Thursday, December 11, 2014

Upper & Lower Body HIIT for Fitness, Performance, Fat Loss & Lean Gains? Adding Arm-Cranking to Your High Intensity Interval Routine May be Less Beneficial Than You Think

No, this is not the arm-cranking ergometer that was used in the study at hand, but for those of you who like to do their HIIT exercise on the road this would be an alternative.
What happens if you have 14 healthy, normal-weight, but not exactly "uberfit" men 20-50 year-old men work out twice a week for only 16- to 24-minutes for 16 weeks (total 32 sessions)? Not much, right? Well, if you make them do regular steady state cardio training on a cycling ergometer that would certainly be right. If you have them work out on a leg-cycling (LC) and an arm-cranking (AC) ergometer, though, things obviously look different... that's at least what a recent study from the Gaduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Tokyo, the Sports Medicine Research Center, the Institute for Integrated Sports Medicine, the Department of Internal Medicine and the Department of Radiology at the Keio University would suggest (Osawa. 2014).
You can learn more about HIIT at the SuppVersity

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Tabata = 14.2kcal /min ≠ Fat Loss

30s Intervals + 2:1 Work/Rec.

Making HIIT a Hit Part I/II

Making HIIT a Hit Part II/II

HIIT Ain't For Everyone
As Osawa et al. point out, there is a vast number of studies that have investigated the effects of short term HIIT and/or combined exercise on skeletal muscles. Studies that investigate the effects of an HIIT program using a leg cycling (LC) and an arm-cranking (AC) ergometer, on the other hand, are non-existent.

Thus, the exercise protocol the Japanese researchers used conducted is unique, as it uses a HIIT program that consisted of
  • 16- to 24-minute exercise sessions that were separated by at least 2 days
  • each bout of HIIT consisted of 8-12 sets during the fist 4 weeks - after 4 weeks the number of the repetitions was adjusted depending on the participants’ physical condition and was a minimum of eight sets, while the workload was progressively increased
The actual HIIT workout became after a 10-minute warm-up involving body weight exercises (eg, knee-ups and hand–knee exercises). The HIIT training itself was then performed on
  • either an electronically braked LC ergometer (Power Max VIII; Konami Sports & Life Co, Ltd, Tokyo, Japan) or
  • a similar, electronically braked AC ergometer (Exite Top; Technogym, Tokyo, Japan)
The participants in the LC-HIIT (only) group cycled for 60 seconds at a workload of .90% VO2 peak at a fixed pedaling rate of 60 rpm. After each of 60-seconds bouts, the participants pedaled at a rate equivalent to 30 W for 60 seconds.
Figure 1: Overview of the two HIIT groups. In the LC group the participants trained exclusively on a cycling ergometer. In the LC-AC group the subjects worked out on a cycling and arm-cranking ergometer (Osawa. 2014)
This procedure was repeated for eight to 12 sets in the LC group and four to six sets by the subjects who had been randomized to the LC–AC group, in which they performed half of their HIIT bouts on the arm-cranking (AC) ergometer at 90% of their individual, predetermined peak workload and rotated the crank at 40 W during the active recovery phases.

So we are comparing "regular" HIIT (LC) to combined HIIT (LC-AC)

We do thus have a "regular" HIIT study on the cycling ergometer (you've read about several of these on the SuppVersity, already) and an "innovative" upper + lower body HIIT regimen consisting of leg cycling and arm-cranking. Now, you tell me: Which one do you think hat greater beneficial effects on the fitness and exercise performance of the subjects?
Figure 2: Rel. pre- vs. post-changes physical fitness & performance (Osawa. 2014)
You're right! The combined leg-cycling and arm-cranking protocol was superior to the classic "leg cycling only" program. If you take a closer look at the data in Figure 2 it is yet also obvious that the actual improvements were exercise specific with the improvements in peak power (W) being significantly more pronounced in the subjects who actually did / focused on the respective exercise, i.e. leg cycling or arm-cranking.
Beware of the different exercise intensities in the arm-cranking tests: If we are brutally honest, though, the comparison of the heart rate during arm-cranking is not really fair. I mean, if you work out at an intensity of 120W (LC-AC group), this will necessarily bring your heart rate up higher than arm-cranking at "only" 94W (AC group in the arm-cranking post-test). Since similar differences were not observed on the cycle ergometer, we can still maintain that the combined exercise protocol had more favorable effects on the heart rate response of the study participants.
Against that background and in view of the fact that full-body workouts will usually produce greater changes in body composition than leg-only workouts, you will probably expect a significant advantage for the LC-AC group, when it comes to changes in lean body mass.
Figure 3: Changes in total and lean body mass over the course of the 16-week study (Osawa. 2014)
Unfortunately, this was the case that's not the case for any of the DXA-determined parameters in Figure 3 - not even for the upper body lean body mass, where the high standard deviations in both groups make the existing differences non-significant. In view of the fact that the overall increase in lean body mass was virtually identical in both groups, while the total body mass (including fat mass) decrease in the LC and increased in the LC-AC group, we will even have to assume that the total body fat mass in the LC-AC group, which was 25.5% and thus 3.3% higher than it was in the LC group, changed less favorable that the total body fat mass in the LC group... and don't ask me why the scientists didn't publish the exact values despite doing a DXA scan.
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Bottom line: If there is a practically relevant bottom line to this study it will be - allegedly to my own surprise - that you'd better refrain from arm-cranking as an adjunct to your HIIT training. Why? Well, by combining classic resistance training and HIIT training on the cycle erogmeter you are probably going to make greater upper body power gains, certainly greater lower body power gains and almost certainly faster progress towards the physique of your dream of which I assume that it is both muscular and lean and does not include skinny legs as they may be the outcome of the LC-AC training in the study at hand (see Figure 3 → lower body lean mass decreased by 0.8%). Things may be different for trained athletes, but since there is a limit to the total volume of exercise even a trained athlete can sustain, I still wouldn't recommend hitting your upper body even more. You don't you agree? Comment on Facebook!
  • Osawa, Yusuke, et al. "Effects of 16-week high-intensity interval training using upper and lower body ergometers on aerobic fitness and morphological changes in healthy men: a preliminary study." Open access journal of sports medicine 5 (2014): 257.