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High Intensity Functional Training (HIFT): The New Hotness!

As my students are well-aware, the Fox’s Den Kung Fu has begun utilizing a new training protocol known as HIFT, which stands for High Intensity Functional Training. Like HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training), HIFT focuses on short bursts of intense exercise, followed by a rest period, often at a 2:1 ratio. The purpose of both these training types is to raise the heart rate to the practitioner’s near-maximum range (between 80-95% of their heart rate reserve—HRR). The difference between the two, is that while HIIT focuses on cardiovascular training alone (cycling, sprinting, etc), HIFT is designed to also increase the practitioner’s strength using a variety of resistance training exercises, such as pushups and squats.

Results from recent studies show that HIFT is an effective protocol for simultaneously raising the practitioner’s strength and endurance capacity, while reducing body fat in the process. In Posnakidis et al’s study, “High Intensity Functional Training Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Neuromuscular Performance Without Inflammation or Muscle Damage”, a group of physically active volunteers, (5 men and 8 women) underwent eight weeks of HIFT training three times per week, for thirty minutes each session. The protocol used nine exercises (30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of recovery) for a total of four circuits, with one two-minute rest period between circuits 2 and 3. Subjects were tested before and after for body fat percentages, maximal oxygen uptake, counter-movement jump height, bench press repetitions at 65% of their 1 repetition maximum (RM), and one minute of sit-ups, as well as biological factors that indicate inflammation (which associated with longer recovery times).

The results were as follows:

1. Body fat was reduced by approximately 1 to 3.5 pounds

2. 65% bench press 1RM repetitions increased by 2 to 10

3. 1-minute Sit-up repetitions increased by 2 to 10

4. Counter-movement jump height increased by 1.1 to 4.1 centimeters

5. Maximal oxygen uptake was improved by 1.9 ± 2.2 ml·kg−1·min−1

6. Inflammation factors were not significantly increased by the exercise regimen, indicating normal exercise recovery times

The take-away here is that by following this protocol, subjects who were already recreationally fit improved significantly in strength, muscular endurance, and cardiovascular ability, while also losing body fat. They did this with just three, short (30-minute) work out sessions per week, and did not incur increased exercise recovery time.

Not many exercise routines can boast such incredible and time-efficient results!

Another study evaluating the efficacy of HIFT by Gavanda et al., compared HIFT to endurance training and strength training alone. HIFT participants saw increased performance in muscular power, sprint ability, maximal strength, and aerobic endurance, whereas endurance and strength training only groups saw an increase in just 3 out of 4 of those test areas. Interestingly, the HIFT group also showed a greater increase in both sprint and (in some subjects) maximal strength abilities than the strength training group, as well as a similar increase in muscular power to both groups. Again, this shows just how efficient, effective, and holistic HIFT can be!

In keeping with Posnakidis et al’s protocol, the Fox’s Den implemented a 9-exercise circuit this month, cycling through upper body, core, and lower body drills. Each drill ran for 30 seconds, followed by a 15-second rest period until all nine exercises were completed. However, unlike the study, we placed two-minute breaks in between each cycle starting on week two. This was for the purpose of conserving time, as well as energy—for many of my students and I, perform additional forms of exercise throughout the week, and I judged overtraining to be a significant risk. (Participants in Posnakidis et al’s study only performed HIFT, and no other type of exercise). Even with this substitution, however, I, myself, have already significantly increased the number of repetitions for each exercise, and lowered my rate of perceived exertion.

HIFT appears to be an ideal conditioning method for martial arts, because functional strength and cardiovascular ability are imperative for fighting, and the HIFT protocol improves both of those markers. It also simulates the high level of physical and mental stress a practitioner feels during combat by forcing them into their upper HRR while executing mentally—as well as physically—demanding exercises.

HIFT is just another regimen that proves we can improve our functional fitness and martial ability simultaneously. This has always been my favorite aspect of practicing Kung Fu. Kung Fu itself gives practitioners a reason for exercising. It makes them want to become better martial artists, which drives them to put effort into their exercise program. The exercises practitioners perform to accomplish the goal of being a great martial artist, in turn, increases their strength and cardiovascular ability, overall health, and mental well-being.

I can wholly attest that these effects are experienced both inside and outside the gym, and have a strong effect on cognitive capacity as well as physical fitness—a topic I will address in my next article.

For now, keep up the good work, guys!


1. Posnakidis, Georgios; Aphamis, George; Giannaki, Christoforos D.; Mougios, Vassilis; Aristotelous, Panagiotis; Samoutis, George; Bogdanis, Gregory C. High-Intensity Functional Training Improves Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Neuromuscular Performance Without Inflammation or Muscle Damage, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2022 - Volume 36 - Issue 3 - p 615-623 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000003516

2. Gavanda, Simon; Isenmann, Eduard; Geisler, Stephan; Faigenbaum, Avery; Zinner, Christoph The Effects of High-Intensity Functional Training Compared with Traditional Strength or Endurance Training on Physical Performance in Adolescents: A Randomized Controlled Trial, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research: March 2022 - Volume 36 - Issue 3 - p 624-632 doi: 10.1519/JSC.0000000000004221

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