There’s a way to get a Batman or Cat Woman bod in no time: pluck a local waitress out of one of the busiest lounges, or a knuckle dragger from a weightlifting gym, then just suit them up. But better yet, knuckle down yourself—with high intensity interval training.
Once, I had a Batman bod. It lasted maybe three months. Bulging biceps. Bulging quads. Perky glutes. Etched abs. In a day, I’d weightlift for one hour, do an hour of martial arts, and cycle three hours. All done during grad school. But I pushed so hard that I got knocked out, Mike Tyson style. I quit. Instead of a knock-out, I could’ve kept the Batman bod the easy way—through high intensity interval training.
But first, let’s backtrack. Ten months ago, I felt sick, barely able to walk a block. So, I pushed myself to weightlift. After a few months weightlifting, the sickness stopped. My waist got lean. My energy soared. Inspired, I added boxing and stationary cycling to my weightlifting routine. Three days on. One day off.
But I started to look skinny, like a granny with good posture. Frail shoulders. Flat bum. Boney frame. What went wrong? My boyfriend suggested, “Google sprinter’s body versus a marathoner’s.” What I saw shocked me: A frail marathoner beside a superhero sprinter. And then I Googled more sprinter versus marathoner bodies. The marathoners looked like grandmas; the sprinters, superheroes.
My problem seemed to lie in doing too much cardio. In other words, I burned off all my muscle by cycling slow and steady. Instead, I needed to do what sprinters do: short all-out stints.
So, I changed my routine.
I stopped boxing six days a week. Instead, I do one day on, one day off. I also stopped cycling 25 minutes a day. Instead, I cycle 5 minutes total: 30-seconds super fast, 30-seconds slow, repeated. And in between my weight sets, instead of resting, I do ten mountain climbs, super fast. I finish with 20 burpees followed by a short stretch. Works up a sweat. Sculpts the body. Takes half the time.
Craig Ballantyne with Chelsea Ratcliffe lay out the high-intensity strength training program and their reasons for it in their book The Great Cardio Myth: Why Cardio Exercise Won’t Get You Slim, Strong, or Healthy—and the New High-Intensity Strength Training Program that Will:
- What is high-intensity interval training? “High-intensity interval training alternates ‘between short burst of very intense activity and periods of rest’” (p. 77).
- HIIT means you do less exercise for better results: “Those who regularly did intense activity had a more favorable waist-to-hip ratio and lower subcutaneous skinfold thickness, despite spending much less time exercising” (p. 70).
- And excessive cardio harms, they say: “Too much cardio can damage the body, increase the production of stress hormones, and have the opposite effect” (p. 82). Even going so far as to claim that “marathons are just about the worst thing you can do if you’re trying to keep your body in youthful condition” (p. 86).
- Instead of excessive cardio, try strength training: “You might be shocked to find out how many of your favorite celebrities and models strength train to get their physiques (even Marilyn Monroe lifted weights)” (p. 114). “Just Google your favorite female celebrity + ‘weight training’ and you’ll get proof!” (p. 121).
- And middle-aged people must strength train: “After age forty, strength training becomes more important than ever, for preserving muscle mass, avoiding injuries, and alleviating joint pain” (p. 112).
- Cardio can reduce muscle; high-intensity interval training can build it: “Steady-state cardio does little to preserve muscle mass and sometimes even depletes it. HIIT, on the other hand, has been found to preserve muscle or build it—and that’s true whether you’re doing an HIIT strength-training circuit or high-intensity interval cardio, such as sprints on a stationary bike” (p. 77).
- Save time and get better results: do high-intensity interval training instead of hardcore cardio. In a study, one group did four minutes (total) of burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, or squat thrusts (with ten second rests every twenty seconds). The other group “ran thirty minutes at 85 percent max heart rate …. The … four minutes worked just as well for aerobic improvement as thirty minutes of cardio” (p. 131). But only the four-minute workout boosted muscle endurance.
- What does high-intensity interval training look like? Bursts of (1) bodyweight workouts (such as squats, push-ups, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, and planks), (2) interval training workouts (such as kettlebell swings), and (3) metabolic resistance training (such as dumbbell rows and one-arm standing dumbbell presses).
During grad school, I cycled highways and lifted like Arnold. The fast twitch muscles got revved, which bulked me like Batman. But five hours exercise is hardly sustainable. So now I do weights and high intensity interval training. Shorter workouts. Better results. A budding Batman bod. And best of all, no Mike Tyson knock-outs.