Monday, February 21, 2011

High Intensity for Intense Gains: the Importance of HIIT

Preview article for - The Ultimate Lifting Experience. 

Ready to trim down for Spring Break and summer, and looking to drop some jaws (and panties, if that’s your thing) at the beach or pool? Don’t want to lose all your hard-earned, precious muscle mass that’s taken years to sculpt? Look no further. Catabolism - the breakdown in living organisms of more complex substances into simpler ones together with release of energy (which equates to your muscle mass being broken down and being used as fuel for your body) - generally occurs as your body is forced to expend ATP, the “energy currency” in a cell, for extended periods of time. 
Well, hell, you wouldn’t want that, would you!? You haven’t worked this hard to see your results squandered for the sake of fat loss! You’re not an Abercrombie model - you’re an athlete (or someone who aspires to resemble one). That said, in order to shed fat with minimal loss of muscle mass, one should keep low-intensity, long-distance cardio at a minimum. Instead, high-intensity interval training, HIIT, should be utilized for individuals with such goals. Take a minute to note the differences in body-types between a top distance runner - American Dathan Ritzenhein (below) - and top sprinter Jason Moots (below, farther).  Note the lean, wiry frame of Ritzenhein, forged through and tailored for performance in distance running. Next, look at the contrast that the muscular sprinter Smoots poses - a body forged through years of hard work, chalked full of lean, dense muscle mass that has surely benefitted from the anabolism that sprinting promotes.

“But what IS HIIT, and how do I perform it?”

High-intensity interval training is the primary method of speed and endurance training for nearly every athlete who plays sports that require explosiveness - something that is in direct correlation with strength, which, of course, is generally dictated by one’s muscle-mass to fat ratio. Sprinters, basketball, football and hockey players, fighters, wrestlers and a plethora of other types of athletes regularly utilize HIIT in order to keep their bodies in top shape. 

A typical HIIT session consists of running, jumping, or both. While the former of the two, running, is generally considered the most traditional form of HIIT, many top athletes utilize standing jump-sets, broad jumps, skips, and other various types of jumps. However, before delving into the various methods by which athletes utilize HIIT - many of which are advanced, specific to a certain sport, or both, let us first take a look at a couple basic forms of HIIT. 
For reference, let’s assume “jogging” means running at 60%, “sprinting” means running at 95-100%, “fast-jogging” refers to a speed between a jog and a sprint, at about 80% speed, and “slow-jogging” refers to about 40% speed.
Generic HIIT session - 
10 minute HIIT session:
30 seconds jogging 
30 seconds sprinting
30 seconds jogging
30 seconds sprinting... etc.
Continue alternating between jogging and sprinting every 30 seconds for 8 minutes, at which point you should jog for the remainder of your run, so as to slow your heartbeat, and allow for the lactic acid buildup in your muscles to dissipate. 
Generic HIIT session #2 - 
8 minute HIIT session:
30 seconds slow-jogging
30 seconds jogging
30 seconds fast-jogging
30 seconds sprinting
30 seconds slow-jogging.. etc.
Again, following your 8 minutes of brutality, allow your heart rate to slowly return to a normal state by walking for at least a couple minutes. 
Although the word “generic” often carries a negative connotation, don’t allow yourself to be put off from these HIIT session routines - sometimes, simple is better. While there are more advanced ways to perform HIIT training, a couple of which will be exemplified next, many top athletes and bodybuilders alike swear by the more “simple” HIIT (and weightlifting) routines. However, for some, simple is not enough. Let us take a look at some more advanced HIIT sets.
Advanced HIIT session - 
6 minute advanced HIIT session:
30 seconds high-knees
30 seconds “burpees”
30 seconds mountain climbers
30 seconds rest
Repeat 3 times. 
While this HIIT session - as can be said for HIIT as a whole - is primarily geared towards fat loss, it also incorporates some muscle-building elements, hence it being termed “advanced”. Rather than delve into detailed explanations of each exercise, allow fitness guru Brandon Carter to demonstrate this intense HIIT set.

This set is probably my personal favorite as it allows for whole-body fat loss and is extremely hard on one’s core, making for muscle gain in the abdominal and oblique region - looking to get that six-pack? Look no further.

Advanced HIIT session #2 -
6 minute advanced HIIT session:

1 minute jump-rope (70% speed)
30 seconds fast (95% speed) jump-rope
1 minute jump-rope
30 seconds fast jump-rope
1 minute jump-rope
30 seconds fast jump-rope
Rest, then repeat to your heart’s desire. Obviously, this HIIT set incorporates both jumps, which I mentioned often played an integral role in HIIT training earlier, and a jump-rope. Not very proficient with the jump-rope? Give it your best. You’re doing this to burn fat, regardless of how pretty you look while exercising. Similar sets that also incorporate jump-ropes are often utilized by boxers and soccer players in order to improve footwork and endurance. However, bodybuilders also take part in jump-oriented HIIT sessions in order to cut fat while building leg muscle. 
The sets exemplified in this article represent only a few options among the vast array of HIIT sets out there. Again - do you want to lose fat, while keeping muscle loss to a minimum? Then look no further; HIIT is for you. Those who work the hardest also reap the greatest benefits, and HIIT is quite intense and strenuous, especially for beginners. How bad do you want it? With knowledge of the benefits  HIIT provides to athletes, bodybuilders and regular, trying-to-get-in-shape people alike, it’s time to get out there and kick some ass. Good luck, and go hard. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

San Diego State Aztecs on the rise

In sports, there's a general statement the majority of players have abode by from a young age - "Practice makes perfect." There's a team in San Diego that can attest to that.

With a three-headed monster comprised entirely of seniors, inspiring play by sophomore Kawhi Leonard, and timely and consistent contributions from bench and role players, the San Diego State Aztecs find themselves holding the number six ranking in the NCAA. At 24-1, the Aztecs are indisputably enjoying their best season of all time, having been ranked in the AP top 25 for the first time in school history early in the year.

It wasn't always like this, though. Following a moderately successful 2006 season in which the Aztecs won the Mountain West championship, earned a berth to the NCAA tournament and were subsequently eliminated in dominant fashion by Indiana in the first round, SDSU was overlooked by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee from 2007-2009.

Having won three games in the National Invitation Tournament in 2009 and setting a school record for single-season wins with 26 and earning an NCAA tournament berth in 2010 (which ended with a first-round loss to Tennessee) the Aztecs entered this year's 2011 campaign with high expectations - however, nobody could have seen San Diego State being as dominant as they have been this year; except for head coach Steve Fisher, in his 11th year at SDSU. Following the Aztecs' upset of then-11th ranked Gonzaga on November 17th, Fisher had this to say of his team, "We have a great basketball team. We have a long, athletic, smart, tough team that most importantly plays very hard and they share the basketball. They get caught in the most important thing, which is 'how can I help this team win'. I expect to be doing a lot of just that this year." Fisher, of all people, knew what he had on his hands - and it has become apparent that he knew how to handle such a talented squad.

Led by Fisher's offensive and organizational schemes, the Aztecs bring a balanced offensive attack to the floor every game. With four players averaging above 10 points per game and none above 15, San Diego State's opponents have found it difficult to focus their defensive attention on any specific focal point of SDSU's offense. In order of average points per game, Kawhi Leonard, point guard D.J. Gay, and forwards Malcom Thomas and Billy White form the quartet that has led San Diego State to victory night in and night out. Contributions from guards Chase Tapley (who has started 22 games) and James Rahon have also proven to be significant as the year has gone on. It is SDSU's stifling defense that is the true catalyst to the Aztecs' success. Holding their opponents to the 11th fewest points per game in the country, at 58.8, San Diego State's nightly oppositions (save for Jimmer Fredette of BYU, who scored 43 points in dealing SDSU its first and only loss of the season) have found it difficult to put points on the board.

With a home game against BYU looming on the horizon on February 26th, the Aztecs look to regain sole possession of first place in the Mountain West Conference and improve their national ranking in order to receive an optimal seeding in the NCAA tournament. With a trio of talented players graduating, many view this year's squad as SDSU's last legitimate national title contender for a few years to come. Only time will tell if the San Diego State Aztecs' men's basketball team will live up to the recently developed hype and attention it has received - one fact remains, though: if the Aztecs' young players can learn from their upperclassmen mentors, there is a bright future on the basketball court for SDSU.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Bowl Preview

The smoke has cleared and, emerging from the wreckage of what has proven to be a brutal series of hard fought, injury-ridden games, the Pittsburgh Steelers will face the Green Bay Packers in Dallas, Texas, at Cowboys Stadium. In a game that features the top three vote-getters in the NFL Defensive Player of the Year, in Troy Polamalu (who edged Matthews by two votes to win his first Defensive Player of the Year award), Clay Matthews and James Harrison, respectively, The Steelers will look to add to their NFL leading six Super Bowl victories, as the Packers aim to win their fourth title.

Amidst implications towards the legacies of each respective franchise lies the resumes of their quarterbacks - Ben Roethlisberger of the Steelers and Aaron Rodgers of the Packers; two quarterbacks who, despite Roethlisberger only being one year Rodgers' senior in regards to years played in the league, have had careers of a polar-opposite nature. Roethlisberger has led his team to two Super Bowl victories, while Rodgers is finally coming into his own after playing backup to Brett Favre until the 2008-2009 season. Roethlisberger looks to put himself in an elite class among the two other quarterbacks who have won three Super Bowls - Troy Aikman and Tom Brady (with Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana having won four), while Rodgers aims to win his first Super Bowl title, and, in doing so, shed the shadow of Brett Favre, and firmly establish himself as the face of the Green Bay Packers.

Expect each team to come out firing - the Steelers looking for big throws out of Roethlisberger to Hines Ward, Mike Wallace and the rest of their young receiving corps, and the Packers' Rodgers throwing downfield to Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Each team will also look to break off yardage in chunks by handing to their respective running backs: Pittsburgh to Rashard Mendenhall, and Green Bay to rookie playoff sensation James Starks and Brandon Jackson. The game will come down to who makes the fewest mistakes - something each team will find difficult to avoid against one another's tenacious defenses.

Key Matchups -

Ring count: Steelers - 54, Packers - 1. Will experience play a significant role in this year's Super Bowl? The Steelers find themselves in Dallas on Sunday, playing for a title for the third time in the last six years, while the Packers' players have minimal Super Bowl experience. Should the game come down to a last-second drive, as Super Bowl XLIII did (a game in which Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers downfield before throwing a game-winning touchdown pass), will the Steelers be at an advantage due to their Super Bowl experience?

Troy Polamalu vs. Aaron Rodgers: Will Troy Polamalu intercept an Aaron Rodgers pass in Super Bowl XLV? Having picked off an NFL second-best seven passes during the regular season, Polamalu will look to again make a big play for his team. In a quick-blitz against the Ravens in a game that would eventually prove to be the AFC North title game, Polamalu stripped the ball from Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco - can he do something similar against Green Bay, and, in doing so, provide the spark to swing momentum in Pittsburgh's favor?

Green Bay Packers' offensive line vs. Steelers' defense: Aaron Rodgers was sacked a mere 31 times this year - will Green Bay's offensive line be able to pick up and hold back Pittsburgh's notoriously intricate and relentless blitz schemes, allowing Aaron Rodgers to remain comfortable in the pocket and make big throws? Or, as many have predicted, will Pittsburgh be able to break through Green Bay's offensive line, and fluster Rodgers into making mistakes?

Despite having 15 takeaways in the last 5 games (in which they are 5-0), I simply cannot see Green Bay's defense keeping pace with the defensive unit of the Steelers. Expect a somewhat low-scoring affair in which turnovers, or lack thereof, decide the outcome. That said, I can see Pittsburgh's defense making those big plays, and, with a consistent yard and clock-eating run game coupled with big plays out of Ben Roethlisberger, winning Super Bowl XLV.

My prediction? 21-17, Steelers.

Monday, January 17, 2011

AFC Championship Preview

Having dismantled the New England Patriots in a game that would prove their seemingly endless stream of trash-talk valid, the New York Jets are moving on the their second consecutive AFC Championship game under quarterback Mark Sanchez. They advance to face a daunting task - beating the Pittsburgh Steelers at Heinz Field, where the Ravens saw Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' defense mount an incredible comeback to win 31-24 and advance to the AFC championship after trailing 21-7 at halftime.

Expect to see a defensive battle in which each team will look to establish an efficient run-game immediately - the Jets splitting carries between Ladanian Tomlinson (who looks to advance to his first Super Bowl appearance in what has proven to be a storied career) and power-runner Shonn Greene, and the Steelers looking to their primary running back Rashard Mendenhall. While neither team is built to play from behind, the Steelers are significantly more comfortable and experienced in doing such, specifically due to the fact that their offense is run by Ben Roethlisberger, who is renowned for leading comebacks in late-game situations. Led by young, second-year quarterback Mark Sanchez, the Jets must establish an early lead and rely on a balanced offensive attack coupled with a defensive effort that forces the Steelers to throw at cornerbacks Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie.

Key matchups:

 Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie vs. Mike Wallace and Hines Ward -

Ben Roethlisberger will likely look to go deep early on, whether on a play-action fake or in a situation in which he recognizes man-to-man coverage. Will Darrelle Revis keep his assigned receivers on the famed "Revis Island", or will the Steelers do what few teams have in the past and find success attacking Revis individually? Will Antonio Cromartie again get beat on a deep route, as he did in the wild-card game, against the Colts? Or, as many fans and experts alike have speculated, will the Steelers be forced to establish a run-game before considering taking to the air?

Steelers' offensive line vs. Jets' "blitz-happy" defense -

Rex Ryan and the Jets' coordinators are renowned around the league for their blitz-first mentality. Will they find success against the Steelers once again, as they did in their week 15 matchup in which Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times, and could rarely get comfortable in the pocket? The answer to this question, specifically in the early portion of the game, may be a significant factor that could determine the tempo for either team as the game goes on.

Led by electric safety Troy Polamalu, the Steelers' relentless defense will inevitably prove too much for Mark Sanchez and the Jets' offense. Expect the Jets to stray from their usual blitz-first defensive mentality as they fall behind early, and for them to become dependent on their pass-game. Coming off a game in which their defense stifled the formerly high-flying New England Patriots, I simply cannot see the Jets doing it again against a team with a significantly better defense then New England - the Pittsburgh Steelers, who I have advancing to their second Super Bowl in three years.

My prediction? 31-17, Steelers.