There I was, in my first class at Refine Method, not knowing what to expect and wondering how damn sore I was going to be the next day. Looking around, the medieval torture device machines on the wall told me everything I needed to know. After a few months of not working out at all (oops), I was ready to get back into the swing of the things at Refine, a studio on the Upper East Side that specializes in a type of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts. Of which I’d never tried.
“Have you been doing anything to work out recently?” one of the instructors asked me.
“Heh. Not really. I’ve historically been what you might like to call a stretching-and-breathing type of workout girl. You know, yoga, pilates, that type of thing.” I’m pretty sure at that point I averted eye contact and took a nervous sip of water.
He laughed and said encouragingly, “Well don’t worry, we’ll walk you through everything today, and you’ll do great. It’ll be tough, but you’ll be surprised by how much you can do.”
And y’all, I was. I wasn’t kidding when I said I was historically a yoga and pilates type girl. Growing up dancing, these types of workouts came the most naturally to me, and of course I love the breathing/meditative benefits of both. In the first half of this year, I took classes at Flex down in Union Square, but while I liked it, the 30-40 minute schlep (each way) soon grew wearisome, and when the studio raised its prices, those two factors combined made it a non-starter. When we got home from Paris this past June, a series of things happened in my personal life that sort of derailed my workout routine completely. No bueno. But recently, I was craving the stress release and endorphin high that working out brings (and admittedly, was ready to do something about the soft paunch that was making pants fit tighter). It was time to get back to it.
The HIIT workout routine always seemed intimidating to me because I’m so not into cardio. I hate running, spinning, and anything similar. But I was intrigued by the idea of these short bursts of cardio mixed in with strength training intervals (which I do enjoy), so it seemed like it was worth investigating. Plus, I’ve heard a lot about HIIT workouts being the most effective and efficient use of your workout hour, which seemed like a good deal to me. Who doesn’t love to maximize their time?
So what does the Refine workout look like? We start with an active warmup — think light stretches, kicks, squats, and holding planks. From there, in all honesty, every workout is totally different, though there’s a basic format of what you can expect. Each class typically has 2 sets of strength training intervals (in which you’ll do three rounds of three different exercises), with two cardio “power sets” placed in between. These are both the best and the worst things ever. The power sets, like the strength training intervals, usually have 2-3 different exercises, but these rely both on strength and cardio. For example, one exercise might be 45 seconds of lifting a medicine ball and throwing it down to the ground as hard as you can, then doing a burpee, then lifting the ball again and repeating, as quickly as possible. Then, you might go straight into jumping lunges or jumping squats, for another 45 seconds. Repeat both sets, 2 more times. You kind of want to die a little towards the end.
In HIIT workouts, you’re given very, very short breaks, so that the intensity is kept up the whole time, and your body never really has a chance to fully recover. From what I’ve read, the science behind this idea is that your body isn’t able to bring in enough oxygen, so you accumulate an oxygen “debt,” which you spend hours after your workout recovering from — which translates to an increased metabolism after you’re done working out. All I know is, when an instructor yells out, “Okay, 30 second break, then we’re going into the next set,” those 30 seconds are a godsend. Both because they feel longer when you need to catch your breath and get a sip of water, and also because that short break is exactly what makes the workout so effective.
A lot of the HIIT workouts you can do at home seem great, but let’s be honest, it’s unlikely I’m going to kick my own ass unless I have a trainer encouraging me, and other people around me who are working super hard to get me to keep up the pace. That’s why I’ve enjoyed going to classes at Refine, versus doing these types of workouts at home (which would result in me quitting half way through, most likely). Many HIIT workouts you find online don’t require any equipment, but I like that at Refine, we use things like kettlebells, medicine balls, that medieval torture device on the walls (which is actually a system similar to a TRX, just mounted to the wall, which allows you to place your feet or hands in straps/handles for resistance work), and even things like a slide board (we used it the other night for speed skaters during a power set, and then pilates style “plank-to-pike” and reverse lunges during a strength training set).
In all honesty, I’m kind of surprised how much I’m enjoying this new type of workout, because it’s so different from what I’m normally drawn to. I think it’s because the class goes by quickly, I feel super proud of myself at the end, feel great (though sore!) in the days following, and — personal plus — you can’t beat the proximity to my apartment. If you’re in NY and want to try it out, Refine has a studio on the Upper West Side as well, and they have an awesome intro package (1 class for $20, or a 4-pack for $97), as well as discounts for students too.
Have you ever tried a HIIT workout? What do you think? Do you do them regularly?
If you want to try it at home: