not only your cardio fitness but also your anaerobic fitness,” says Jordan. “It’s those exercises of higher intensity and shorter duration — like chasing after your bike-riding son.”
Here are three HIIT workouts, each specially designed by Jordan to increase strength, stamina, and functional fitness. Perform them two-to-three times per week and build up to going balls out.
The Cardio Circuit
“The emphasis here is on elevating heart rate to strengthen your heart muscle,” says Jordan. The squats and pushups are reprieves from the cardio exercises, but not enough of a slow-down to let your heart rate drop. As for the crunches? They’re great for the core but also allow you a bit of recovery before starting the circuit a second or third time. “Thirty seconds of any of these exercises is going to push you, but the extra 15 seconds are going to tax you more and produce a greater effect on your heart strength,” says Jordan.”
How to do it: Perform each of the below exercises for 45 seconds at maximum effort, then rest for 15 seconds. Then, move onto the next exercise until all are completed. Do two-to-three times.
- Jumping Jacks
- Mountain Climbers
- High Knees
- Bicycle Crunches
Be sure to: Watch your form and technique. Says Jordan: “Stay on your toes and keep swinging your arms up and down in the jumping jacks For the mountain climbers, make sure your butt isn’t bobbing up and down. Your legs should be going back and forth but your body should be otherwise motionless. The high knees should feel like sprinting – not jogging. Get your knees as high as possible and pump your arms like you’re Usain Bolt. Miss any of these and you’re not working as hard as you can.”
The Functional Circuit
Functional fitness works several muscle groups together as a unit as opposed to training muscle groups in isolation. “A bicep curl is done in isolation, but picking up a child from the ground and holding her at chest level engages many muscle groups,” says Jordan. “As a father, I want functional fitness — not big biceps,” says Jordan. These movements generally work on two or three planes of motion — back and forth, side to side, and rotational — rather than just one, which is what most exercises in the gym involve. “Putting a kid into a car seat requires three planes of motion.”
How to do it: Perform each of the below exercises for 30 seconds at maximum effort, then rest for 10 seconds. Then, move onto the next exercise until all are completed. Perform three circuits.
- Lunge and Rotation
- Spiderman Push-Up
- Side-to-Side Shuffle
- Side Lunge
- Push-Up and Rotation
Be sure to: Take it slow at first. “These are best done at a level of effort that doesn’t compromise form and technique,” says Jordan. “Increase speed and intensity over time rather than going too fast too soon.” And for that lunge rotation, be sure to perform the lunge first while maintaining a stable and upright posture and then rotate in one direction while holding the lower position. “People try to do both at the same time which compromises form,” says Jordan.
The Power Circuit
The “power” here is a reference to explosive power—the type you need for jumping, sprinting, bounding. “Dads need it to join in on toddler activities,” says Jordan. This combo of three very challenging power exercises separated by two core exercises will get you there. This isn’t for beginners. And be warned: “the 10 additional seconds after 30 can feel like an eternity,”
How to do it: Perform each of the below exercises for 40 seconds at maximum effort, then rest for 20 seconds. Then, move onto the next exercise until all are completed. Perform two circuits.
- Plyo Split Squat
- Side Plank
- Power Squat
- One-Leg Bridge
- Power Push-Up
Be sure to: Perfect your power lift form before attempting this circuit. These exercises are not for beginners and require an understanding of solid mechanics before you up the sped.