Was Dr. Schwartz Against High Intensity Interval Training?

schwartzvidToday, “High Intensity Interval Training”  (abbreviated “HIIT”) is the “rage”.  Some claim it even burns 9 times more fat than “steady state cardio”! (see below for the misquoted research!)

The common line is… “Stop working out so long! Work out hard and intense using intervals!”

As a result, people who yesterday were blobs of blubber sitting on the couch are now told to be in the gym doing “high intensity interval training” with no preparation or foundation whatsoever!

One recent article even promised people they could get fit with a “10 Minute workout“. Unfortunately the research article quoted in support of that contention was mis-interpreted! The scientist behind the study contended sedentary people could greatly improve their overall fitness with 10 minute workouts – if they had 15 of those 10 minute workouts per week! OOPS! Slight oversight there, eh? A recommendation of 150 minutes per week is a bit different than 30 minutes a week isn’t it? 

For better or for worse, Dr. Schwartz on the other hand is usually associated in the minds of many people with purely “steady state cardio”, the opposite of the fast and hard approach. As you may know, such “steady state” cardio has now largely fallen from favor and short workouts intense enough to cause severe discomfort are “in”. As a result, “HeavyHands” and other exercise protocols by Dr. Schwartz may be considered outdated.

It is difficult to answer how Dr. Schwartz would have responded to the challenge of HITT. To be fair, Dr. Schwartz died before this became a rage and so was not able to interact directly with the proponents of “HIIT”. In one interview, Dr. Schwartz stated that, usually, his exercise totaled an hour per day, though it was likely broken up into shorter segments and not continuous. He believed exercise should be fun and specifically developed “IsoTonoMetrics” so that exercise could take place anywhere for even brief moments!

Most of his writing seems to envision what today is called “Steady State Cardio” to be sure. Because he talked about the ability to work out for longer periods of time, i.e. 45 minutes or an hour, some might consider his work with HeavyHands or Panaerobics no longer useful or valid.

Nevertheless, Schwartz did discuss interval training in his published works!

In “HeavyHands: The Ultimate Exercise”  he devotes chapter 16 (pp. 227ff) to the topic of “Intervals and Cycles”. As becomes apparent, for Schwartz “Cycles” were another name for “Interval” in that chapter.

Unlike most fitness gurus who have to quote other people’s research (and sometimes quote it quite selectively), Schwartz was in a position to do actual experiments himself and have the results scientifically observed and recorded in a laboratory! He wrote:

My findings after hundreds of experiments with Heavyhands intervals suggests that one can perform larger total workloads using [intervals] than exercising uninterruptedly.

He mentioned one experiment where he ran while pumping hand weights while doing 200 steps per minute. Within 18 minutes at that rate, his arms grew “weary”, and he stopped to rest.

After enough rest, I started in again with the same weights and tempo. This time I worked 18 seconds, rested 12, and repeated that ” work-relief” cycle each half minute for 2 hours. Since I worked 60% of the time, at the end of two hours I had done 72 minutes (.60 x 120) of work at an intensity equal to that which had me pooped after 18 consecutive minutes of it.

He conducted many such experiments constantly shortening the length of the “rest” down to as little as 6 seconds of rest after 24 seconds of work per interval. After months of experimentation, he fully expected for intervals/cycles composed of 80% work and 20% rest to become the standard method of operation for experienced HeavyHands users because they allowed for the most possible work in the shortest possible time. He believed beginners could use intervals, but that more rest time would be initially needed.

He also believed that brief rest during the intervals made users less injury prone due to the small recovery times.

So, so be clear, Dr. Schwartz thoroughly tested intervals scientifically and embraced them. But please notice that he embraced them because they allowed the person exercising to work out longer with less discomfort and more total work performed. 

Today, “intervals” are being used to encourage working much less, not more. So – Intervals? Yes!  High Intensity? Dr. Schwartz believed he was working at high or at least higher intensity by using intervals! But it’s pretty clear he envisioned more total exercise per week than prescribed by “High Intensity Interval Training” as it is reckoned today. He preferred people workout at a pace they could enjoy and sustain – not one they might dread the way many people envision a “HIIT” workout.

Personally he enjoyed mixing longer “steady state” and shorter intervals:

Sometimes I divide my workout into a lengthy endurance interval followed by a sequence of intervallic cycles. So when working 30 minutes, I may go 15 minutes in something like fast-light ski poling, then do heavy pump ‘n’ run.

Schwartz said intevals do contain a bonus as well – additional fat burning! Modern fitness guru’s are fond of calling this “EPOC” or “Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption“. Schwartz simply noted that during the rest periods of the intervals and afterwards the metabolism kept working at a higher rate, burning more calories overall depending on the intensity of the workout.

As a physician, Schwartz knew that many of the people he sought to reach were complete novices and frequently in sad physical shape as he had been when he started. Forcing them immediately into high intensity exercise without building a base of fitness would violate the Hippocratic Oath and do more harm than good.  So while some of his workouts seemed to embrace certain principles of “HIIT”, and he considered that intervals allowed higher intensity work, he also did longer endurance bouts alongside them and expected beginners to start at the beginning!

Schwartz would have approved of this quote from the second article linked below. The researchers behind this supposedly “pro-HIIT” study said flatly:

“It is obvious that high intensity exercise cannot be prescribed for individuals at risk for health problems or for obese people who are not used to exercise. In these cases, the most prudent course remains a low intensity exercise program with a progressive increase in duration and frequency of sessions.”

Here are some interesting articles on the exaggerated “fat burning” and fitness claims of “HIIT” advocates and why you may benefit more from a longer workout possibly including intervals as Dr. Schwartz used:

Why HIIT Is NOT Better For Fat Loss

Fat Loss Showdown: Does HIIT Or Steady State Cardio Burn More Fat?

Here is an article that is more balanced in its approach:

5×15 Min HIIT Reduce Body Fat & Improve Fitness Twice as Effectively as 5x40min of Classic Cardio

It concludes: “The fitter you are the more you should tend towards the shorter all-out bursts, because here, outside your comfort zone, is where the magic of adaptation happens. The more body fat you are still carrying, the more you should tend to longer high intensity bouts.”

5 thoughts on “Was Dr. Schwartz Against High Intensity Interval Training?”

  1. Great blog! I’m also a long-term Heavyhander (30 years) and mix outdoor HH sessions (3-10 pounds) with running and bodyweight exercise. I also do some indoor work with heavier (22 pound) dumbbells, like goblet squats, bench stepping and snatch/swing moves, usually in intervals. Today’s session was 50 or so minutes of outdoor walking medleys with 7 pounders, much of it using a 30 second work/10 second rest format similar to what Dr S describes above. The “rests” simply involve continuing to walk, but without the arm work. This allowed me to keep my effort level at or around 90% (i.e. of my actual, measured maximum heart rate) for a good chunk of the session, after warm-up.

    One thing I’ve notice about HH, as well as the ability to do more total work at any given perceived effort level, as compared with, say, steady running or sprinting, is a quicker return to pre-workout heart rate. Today, for example, although my heart rate was typically around 160 for much of the session, it dropped to around 100 after about a minute of quiet walking, and to 60 within a few minutes of sitting down. Although my recovery is also pretty good after a run, it’s never as quick as after a HH session at an equivalent level of effort. There’s probably something interesting there about sympathetic/parasympathetic balance and the heart-rate variability thing that is gaining popularity now. Over the years I’ve also experienced the Heavyhander’s typical drop in resting heart rate, to about 46-48 during the day, and about 40 by bed-time. This stuff certainly seems good for the old ticker!

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