Canadian Firefighter Magazine

Fit for Duty: HIIT hard and get fit faster

Sherry Dean   

Features Fitness Health and Wellness

Recently I read yet another article on HIIT, high intensity interval training. The author touted HIIT as the latest greatest. It is hardly that. HIIT has been around for decades, but science does continue to support the benefits and results of this type of training.

There is a copious amount of information available if you are interested in learning why HIIT works, but for today, you are just going to have to trust me. The great news is the workouts are shorter. The bad news is, it’s not easy.

Fire fighting and HIIT are not dissimilar. One of the fundamental concepts of HIIT is working at 85 per cent to 95 per cent of your maximum effort with short bouts of rest or resting work. Sound familiar? Drag a hose up the stairs and down the hall, kneel and spray water, repeat. HIIT is what we do a lot of the time on the fire ground and without the benefits of dynamic warm up. That, in and of itself, is a great reason to use HIIT to maintain your fitness or, at a minimum, put it in your repertoire.

There are a number of different methods of HIIT including power intervals, Tabata, and the little method, some of which we have covered in past columns. All of these types of HIIT training hinge around similar principles: work as hard as you possibly can for a short period of time with limited recovery. This workout is a modification of a 4×4 with longer periods of work in one interval and active recovery build in the next interval. You should feel spent after intervals one and three. Don’t leave anything in reserve. Work as hard as you can without stopping if possible. I hope you enjoy.

4 X 4 – Each interval is a total of four minutes with each exercise lasting one minute. Intervals 2 and 4 are active recovery rounds.


Interval 1
Thrusters – Squat with overhead press. Squat stance holding a sand bag or hose pack tight to your chest with your hands high at the shoulder level. Squat aiming for parallel or lower, and return to start position. Press the bag/pack over your head, keeping your spine neutral and core tight. The finish position is with your arms directly overhead, your head slightly forward so you have a straight line from hands to feet.   

Travelling push-ups – Do a push-up then use your arms to travel right or left, push up, then repeat.

Split jumps – Start in lunge position with arms reaching above, jump up and switch legs.

Star jumps or jumping jacks – Star jumps start from a feet-together, hands-touching-feet position. Jump up extending your arms and legs to the side at the same time and return to the start position. It looks like cheerleading.

Interval 2
Plank – Forearms or straight-arm position. One or both feet on the ground.

Superman/banana – Lie on your back with arms and feet off the ground in a banana shape, without using your arms, roll to the side and onto your stomach in a curved superman position, arms and feet off the ground. Repeat, but remember to roll in opposite directions.

Reach throughs – Laying on your back with knees bent, reach through your legs with your right hand, then left hand, followed by reaching outside your right leg to your heel, and then the left side.

Plank jacks – From a forearm plank, jump your feet narrow and wide as if doing a horizontal jumping jack. Arms do not move.

Interval 3
Prison burpees – From a standing position, hit the ground (chest must touch the ground) and complete three push-ups before jumping back up. A quick hop at the top and hands clap above your head.

Jump tucks or driving high knees – Regardless of which one you choose, the idea is to drive the knees as high into the chest as you can. You want to get some air on this exercise.

Lines – 10-metre sprint from line to line. Touch the line at each turn around.

Step or jump-ups – Use a box or stairway. Each step up should be between 18 inches and 24 inches high. Make sure you open your hips (standing straight up) at the top of each step/jump up. Alternate lead legs if you are stepping.

Interval 4
Supine leg march – Laying on your back with quads perpendicular to the ground, extend one leg to almost straight just off the ground and return to start position. The key here is to keep your back connected to the ground and move only one leg at a time.

Side plank – From forearm or straight arm (right side only this time).

Russian twist – Start in a seated position with legs slightly bent and upper body angled back. Using a light weight or medicine ball in both hands, move it from your right side to your left. You can touch the weight/ball to the ground on each side or keep it slightly elevated at all times. 

Sherry Dean is a career firefighter/engineer with Halifax Regional Fire & Emergency. She has more than 20 years of experience in fitness and training.

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