Officer Fitness: Burst Training

HIIT exercises can power you through your shifts.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is perfomed with extreme physical exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds followed by two minutes of rest.High intensity interval training (HIIT) is perfomed with extreme physical exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds followed by two minutes of rest.Photo: J.D. Dougherty

Hectic work schedules and multiple back-to-back shifts make it difficult to find enough time to get into a workout routine, so it’s important to find one that not only fits your timeline but allows for maximum benefits.

One way to do that is through “burst training”—high intensity interval training (HIIT) that utilizes extreme physical exercises lasting 30 to 60 seconds followed by a rest period of one to two minutes.

What You Need

The best part about burst training is that you don’t need specialized equipment to do it. For example, you can utilize a short but fairly steep hill for sprints, or perhaps a stairwell.

If you do have access to a gym, then you can accomplish the same thing with a treadmill at higher speeds with increased elevation.

Either way, there are lots of variations to some of the same types of exercises that require great “bursts” of energy for short periods of time for endurance, strength, and muscle building.

The Benefits of Burst Training

“When you burst, your body creates what scientists call oxygen debt, which it must then work to repay. This recovery requires energy, which your body utilizes via fat oxidation. Literally, you’re burning fat to meet this increased demand,” writes J.D. Virgin, a nutrition and fitness expert and author of the NY Times bestseller “The Virgin Diet.”

She notes further that while lower intensity exercises like simply walking or running at a slow pace on a treadmill work to burn some fat, they don’t “require any metabolic post-exercise repair, so you get limited overall metabolic benefits.”

Research Backs It Up

Others agree. There have been several studies involving burst training which have found it to be superior to regular “cardio” workouts for losing fat and increasing stamina, the latter of which is particularly important for public servants and military members whose jobs involve long, tough hours in all kinds of stress-inducing conditions.

“We now have more than 10 years of data showing HIIT yields pretty much the exact same health and fitness benefits as long-term aerobic exercise, and in some groups or populations, it works better than traditional aerobic exercise,” Todd Astorino, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, San Marcos, who has published several papers on HIIT, told Time magazine.

Additional research supports the contention that burst training/HIIT is better for fat burning than traditional cardio. Stephen Boutcher, an associate professor of medical sciences at the University of New South Wales in Australia, found that a HIIT session can cause a surge of growth hormones in your body as well as other organic compounds which “increase fat burning and energy expenditures for hours after exercise.”

So, with burst training/HIIT, you’re absolutely getting the most out of the shortened amount of time you have to fit in a workout.

What’s more, researchers have found that burst training is safe. One study analyzed 50,000 hours of HIIT data gathered from patients with cardiovascular disease in Norway; after seven years of collecting data, the study turned up just two cases of non-fatal cardiac arrest.

Sample Exercises

Here’s a list of some burst training exercises you can do singly or in combination:

• Rowing machine — one-minute intervals

• Hill sprints/traditional sprints

• Speed bursts with bicycle — 200-300 yards

• Running on inclined treadmill — 1- to 2-minute intervals

• Speed swimming

• Burpees x 10 for 6-10 sets

• Boxing/heavy bag for 1- to 2-minute “rounds”

If you’ve been working out already, then these burst training sessions should be easier to handle for you. If not, dial it back a bit. Astorino says if you are overweight and haven’t been working out in months, you don’t need to sprint right away. Rather, 30 seconds to about 4 minutes of brisk walking on an inclined treadmill or hill will push your heart rate into the HIIT zone.

J.D. Dougherty, a former paramedic, firefighter, and 15-year military veteran of OEF, is co-founder of Survival Legion (, a vet-owned company that stresses functional fitness and draws its name from the Roman Legions.

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