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The Benefits of High Intensity Training for Motocross

by TRX Editor


Another great article from our good friends over at Fitness Anywhere (makers of the TRX Suspension trainer) that is perfect for the motocross athlete. Enjoy - Virtual Trainer

Mike Boyle is a world-renowned strength and conditioning coach and one of the most sought after speakers in the area of performance training and athletic rehabilitation. Mike's client list reads like a "who's who" of athletic success spanning every major professional sport, and his gym, Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, was ranked best gym in America by Men's Health.

Recently on his blog, Mike tackled a concept that some of you may be familiar with: high intensity interval training, or HIIT for short. HIIT is a form of cardio exercise performed in short and intense bursts (intervals) to encourage fat loss. If you're serious about maximizing your time spent working out so you burn fat while building endurance, continue reading as Mike tells you how to HIIT.

The focus of this article will be not why, as we have already heard the why over and over, but how. How do I actually perform HIIT?

Every fat loss article we read espouses the value of interval training for fat loss. The term high intensity interval training (HIIT) is thrown around so much that many people just assume they know what it is. However, among all of the recommendations I see to perform HIIT, very few articles contain any practical information as to what to do or how to do it. The focus of this article will be not why, as we have already heard the why over and over, but how. How do I actually perform HIIT?

To begin, we need to understand exactly what interval training is. In the simplest sense, interval training is nothing more than a method of exercise that uses alternating periods of work and rest. The complicated part of interval training may be figuring out how to use it. How much work do I do? How hard should I do it? How long should I rest before I do it again?

Interval training has been around for decades. However, only recently have fitness enthusiasts around the world been awakened to the value. The recent popularity of interval training has even given it a new name in the literature. Interval training is often referred to as high intensity interval training (HIIT), and it is now the darling of the fat loss and conditioning worlds. The truth is, you can also do low intensity interval training (LIIT). In fact, most people should not start with HIIT but LIIT. HIIT may make you vomit if you don't work into it.

Research Background
In case you have been in a cave for the last decade, let's quickly review some research. A recent study, done in Canada at McMaster University (often referenced as the Gibala Study after lead researcher Martin Gibala) compared 20-minutes of high intensity interval training, consisting of a 30-second sprint followed by a 4-minute rest, with 90 to 120-minutes of training in the target heart rate zone. The result was amazing. Subjects got the same improvement in oxygen utilization from both programs. What is more amazing is that the 20-minute program only requires about two minutes and 30-seconds of actual work.

A second study that has become known as the Tabata study again shows the extreme benefits of interval training. Tabata compared moderate intensity endurance training at about 70 percent of VO2 max to high intensity intervals done at 170 percent of VO2 max. Tabata used a unique protocol of 20-seconds work to 10-seconds rest done in seven to eight bouts. This was basically a series of 20-second intervals performed during a 4-minute span. Again, the results were nothing short of amazing. The 20/10 protocol improved the VO2 max and the anaerobic capabilities more than the steady state program.

Work to Rest Method
There are two primary ways to perform interval training. The first is the conventional work to rest method. This is the tried and true method with which most people are familiar. The work to rest method uses a set time interval for the work period and a set time interval for the rest period. Ratios are determined, and the athlete or client rests for generally one, two or three times the length of the work interval before repeating the next bout. The big drawback to the work to rest method is that time is arbitrary. We have no idea what is actually happening inside the body. We simply guess. In fact, for many years, we have always guessed as we had no other "measuring stick."

Heart Rate Method
With the mass production of low cost heart rate monitors, we are no longer required to guess. The future of interval training lies with accurate, low cost heart rate monitors. We are no longer looking at time as a measure of recovery, as we formerly did in our rest to work ratios. We are now looking at physiology. What is important to understand is that heart rate and intensity are closely related. Although heart rate is not a direct and flawless measure of either intensity or recovery status, it is far better than simply choosing a time interval to rest.

To use the heart rate method, simply choose an appropriate recovery heart rate. In our case, we use 60 percent of theoretical max heart rate. After a work interval of a predetermined time or distance is completed, the recovery is simply set by the time it takes to return to the recovery heart rate. When using HR response, the whole picture changes. Initial recovery in well conditioned athletes and clients is often rapid and shorter than initially thought. In fact, rest to work ratios may be less than 1:1 in the initial few intervals. An example of a sample workout using the heart rate method for a well conditioned athlete or client is shown below.

Interval 1 - Work 60 sec, rest 45 sec
Interval 2 - Work 60 sec, rest 60 sec
Interval 3 - Work 60 sec, rest 75 sec
Interval 4 - Work 60 sec, rest 90 sec

In a conventional 2:1 time based program, the rest period would have been too long for the first three intervals, rendering them potentially less effective. The reverse may be true in a de-conditioned athlete or client. I have seen young, de-conditioned athletes need rest up to eight times as long as the work interval. In fact, we have seen athletes who need two minutes rest after a 15 second interval. In the heart rate method, the rest times gradually get longer. The first interval is 1:.75 while the last is 1:1.5.

The 220 minus age formula is flawed on two key points

The Problem with Formulas
At least 70 percent of the population does not fit into our age-old theoretical formulas for measuring heart rate. The 220 minus age formula is flawed on two key points:

  1. it doesn't fit a significant portion of the population, and
  2. it is not based on research.

Even the developer of the now-famous formula admits that his thoughts were taken out of context. The more accurate method is called the Heart Rate Reserve Method or Karvonen formula, which looks like this:

Target Heart Rate = ((max HR − resting HR) × %Intensity) + resting HR example

For example: What is the target heart rate for 80% intensity assuming a max heart of 200 and resting heart rate of 60?

Answer: (200-60) x .8 + 60 = 172

Or use this calculator: Karvonen Calculator

The key to the Karvonen formula is that it looks at larger measures of fitness by incorporating the resting heart rate and is therefore less arbitrary. However, the 220 minus age formula will suffice for establishing recovery heart rates.

Interval Training Basics
The longer the interval, the shorter the rest period as a percentage of the interval. In other words, short intervals have a high muscular demand and will require longer rests when viewed as a percentage of the interval. Fifteen second intervals will need at least a 2:1 rest to work ration. Three to one will work better for beginners.

I recommend the following work to rest ratios for intervals:

15 seconds work : 45 seconds rest for beginners (3:1); for more advanced athletes, 30 seconds rest (2:1)
30 seconds work: 1:00 to 1:30 rest (3:1 or 2:1)
1:00 work: 1:00 to 2:00 rest (2:1 or 1:1)

Just remember, as the intervals get longer, the recovery time (as it relates to the interval) may not need to be as long. In other words, a 15 second sprint may require 30 to 45 seconds rest, but a two minute interval may only need to be followed by a two minute rest.

Aerobic Intervals?
The biggest benefit of interval training is that you can get a tremendous aerobic workout without the boredom of long steady state bouts of exercises. In fact, you can get superior benefits for both fitness and fat loss by incorporating interval training. If the heart rate is maintained above the theoretical 60 percent threshold proposed for aerobic training, then the entire session is both aerobic and anaerobic.

This is why my athletes do almost no "conventional" aerobic training. All of our aerobic work is a by-product of our anaerobic work. My athletes or clients can get their heart rate in the recommended aerobic range for 15 to 20 minutes, yet in some cases, they do only three to minutes of actual work.

Modes of Interval Training
Although most people visualize interval training as a track and field concept, our preferred method of interval training is the stationary bike.

Although I think running is the theoretical "best" mode of training, the facts are clear. Most Americans are not fit enough to run. In fact, statistics estimate that 60 percent of those who begin a running program will be injured. In a fitness or personal training setting, that is entirely unacceptable. Females, based on the genetics of the female body (wider hips, narrower knees) are at potentially even greater risk. Physical therapist Diane Lee says it best in her statement, "You can't run to get fit. You need to be fit to run."

Interval training can be done on any piece of equipment including the TRX Suspension Trainer. One of the most expeditious choices, in my opinion, is a dual action bike like the Schwinn AirDyne. The bike allows, in the words of performance expert Alwyn Cosgrove, "maximum metabolic disturbance with minimal muscular disruption." In other words, you can work really hard and not injure yourself on a stationary bike.

Fit individuals can choose any mode they like. In my mind, the worst choice might be the elliptical trainers. Charles Staley, another noted training expert, has a concept I believe he calls the 180 Principle. Staley advocates doing exactly the opposite of what you see everyone else in the gym doing. I'm in agreement. (Take a look around and see how many people are NOT on the Concept2 rower....- Virtual Trainer)

Walking on a treadmill and using an elliptical trainer seem to be the two most popular modes of training in a gym. My conclusion, supported by Staley's 180 Principle, is that neither is of much use.

Research continues to mount that interval training may improve fitness better than steady state work. The big key is not what to do any more but, how to do it. For maximum effect, get a heart rate monitor and go to work.

One warning. Deconditioned clients may need three weeks to a month of steady work to get ready to do intervals. This is OK. Don't kill a beginner with interval training. Begin with a quality strength program and some steady state cardiovascular work. The only good use for steady state work in my mind is preparing an athlete or client for the intervals to come.

About the Author: Mike Boyle is co-owner and content editor for, one of the world’s leading resources for performance enhancement information. He is Strength and Conditioning Coach with the US Gold Medal Olympic Teams in Women’s Soccer and Women’s Hockey and also for the Ice Hockey team at Boston University. The author of Functional Training for Sports and Designing Strength Training Programs and Facilities, Mike has appeared in well as over 20 instructional DVDs. He currently owns and operates Mike Boyle Strength and Conditioning, one of the nation’s first and most successful private strength and conditioning companies.

That's it for now, until next time, good luck with your training and remember, if you have a question, log on to the Virtual Trainer Expert Forum and have your question answered by a panel of experts. In addition, be sure and check out the Racer X Virtual Trainer archive section. Your complete one-stop information zone for motocross fitness. VT Signature

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  1. Gravatar
    Mark S. May 24, 2012 at 9:59 am

    What's so bad about elliptical? You are using your total body as opposed to the bike and running. I have been cross training on one in preparation for motocross and also my two mile run (Army standard physical fitness test.) The elliptical is giving me great cardio workout without abusing my already-problematic lower back. I think most people in the gym really sham on the elliptical and that is the problem. If you are burning the calories and hitting our target heart rates, I don't see how it can be bad. If you are doing anything slow enough that you can sit there and read a magazine or book, you aren't working hard enough!
    The upper body and hand grip aspect of the elliptical is also beneficial for motocross, as opposed to running or sitting on a stationary bike. Sometimes I like to work in 10-15 minutes of the Concept 2 rower before or after my 30-40 minutes on the elliptical though.

  2. Gravatar
    Scott May 24, 2012 at 10:15 am

    What's so bad about the treadmill? I've won 4 weight loss contests at work using only my treadmill. In your face!

  3. Gravatar
    Brad May 24, 2012 at 11:33 am

    Last winter I did spinning with heart rate zones - helped a little but was disappointed with my endurance on the track. This winter CrossFit and WOW what a difference!

  4. Gravatar
    Taylor May 24, 2012 at 12:49 pm


    Nobody is saying that the treadmill is bad for you. The article is trying to say that instead of jogging on the treadmill for an hour, you can get the same benefits doing a 15-20 minute HIIT workout. I don't know about you, but I value my time and would rather bust my ass for 15 minutes rather than an hour of mediocrity. Also, the 15 minutes of HIIT will condition you as an athlete on a motocross track far better than a treadmill or elliptical will set at a constant pace for long periods of time.

  5. Gravatar
    Dave May 24, 2012 at 1:37 pm

    You people are all funny! Go ahead and waste your valuable time on the tread mill or eliptical, I will be learning how to maximize my training with this article. So many people want to defend the way they do things but cant understand why they dont get gains. Continue doing the same thing and get the same results or try something new and get different ones. If they are bad results oh well you have learned what not to do, if they are better results you are further ahead !

  6. Gravatar
    M May 24, 2012 at 3:50 pm

    Look people you can talk about your treadmills and elliptical machines all you want to. Your still not getting the same work out as you are actually running outside. That's like saying you get as good of a workout from fixed weight machines as you do free weights. Which is nonsense. And this dude is 100% correct. HIT is legit and SO MUCH better for you than a sustained moderate pace. I've actually done HIT and it works wonders. The first month is HELL but you'll be in the best shape you've ever been in, endurance wise. Highly recommend it!

  7. Gravatar
    Lancaster May 24, 2012 at 9:12 pm

    "A closer examination of the studies comparing intervals to steady state conditioning methods reveals that those in the higher intensity groups do, in fact, tend make more rapid improvements in VO2 max. The problem, however, is that they also plateau much faster as well when compared to those in the lower intensity training groups. The infamous Tabata research, for example, one of the most commonly cited pieces of literature used to disparage the use of roadwork, showed that the improvements in VO2 max of those in the interval training group plateaued after just 3 weeks. Those in the steady-state group, on the other hand, continued to make improvements throughout the study period." - Joel Jamieson of

    I'll continue my aerobic base training in the off season.

  8. Gravatar
    Old mate May 25, 2012 at 12:32 am

    Is extreme continuous intensity for race distance a good form of training. Eg30mins. I will line up 10 exercises that cover the body,I change the except sizes and order every session. They include strength,power,speed,coordination,ruthenium and concentration and the rider will do 1min on each of the 10 exercises for 3 rotations

  9. Gravatar
    Pelotrain May 25, 2012 at 1:52 am

    Everything has a place in training and without a correct aerobic base HiT will have a less benefit effect on you. Long hard sessions are beneficial to evaluate how a athlete functions under stress and to create mental and physical strength to allow a athlete to deliver performances when already fatigued (such as 2 weeks mesocycles that are purely intensity based However, the scientific literature is very conclusive when it comes to comparing polarised training (very short, high intensity training combined with longer, very low intensity training) VS longer, harder training. Polarised training is more beneficial and delivers better performance outcomes. For any athlete to adapt and increase his training status, he will have to be able to produce a high enough stress and overload on the interval sessions prescribed right now. This requires the athlete to be adequately recovered so that he can reach the targets. Failing to do so will result in lack of progress and this is the mistake that so many professionals make because they think harder and longer is better.

  10. Gravatar
    Lancaster May 25, 2012 at 7:08 am

    Boyle does not seem to feel aerobic base training has its place. I think he is flat out wrong. He also does not feel heavy squats have there place. I think he is wrong about that too. If you decide to forgo long slow training because HIIT will do the same thing... Good luck with that. Note: I am not saying that I do not utilize HIIT in my training, just that it does not replace proper base training.

  11. Gravatar
    JerkyChew May 25, 2012 at 10:36 am

    The machine you exercise on can be irrelevant, depending on the type of exercise.

    This isn't exactly another defense of the elliptical, but I did want to bring up a couple factors, seeing as how it's what I use to do my cardio training. First, My ankle is junk from a crash years ago and I cannot run more than once every couple weeks, so the elliptical is what I use instead. Second, there are two kinds of Ellipticals that I use.

    The first uses heart rate monitors to keep you your target heart rate for the duration of the exercise. I'll agree that it's a bit old-school compared to the HIIT workouts but it does keep me honest. I don't remember the name of that manufacturer.

    The second is made by Cybex, and it has some really awesome routines built into it. If done right, it can be used as a sort of HIIT replacement. I usually use one of the hill routines, but the key is really how I use them - There's a little tracker on screen that tells me when a "hill" is coming up... Otherwise the display is "flat". When I'm in 'flat' mode, I go at a reasonable pace without using the hand thingies. But when it's hill time, I grab the hand thingies and push as hard as I possibly can. Since the tracker tells me when the hill section is ending, I know how hard to push without dying because I know where the end game is.

    What this does for me is really get some intense workouts in, while resting between periods of intensity. The added bonus is that during my "cool-down" periods, I'm still exercising. I have found that it lets my intense sections be much more intense than just going 100% for as long as I can.

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