My muscles will tear & I will hear my lungs crying;
But, I can't stop trying;
My heart will pound;
But, I have to get ready for the next intense round;
First of all, sorry for making you to read my lame poem(?). I somehow came up with it while drafting this blog post. But, let me tell you what this post is about. I am going to talk about High Intensity Interval Training that one does in workout sessions and how we can use the same for increasing our productivity.
What is HIIT?
Mostly everyone should know about HIIT, it is a type of workout where you do intense exercise for few minutes and recover next few minutes. One repetition(rep) is one intense-recover session. You do multiple sessions of intense-recover and call it a set. So, usually your workout will have multiple sets and a higher recovery time between the sets.
This is a graph from one of my cycling intervals workout. As you can see this has 3 sets of 6 reps each. When I pedal I exert power and when I recover power drops to zero. The graph shows small recoveries between reps and larger recovery period between the sets.
Intervals vs Endurance
Many studies shows that doing few bursts of intense workouts combined with regular recovery period is same as doing a long endurance workout. There are many benefits of HIIT, one of them is it increases your Vo2 max. Vo2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body consumes in a breathing cycle to produce energy.
It is also proven that doing 5 hours of endurance workout and doing 1 hour of intense bursts of workout where one consumes same amount of oxygen results in same performance improvement.
Breaks during workouts
During the HIIT workout your performance depends on the right amount of breaks you take in between the sets and also the recovery period within your next day's workout. This is determined by a factor called Supercompensation.
Even without going into too much details, now we know the importance of high intensity bursts and taking breaks between them.
Our brain and body are same. So, let us see how we can apply the same technique to improve our productivity.
Focusing in Intervals
Same as circadian rhythm which is responsible for our sleep cycle. Our body and mind has another set of shorter cycles called ultradian rhythm. It's a 90-120 minutes cycle where our body and mind can be in it's peak performance level. That is, you can pay fullest attention to the task in hand.
Ever wondered why most of the feature films are 90-120 minutes in length?. Apart from the regular stories like, limited storage in DVD and tapes, if you ask the psychology experts, of course they will talk about the biological rhythms in our body.
How to focus in intervals?
There are various techniques to achieve this. One of the popular and most familiar method is Pomodoro technique. It's a productivity technique where you will work in 25 minute intervals. You work for 25 minutes, take a break of 5 minutes. Repeat this for few times and take a longer break of 20 minutes.
While there are a plethora of pomodoro timer apps available, for the sake of simplicity I use an app called "tomato one". I find it very straightforward.
It has a clutter free UI that sits in a corner of my screen like a utility box. Did you notice how I have setup my short breaks and long breaks?. For every pomodoro session I am taking a 5 min break and for every 3 sessions I am taking a long break of 20 minutes.
Not to mention that it can also be started from the status bar itself if you feel the window is distracting you.
In any given day, I will try to sit through a minimum of 3 pomodoro sets. Which is
3 x 90min. If there are no external factors/people affecting my productivity, I will be able to go for 4 sessions too.
The cycle of working in 90 minutes and taking a long break after the session, then repeating it puts you in sync with the ultradian rhythm cycle of your body.
Why breaks?, Why not focus in one stretch?
You can think that taking breaks while focusing on something might interrupt or distract you. Our brain is like our muscles. We already saw how important is to take breaks while working out our muscles. Our brain is capable of showing it's peak performance and will be able to focus with optimum efficiency for about 90 minutes.
But after that 90 minutes, it needs a 20 - 30 minutes break to restore its glucose level. Yes, our brain is fuelled by glucose and the prolonged usage will deplete it's glucose level. That's why taking break is important while working on something. So that you can refuel and get ready for next session.
It's already proven that doing intense bursts of workouts will increase our endurance performance. And it is also proven that our brain is more or less similar to our muscles. So, following interval focusing a.k.a pomodoro technique for few weeks and making it a habit will improve your focusing time in long run.
Well, if you don't believe me. I have proof!. Usually when I goto conferences, I won't be able to focus on all the talks, as the day goes by, my brain will get tired, I will get distracted and rather choose to open twitter on my mobile than to focus on the talks.
This happens to me most of the times, where I will lose motivation and I have to use my willpower to pull myself together. But on September 2017 during a conference, something else happened. I was able to keep my mind focused on all the talks. And the proof for it is, I noted down the key points in my evernote and shared it with the audience at the end of the conference.
Here's my proof:
How I went from a guy with a wandering mind in conferences to a guy able to take notes on all the talks?. Fortunately, I started following the pomodoro technique just before a month of that conference. Focusing on smaller intervals and making it a habit allowed me to focus for a full day. (Remember?, short bursts of workouts will improve the endurance performance of your body)
I even heard from my friend that, a set of people from the September conference were talking about my notes in some other conference at Sweden and appreciated it.
Oh, I know, it's not a big deal, any one can take notes in a conference. But I am showing this to convince you that your mind and body are same and if you apply the same proven techniques to your mind that you use to train your body, it will probably work.
I don't know whether you are convinced. I don't know whether you are a fitness freak like me who also wants to be productive and loves to experiment various techniques with body and mind to get most out of it. But if you are reading this line, I know for sure, by now I have put some idea into your mind and now you will have a different view about interval workouts and pomodoro technique.
Your mind and body are more or less same. Experiment with them to get the most out of it. Peace ✌️