Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: July 2013

Sherry Dean   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

Finally, summer is here. Summer is far too short in Canada; you probably have less time to get your workout in, and, if you are anything like me, you’re indulging in barbecues and ice cream.

Finally, summer is here. Summer is far too short in Canada; you probably have less time to get your workout in, and, if you are anything like me, you’re indulging in barbecues and ice cream. The combination is not so good for our waistlines. I have a great workout for you – it’s quick, but not so easy.

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an effective training technique that provides both time and physical benefits. This training style has been around in different forms since at least the mid-1990s, but it has recently gained popularity. I have already discussed some interval training workouts here, so for some of you this will fall in line with your current training. There are a number of different approaches to this training style and there is plenty of excellent information available should you want to explore more options than those listed here.

Benefits of HIIT
Health researchers report that we effectively burn fat at between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of our maximum heart rate over longer durations of exercise. Just take a look at the charts on your treadmill. HIIT may seem to go against this stream of thought because you won’t burn as many calories per session using this method, but there are some great added benefits to HIIT.

Without getting too technical, your body’s oxygen depletion brought on by high-intensity exercise puts demands on your body to replenish itself long after you finish working out.  Your system has to work hard to restore hormone levels, and flush out lactic acids. Studies show that your body can work at an elevated metabolic rate up to 38 hours after HIIT workouts. The higher the intensity of the exercise, the more energy it requires to repair. This is a simplification, but you get the point.


Tabata was developed by Izumi Tabata, a Japanese researcher and professor, and published in 1996. It involves 20 seconds of all-out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times. Before you jump to conclusions, I’m not suggesting you need to invest only four minutes of exercise to be fit, nor am I suggesting that those four minutes are easy. You will be surprised by just how difficult four minutes can be when you are working close to your maximum effort.

The official Tabata program originally consisted of a 10-minute warm-up, followed by four minutes of 20-second intervals of high-intensity work on the bike and 10-second rest intervals. This was done four times a week with one weekly 30-minute session of two-minute intervals. The format below is a five-minute warm-up and cool-down with the four-minute intervals between. 

Tabata can be used for any form of exercise: running, cycling, swimming and strength training, to name a few. You can adapt the exercises to suit your personal needs, but if you are new to fitness, two sessions per week at a lower intensity would be a great start.

The key is to work as hard as you can during each exercise. Use a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) to measure whether you are working hard enough. Your RPE is based on a scale from one to 10, with one being little or no exertion and 10 being as much effort as possible. If you have a heart rate monitor, you can use it to measure your effort.

Here are two sample workouts. Don’t say I didn’t warn you: four minutes can be a very long time!

Tabata No. 1

  • Five-minute warm-up – light RPE (2-3)
  • Exercise 1: Hand-release push-ups. Be sure to take your hands off of the ground each time you lower into the down position.
  • Exercise 2: Burpees. Add a push-up and/or a jump for extra effort.
  • Exercise 3: Jumping jacks. The deeper you squat, the harder you’re working.
  • Exercise 4: Medicine ball squat with wall throws. Hold the medicine ball at chest height during your squat. When you return to a standing position, throw the ball at a wall, at a 10-foot height, catch the ball and squat again
  • Repeat exercises 1 to 4.
  • Five-minute cool-down – light RPE (2-3)

Tabata No. 2

  • Five-minute warm-up – light RPE (2-3)
  • Exercise 1: Jog on the spot. Keep your knees high and your arms pumping.
  • Exercise 2: Mountain climbers. Maintain good body alignment – no high or low glutes.
  • Exercise 3: Split lunge jumps. Lunge with your right leg forward and your hands above head, then jump to switch legs moving your left leg forward.
  • Exercise 4: Elbow plank to push-ups. Start in a plank position from your elbows. Transfer your weight, one arm at a time, from your elbows to your hands. You will end up in a push-up position. Then return one arm at a time to an elbow plank.
  • Repeat exercises 1 to 4.
  • Five-minute cool-down – light RPE (2-3)

Substitute any exercise in this workout. You can simply do a cardio workout – run, bike, elliptical or row in 20-second sets with 10-second rests. If you need more of a challenge, increase the number of intervals or increase the time limit for each set to 30 or 40 seconds. 

Have fun, work hard and play safely.

Sherry Dean is a career firefighter/engineer with Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency Service. She is an NFPA level 1 instructor with hazmat technician and special rescue certifications. Sherry has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and training including the Scott FireFit Challenge, competitive bodybuilding, team sports and personal training. Contact her at

Print this page


Stories continue below