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Ashley Swoboda
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Healthier With HIIT

Incessant steady-state cardio damaged Ashley Swoboda's metabolism. See how
she used HIIT to take her body back!

Beat Metabolic Damage And Get Ripped With HIIT

Even though Ashley Swoboda trained and dieted harder than ever for her competition prep, her body failed to respond. Find out how she broke out of cardio prison and learned to beat metabolic damage with HIIT!

For many of us, cardio is an integral part of our training regimen. We pound away on the treadmill or stairmill for hours because we think it's the only way to get lean. During my contest prep last year, I was the epitome of a treadmill slave. I thought all the work would be worth it; I was sure it was helping prepare my best physique for the stage.

Instead of my best-ever presentation, the only thing I earned from all that cardio was metabolic damage. I want to share my story so you don't make the same mistakes.

Here's what I learned about breaking the chains of cardio, and how I found a better way to get ready for the stage.

THE STEADY BURDEN

In October 2012, I began my preparation for a show the following spring. Before I began preparing, I practiced one hour of steady-state cardio six days each week.

Although that schedule was keeping me fairly lean, I knew I had to step up my game for the upcoming show. So I doubled my cardio workload to two hours, seven days per week. I thought I was doing myself a favor.

On top of the increased workload, I restricted my diet more than ever, putting greater strain on my body. In previous preps, I allowed one or two slip-ups where I consumed too much peanut butter, rice cakes, or sweet potatoes, or my "cheat meal" was a free-for-all binge. This time I did not even have an extra almond.

Excessive cardio on a restrictive diet gave Ashley nothing but pain and misfortune. HIIT cardio helped her smile again.

My only cheat meal from October to March came once on Thanksgiving—I allowed a small dessert. Other than that, I ate my bland chicken and broccoli while watching my family enjoy all my favorite foods.

The combination of excessive cardio and a low-calorie diet made me experience several medical issues. I was always sore. My knee, hip, or lower back irritated me. My hair was dry, brittle, damaged, and fell out. My skin was dry and broken. My hands and feet turned a yellowish orange and my eye twitched uncontrollably. I quit having a menstrual cycle for around a year and was constipated for several months.

My stomach growled 24/7. I had a hard time sleeping and woke several times throughout the night. I usually resorted to taking Advil PM to fall asleep. I had severe mood swings, was depressed, and had no energy. I felt like walking death. The smallest things brought me to tears or anger.

To make matters worse, I could not drop weight. I didn't know what was wrong with me! My problem areas were bigger and I had lost a lot of muscle. I was so confused. How could I look worse? Why was I having a harder time getting show ready when I'd stepped up my game, done more cardio, made more sacrifices, and given it my all?

When the show finally came around, I didn't look awesome like I thought I would. I looked far worse on stage than I did during my first competition. I was a wreck.

THE NORTON EFFECT

I was mentally, physically, and emotionally exhausted. I poured everything into that prep and I looked worse. I knew something was wrong with my plan, or me, but I wasn't sure what it was.

I started to search around online to find a solution. I found Dr. Layne Norton's vlog on Metabolic Damage and burst into tears after watching it. I realized that excessive cardio and a caloric deficit—my whole plan—was hurting me at a metabolic level. I decided to get help.

Layne saved me from myself. I lived the extreme life because I believed it was the only way. I bought into the whole "eat clean" every 2-3 hours to keep your metabolism on fire and do multiple cardio sessions (fasted when possible) per day because that is what dedicated and serious competitors do.

I once feared that I'd spend the rest of my life doing 1-2 hours of daily cardio to keep off excess weight. I had already missed so many important events with my loved ones because of my 2-3 hour gym sessions and strict dieting. I was sick at the thought of being forever chained to this regimen.

Norton taught me that it was all complete hogwash. You do not have to live that way to get stage lean! Now, I follow flexible dieting, commonly referred to as "If It Fits Your Macros," or IIFYM. I've increased my food intake by more than 1,000 calories per day. I don't restrict food groups or eat out of Tupperware every 2-3 hours.

I perform absolutely zero steady-state cardio. On this program, I feel 100 percent better and can still maintain the look I need to be a competitive figure athlete.

You hear "cardio" and think about treadmills, but really the term accounts for any activity that helps increase your heart rate. Exercises like battling ropes certainly fit the definition.

Ashley's New HIIT Cardio Protocol

With Norton's help, I traded in hours of steady state cardio for 20-minute, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions three times per week.

Here's what one of my new typical cardio workout looks like:

  • Warm-up, 5 minutes at an easy pace
  • Complete 20-second intervals at max effort
  • Recover 1-2 minutes at an easy pace
  • Repeat 8 times
  • Cool-down, 5 minutes at an easy pace

Since making the switch, all of my before-mentioned medical and metabolic issues have disappeared. I have added an insane amount of strength and muscle. I am leaner than I have ever been in an offseason.

HIIT training is proven to allow strength gains while shedding body fat.1 It's also been proven to increase hypertrophy, overall strength, and power.4 Unless you love being a hamster in a wheel, give it a go!

My 5 New Cardio Rules

I enjoy my life again and am no longer a social hermit. I have the freedom to go out, eat, and order from a regular menu. I attend social events without feeling anxious about which foods will be there and I no longer have severe mood swings or depression. I've improved my entire life by making simple changes to my fitness lifestyle.

These are the 5 rules I used to break free of my cardio chains:

1
Give it your all

Your high-intensity activity should range between 15-30 seconds. During those 15-30 seconds, you should go 100 percent all out. During the last few seconds of a 30-second work interval, you might feel like you're about to die—force yourself to keep going!

Sprint: Pretend you're running for your life, because you are.

2
Mimic lifts

You don't have to stay chained to a treadmill for your HIIT cardio. To help maximize muscle hypertrophy, strength, and endurance, do cardio exercises that are similar to lifts you would perform in the weight room. A few of my favorites are car pushes, tire flips, incline sprints, the rowing machine, battling ropes, stair mill sprints, and beating the crap out of a heavy bag!

These exercises can increase performance while avoiding competing adaptations.4 Concurrent training—combining resistance training and cardio—can help you optimize your strength and gains.2

Car Pushes
Watch The Video - 00:18



3
Dial in your work/rest ratio

During your HIIT sessions, make sure you have plenty of time to recover between your work periods. I would rather rest longer so I can work harder during my high-intensity bursts than take a shorter rest and half-ass the high-intensity periods.

Start with shorter work periods and longer rest. As you get better, you can work longer and rest less.

4
Unplug

Save time for selfies after your workout, not during it. Give everything in the weight room and your pics will look better.

While you're doing your HIIT cardio, leave your phone, tablet, and television in the locker room —I make exceptions for music, of course! If you can watch Netflix or update your Facebook status while you're working out, you're not going hard enough.

When I give it my all, the last thing on my mind is what's on TV or updating my status. It's more like: "Oh my gosh! I want to puke … no wait, pass out … ahhh, I feel like I'm going to do both!" I get so winded that it's hard to think straight, let alone surf the 'net.

5
Give HIIT its own time

When at all possible, do your HIIT sessions on days you don't weight train. I love my rest days and try to give myself one every week.

Because of this, at least one of my HIIT sessions falls on a training day. When this happens, I try to lift in the morning and do HIIT in the afternoon (or vice versa), and I always work opposite muscle groups.

For example, if I train legs in the morning and have a HIIT session that day, I'll choose battling ropes or hit the heavy bag. Cardio involving intense lower-body training should be separated from your leg day by no less than 24 hours.

If you don't give yourself enough rest, you substantially increase your risk of impairing your gains.3

REFERENCES
  1. Jacob Wilson, "Ask the Muscle Prof: Mass vs. Cardio", Bodybuilding.com August 1, 2013,
  2. Layne Norton, "Biolayne," Biolayne LLC, August 6, 2012, http://www.biolayne.com/contest-prep/best-form-of-cardio-for-bodybuilding/
  3. Sale, D.G., I. Jacobs, J.D. MacDougall, and S. Garner. 1990. "Comparison of two regimens of concurrent strength and endurance training. / Comparaison de deux regimes d ' entrainement concomitant de la force et de l ' endurance." Medicine & Science In Sports & Exercise 22, no. 3: 348-356.
  4. Wilson, Jacob, M., Pedro, J. Marin, Matthew, R. Rhea, C., Jeremy, P. Loenneke, and Jody, C. Anderson. 2012. " Concurrent training: A meta-analysis examining interference of aerobic and resistance exercises." Journal Of Strength & Conditioning Research (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins) 26, no. 8: 2293-2307.


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MirandaJoy

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MirandaJoy

This is a great article! I was afraid I would fall into the same cycle of having to continue to always up my cardio, but this article was very helpful to me.

Mar 13, 2014 6:10pm | report
 
Marktheshark93

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Marktheshark93

Great idea about switching the HIIT opposite lifting days.
I like doing that because also helps you push harder without ever feeling the soreness of a prior workout

Mar 13, 2014 7:48pm | report
 
kyleD12345

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kyleD12345

Love HIIT, makes you look good and you get to spend less time on the treadmill or whatever you're busy doing.

Mar 14, 2014 5:28am | report
 
kyleD12345

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kyleD12345

Oh, and you're lookin good Ashley, keep up the good work!

Mar 14, 2014 5:29am | report
Mb42fit

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Mb42fit

Great article Ashley! I've seen people doing the battling ropes at my gym. I'll have to give it a try soon.

Mar 14, 2014 6:18am | report
 
LiftingBaker

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LiftingBaker

Thank you! Lately I've only been able to hit the gym on my lunch hour. I can put in at least 40 minutes. This article really helps me to work out a better program to get more bang for my time. It will be great to combine this into the weeks that I can go to the gym after work also so that I can do "two a days" sometimes.

Mar 14, 2014 6:24am | report
 
Icecoldveer

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Icecoldveer

Good to read something from central Missouri. Thanks for sharing. I am going to be implementing some of your 5 rules in California Missouri.

Mar 14, 2014 11:31am | report
 
jensenzarran

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jensenzarran

Thank you for this. Very well written and informative. I will send my friends and clients to this article for refrence. HIIT is the best cardio in my opinion, since after I am done lifting for 60-90 minutes, the last thing I want to do is boring cardio for 30-45 minutes. Thanks again

Mar 14, 2014 11:33am | report
 
benitodavila1

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benitodavila1

all that is awesome, just some questions:

what about the pre and post feeding?, i mean, in order not to "burn" or lost muscle, how can i prepare my body for that 20 minutes of extreme workout?, i train only at night, so my plan would be to do HIIT in the morning, this because i have very limited time, (gotta cook breakfast for my little girls and take them to school). so, what can i eat and when, meanwile i performe HIIT 3 times a week in the morning???

Mar 14, 2014 11:53am | report
 
bigriggs42

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bigriggs42

I could be wrong but I believe the IIFYM stance would be that it doesn't matter what you eat (within reason) or when you eat it as long as it is fitting your macros.

Mar 15, 2014 2:17pm | report
swobodatraining

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swobodatraining

I make sure I have enough carbs and protein before I train for both HIIT and weight training. Fruit and a protein shake would be an easy fix when you're crunched on time.

I would say my food choices are 90-95% 'healthy' and then I have the flexibility to add in some of my favorite items as long as I've staying within my macro range and have hit my fiber intake for the day.

Mar 15, 2014 6:57pm | report
Lisalouk01

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Lisalouk01

Very helpful article that makes me rethink things. Even supposed experts in the training world say 'cut calories and increase cardio' to get leaner... this wasn't working for me and its nice to have it spelled out why.

Mar 14, 2014 11:56am | report
 
mrsJNO

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mrsJNO

Ashley, great article and you look amazing! I'm a big fan of HIIT cardio and I think it's important for people to understand what exactly HIIT cardio consists of. You nailed it with your first point - give it all you got. I always surprise myself how much my body is able to withstand and feel like a million bucks after my session is done. Looking forward to more of your articles : )

Mar 14, 2014 12:53pm | report
 
joruli

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joruli

Thanks for the write up! I'm giving it a try for a while and see if I can lose this stubborn fat waist.

Mar 14, 2014 4:08pm | report
 
Nivicious

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Nivicious

After feeling uncomfortable in my skin for years, I have made myself a workout & diet regimen, with one day being my HIIT day. Absolutely love it, and my girlfriend is already seeing progress where I can't, only two weeks in.
I can't wait to shake it up in another couple of weeks to challenge myself.

Great article!

Mar 14, 2014 5:36pm | report
 
ddezine

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ddezine

I love HIIT, much faster and more exciting then the treadmill.

Mar 14, 2014 7:25pm | report
 
BodyNProgress

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BodyNProgress

Love HIIT, love HIIT, love HIIT. Can't say it enough.

Mar 14, 2014 9:05pm | report
 
flyover40

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flyover40

Great article with helpful information.

Mar 15, 2014 5:06am | report
 
lchip

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lchip

Got bored with the hour-long cardio sessions at the gym. So glad I discovered HITT, what a blast! Yes, I almost wanted to die this morning, but it'll be so worth it in conjunction with my strength training program.

Mar 15, 2014 5:12pm | report
 
swobodatraining

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swobodatraining

Honored to have the opportunity to share my story!!! Special thanks to Dustin Lapray, Layne Norton, Nick Swoboda, Kati Dougherty, Team Norton and everyone else that has supported my journey.Thank you for your continued support!

Mar 15, 2014 6:59pm | report
 
torontobuilt

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torontobuilt

Thanks for the write up Ashley. I've just started doing HIIT Training again and am loving it already. The adrenaline rush is incredible . Thanks again !

Oct 28, 2014 12:16pm | report
Jiggyfl0w

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Jiggyfl0w

Great article!! I've also learned it the hard way... Beat myself up on the treadmill and keep myself away from food.. ugh. Must do what works for our bodies and love our bodies!!

Mar 15, 2014 10:21pm | report
 
valor66

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valor66

Great article.

Mar 16, 2014 12:10am | report
 
ashleyannbarker

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ashleyannbarker

Amen.... After switching to hiit my legs got stronger, my hips feel more stable and even my brain feels less run down and more alert.... quicker response times! I feel more energized instead of drained and enjoy the challenge. I have struggled to figure how to adjust carbohydrate needs for such different volume!?!

Mar 17, 2014 7:43am | report
 
braindeadnyc

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braindeadnyc

so many victims of the steady cardio that you can see in the gym. i've started integrating HIIT into my routine and in the shorter amount of time I feel so much better.
Well written and informative article.

Mar 17, 2014 10:51am | report
 
Showing 1 - 25 of 33 Comments

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