High-intensity workouts are a time efficient way to become fitter and stronger, and AUT Millennium gym offers a range of high-intensity classes. The following tips will help you to make the most of your high-intensity workouts.

Learn exercises.

Most gym exercises will have two aims: to challenge your cardiovascular (heart and lung) capacity, and to improve muscle strength. To get the benefits of both, you need to correctly perform the exercises to get the most from your class. You will notice you will usually do repetitions of exercises in fitness classes. Learn those exercises that challenge your movement skills or coordination, and be pro-active by asking the personal trainer if you are unsure about the correct technique, and what muscle groups you are targeting. Remember: it’s better to slow down and complete the exercise correctly, rather than rush and sacrifice good form and technique.

Know how to modify every exercise.

Modify exercise to match your skill level. You do this in order to prevent excessive loading to structures that are not capable to deal with specific exercise. If your ankles or hamstrings are less flexible deep squatting (and all related exercises in this position) will be affected, and will result in suboptimal squatting technique, and likely more stress for your knees. Modify this to less deep squatting will still achieve benefits of the exercise and will prevent possible injury and overstrain. This is just one example. Always inform your fitness instructor about any active injuries or restrictions and s/he will be able to suggest how to modify specific exercises.

Always warm-up.

Warm-up routines are an integral part of every training session because these routines improve performance. The physical and psychological aspects of the warm-up routine are equally important. The key aspect of physical warm-up is to raise your core and muscle temperature, as well as heart rate, which activates your aerobic energy systems and improves muscle performance. A good warm up routine gets you into the right mood for a high-intensity workout. An anticipation of physical challenge and anxiety that comes with that should be not lessened or disregarded as these feelings can enhance your focus and skill execution during the workout.

The warm-up doesn’t have to last very long: 10-15 minutes are sufficient to prepare you for the high-intensity workout.

  • Start from 5 minutes of low-to-moderate intensity global exercise like running, rowing or cycling
  • Add another 5 minutes for dynamic mobility drills (try a short dynamic yoga sequence or run through several easy exercises that will challenge your range of motion without using any weights)
  • Finish your warm-up routine (another 5 mins or less) with several higher intensity bursts to activate neural networks and anaerobic system (for cycling and running workouts, short 10s fast sprints work best, and for fitness classes in the gym – short and explosive bouts of rope jumping, burpees or mountain climbers will do)

Polarise your training.

The benefit from high-intensity workouts comes when you approach them being well recovered and rested in order to be able to maintain high exercise intensity for longer, challenge your movement skills and maintain better mental focus. For that reason, it is important to separate hard training days with recovery or easy-intensity training days. For example, if you had functional fitness class or high-intensity spin class one day, choose a yoga class, swimming session or easy run for the following day.

I have previously discussed how to polarise your training, and you can find the article here.

Don’t do high-intensity workouts while sick.

Regular exercise has the power to improve your health and strengthen the immune system, but it can be detrimental if you push yourself on the days that you are sick. During acute episodes of viral infection the immune system’s defenses are already weakened, and a high-intensity workout will not help with your recovery. It is best to follow the rule of no exercise with fever or while general fatigue symptoms persist, and only easy intensity and shorter duration workouts if cold symptoms are mild and localised around your nose or neck.

Female athlete considerations.

The effects of the menstrual cycle on exercise performance are not often talked about. The peak of hormones (oestrogens and progesterone) in the luteal phase (14th to the 28th day of your cycle) affects body’s capacity to regulate core temperature, body water levels and sleep. This can affect exercise performance, especially during high-intensity exercise workouts. Though all of those responses are highly individual, don’t be surprised that during that period of your cycle, exercise might feel subjectively harder, especially in hot and humid weather conditions outdoors or in the gym.

If you feel that you are affected by the change in the hormonal environment in your body, it might be best to plan your hardest workouts for the later period of your cycle. You can always choose workouts that are less demanding on the heart and lungs but are more skill and strength-based.

Start preparing for your high-intensity session in the morning.

Even if most high-intensity gym sessions are relatively short (30-45 minutes), suboptimal hydration and energy levels can affect the quality of your session. Thirst is usually a good indicator if your body needs to top up with fluids, however, you can also check your urine colour, as dark(-er) morning urine colour is an indicator that your hydration levels are not optimal. Just be aware that certain food (for example – beetroot) can naturally colour your urine.

The primary fuel that your body is burning during high-intensity sessions are carbohydrates (stored as glycogen in your muscles). Starting your session with half-empty glycogen stores might compromise your endurance and the intensity at which you will be able to complete your session. It is not difficult to fix this: in the evening before your HIT gym session have a meal that contains carbohydrates (e.g. kumara or rice), and several hours before the session consume a snack that will keep your energy levels at normal levels.


Caffeine is a well-known ergogenic aid that could improve exercise performance. Caffeine can reverse the feeling of drowsiness and reduce the perceived exertion of the workout. You can find it not only in coffee but in tea, cacao, various sports drinks and energy gels. Only small to moderate amounts of caffeine are sufficient to benefit high-intensity and prolonged endurance exercise performance. Therefore, one or two cups of coffee (for an average 70 kg person) is a sufficient amount. Caffeine is absorbed quickly and its effect peaks after 30-60 minutes and lasts several hours after its consumption, so there is no need to have last minute coffee before your workout. However, be aware that excess caffeine consumption can cause anxiety, raise your exercise heart rate and heavy coffee drinkers will notice that more caffeine is needed to achieve the desired effect.

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Performance Physiologist for Sailing NZ Doctoral Candidate in Exercise Physiology Sponsored ultra distance runner Running coach (web: andriusramonas.com)