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Slant and Pant

HIIT Methods: Incline Treadmill Walking

Fitness centers present the client with an endless array of cardio training entertainment.  You can spin a bike, wheel around on an elliptical, run on a treadmill, row, ski,…  My recommendation is that we all start performing more incline treadmill walking intervals.  There are three big benefits you get from incline treadmill intervals that you do not get from any of the other cardio contraptions.

Single leg stance stability is a skill we all need to keep in our fitness programs.  Our independence and well-being is based upon being able to repeatedly balance, load, and then drive forward off a single leg.  Since we are all sitting more, we need to make an effort to practice the elaborate leg to leg “game of catch” that happens when we walk.  It is a sad fact that most of the more popular training devices in the gym have made exercise easier by eliminating the single leg stability demand.

Hip extension is the movement of your thigh bone (femur) behind your body.  Hip extension keeps your hamstring and gluteal muscles strong and responsive.  Well functioning hamstrings and gluteals keep your knees and lower back healthy and happy.  In the age of perpetual sitting and very little squatting and sprinting, hip extension has become a lost movement pattern.  Improving hip extension strength should be part of every training session.

Walking on an incline reboots the postural reflexes that hold us tight and tall.   Prolonged sitting, improper training, and weakness shuts down the team of muscles that keep our spine stable and upright.  As fatigue sets in, you can slouch over on a bike, slump onto the elliptical, or fold into a rower and continue to exercise.  If you lose your posture on the incline treadmill walk, you slide down the belt.  Many fitness clients report this is the hardest part of an incline treadmill session–their muscles in the middle fatigue before their legs.

Finding your initial incline and walking pace will be a trial and error endeavor.  My suggestion is that you start easy.  I find most newbies to incline treadmill intervals do well with a 5% incline and a 3.5 mph pace.  Incline treadmill training makes you stronger in all of the most neglected places.  Many people report they are able to significantly advance incline and speed with four months of dedicated training.  For the best results, frequently vary the intervals that you perform.  These are some of the sessions I have found work well for fitness clients.

90 seconds on / 45 seconds off

Walk for ninety seconds.  Step off the treadmill and rest for forty five seconds and repeat for three to six intervals.  The two to one work / rest ratio works well for nearly all fitness clients that are new to incline treadmill walking.

Quarter Mile Repeats

Get a stopwatch and track your performance on this interval session.  Set the treadmill speed and incline.  Walk ¼ of a mile.  Rest as needed and then repeat.  Perform four ¼ mile incline walks.  Record your time to complete all four ¼ mile walks.  I find this to be a good test of cardiorespiratory recovery capacity.  Work toward a faster performance.

10 seconds on / 10 seconds off x 10

This comes directly from Dr. Gibalas research on HIIT.  This protocol has been shown to be as or more effective at improving insulin sensitivity and cardiorespiratory capacity than longer training sessions.  Set the treadmill at a slightly higher incline.  Walk ten seconds and then step off and rest for ten seconds.  Perform ten of these ten second intervals.

2/10th, 3/10th, 5/10th Mile Interval Session

Get a stopwatch and track your performance on this interval session.  Set the treadmill speed and incline.  Walk 2/10th of a mile.  Rest as needed and then perform 3/10th of a mile.  Rest as needed and then perform 5/10th of a mile.  Record your time to complete all three intervals.   As you get stronger your times will improve.

For more information on the many benefits of HIIT read the The One Minute Workout by Dr. Martin Gibala.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Hills Make It Happen

HIIT Methods: Hill Sprints

Hills sprints are an amazingly effective method of improving fitness and keeping the lower extremities strong.  Sprinting up a hill reduces impact on the joints, improves running mechanics, creates a profound metabolic disruption, and your training session is over in twelve minutes.  Walter Peyton was a huge believer in hill sprints and no one could argue with his results.

Hill sprints are safer than flat surface sprints because the ground rises up to meet the foot.  Maximal lower limb speed and impact is reduced when you sprint up a hill.  Hill sprints make you lean forward into the posture of acceleration.  In order to produce more of the force that lifts the body up the hill, the athlete must pump the arms and drive back through the hips.  Hill sprints are arguably one of the most functional training activities you can perform.

Hill sprints are not for everyone.  They are not appropriate for the physically deconditioned population.  If you have a history of lower extremity orthopedic issues, you want to use another, less aggressive form of HIIT.  Hill sprints take some discipline to complete.  They are not the same as running uphill on an inclined treadmill.  I would argue that hill sprints are the most effective method of disrupting physiological homeostasis–you will get leaner and fitter faster.

The ideal hill is a five to seven percent grade and 100 to 150 yards long.  Most of the hill sprints you will perform are for distances sixty yards or less.  Listed below are some of my favorite hill sprint routines.

20 Yard Hill Sprints

Sprint up the hill for twenty yards.  Walk back down and rest.  Beginners start with three sprints and work your way up to eight sprints.

20 – 40 – 60 – 40 – 20 Yard Hill Sprints

Sprint 20 yards and then rest, 40 yards, rest, 60 yards, rest 40 yards, rest, 20 yards and you are finished.  Recover sufficiently so the next hill sprint does not suffer a breakdown in performance.

40 Yard Hill Sprints

Warm up and perform a 40 yard hill sprint at 80% of full effort.  Walk back down the hill and then perform another 40 yard hill sprint at 85% full effort.  Perform the next three hill sprints at 90-95% full effort.  Five good sprints are all you need.

Watch Mike explain hill sprinting on his favorite hill: https://youtu.be/AHJjmT87g7g

For more information on the many benefits of HIIT read the The One Minute Workout by Dr. Martin Gibala.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

Very Short Term Running Preparation

I was recently asked by a fitness client to post exercise recommendations that would prepare her for outdoor distance running.  This person was two weeks away from being out on the road, running two or three miles a day.  She is middle aged, has a prior history of lower back pain, and her goal was to lose fifteen pounds and “tone up”.   Given such short notice, these are my recommendations.

Perform soft tissue work on a daily basis.  Foam roll the legs and use a lacrosse ball on the plantar fascia.  The vast majority of overuse injuries in runners happen in the lower legs and feet.  Attempt to unwind the myofascial distress created by 600-700 foot impacts a mile.

Improve your reciprocal hip pattern–one hip goes back and the other goes forward.  Most general fitness clients have glaring deficits on one side.  Perform some split squats, posterior lunges, step ups, and or walking lunges.  If you struggle with these activities, I would reconsider running as a fitness activity.

Wake up your gluteals.  Every day, perform fifty or sixty bridges, hip lifts, or leg curls.  You need super gluteal strength / endurance to run distances and avoid lower extremity injury.  If your butt gets sore from fifty bridges, you need to do them more often.

Running is a skill and most recreational runners need some practice.  Running hills will improve gait mechanics, enhance hip extension, and decrease deceleration forces.  Find a fifty-yard hill.  Run up the hill and walk back down.  Perform five hill runs.

You are always better to run too little than to run too much.   Start with very short runs– no more than half a mile.  Increase your total weekly mileage by no more than five percent a week.

You can’t do this in two weeks, but this is my big recommendation to all future runners.  Lose the extra weight before running.  As a method of fat loss, distance running has a poor track record.  It tends to elevate the hormones that make you hungry, and physiological adaptation to distance running happens fairly quickly.  Extra adipose makes you far more likely to develop a running related injury.  I know the guys and gals you see running miles and miles every day are lean.  Please remember that lean runners are successful with running because they possess the optimal body mass to run long distances.  They did not start heavy and become lean.  Put a fifteen pound weight vest on that guy or gal and everything will change.  Their gait will lose efficiency and become less graceful.  The extra fifteen pounds of load creates the biomechanical overload that makes them much more likely to suffer an injury.

My final recommendation is that you not become disappointed if you develop pain.  A runnersworld.com poll conducted in 2009 revealed that 66% of respondents reported a running related injury that year.  The statistics indicate that one third of the participants at you local 10k fun run will require medical attention for a running related injury over the next year.  Have the good sense to stop when the pain begins.

Michael S. O’Hara, PT, OCS, CSCS

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