Fitness over 50: HIIT me up! We test 15-minute high-intensity classes at Fitness First

Is HIIT suitable for over-50s and could 15 minutes exercising at high intensity be more fun and more effective than a traditional aerobics class? Jacqui Gibbons puts it to the test

When I heard about 15-minute gym classes I said “Sign me up” – not that I love a gym class, but because 15 minutes of torture is preferable to the usual hour.

I’m slightly apprehensive that the high intensity aspect of these Fitness First classes will attract a gaggle of sculpted, midriff-baring super-fitties. But I’m on a mission here. Belly, be gone! Knees, don’t give up on me now!

Team Workout Freestyle

The club says the Team Workout interval training is “perfect” for all fitness levels, and combines “high-intensity cardiovascular and functional conditioning exercises to work every major muscle”. They also say it is designed specifically for optimum fat burning, muscle toning and weight loss; developing stamina, strength and shape all in one compact session. I’m in!

Related: I was clinically obese at 50: now I’m a champion fitness model

There are about a dozen participants and the class is done in a section of the gym rather than a studio. I didn’t like that, as people using the gym equipment are on top of us, and it was difficult to hear our instructor over the gym’s music.

We work our way through a combination of movements, all done without props or weights. In some, you move your body the way it is naturally meant to move (being desk-bound for four days a week, this is appealing) and other exercises develop flexibility and agility.

Fitness. Abs exercises at Fitness First
A variety of abs exercises keeps the group class fun

The benefits of HIIT

Specific exercises vary depending on your trainer – they change it up to keep it interesting, and so that you work both upper and lower body. Examples include running on the spot lifting your knees as high as you can, star jumps, lunges and abs exercises such as sit-ups and crunches.

In the Bear Crawl, for example, you divide into teams and one from each runs/crawls across the room on their hands and feet. This builds muscle strength and endurance, works the chest, triceps and shoulders, and as it’s a race you move fast and break a sweat.

With your bum sticking up in the air, giving waiting teammates behind you an eyeful, it’s not the most elegant exercise. But as you’re racing the other team you just have to get on with it. It was fun to embrace our inner child, feel silly and move our bodies in a way we don’t normally.

Related: A flat tummy in 15 minutes? Fitness First’s abs class

Explosive Squat Jumps are one of the toughest exercises: you start off squatting with your hands behind your head then jump up as high as possible, and back down into the squat. This is building strength, power and balance.It works lower body muscles including the quadriceps, hamstrings, lower back and abdominals. The repetitions are the killer, but that’s when you feel you’re getting a good workout and making a difference to your body.

Is the class suitable for over-50s?

Yes, absolutely. I was apprehensive that the instructor would push us too far and we wouldn’t enjoy it or be able to do it, especially as everyone else was in their twenties and thirties.

But he was great: he motivated us to push ourselves, but it wasn’t boot camp. He didn’t expect everyone to do the same and you could rest if you had to, and that was the same for everyone regardless of age (I didn’t want to be treated like an old dear either). His friendliness and humour helped get us through it (I think he was laughing with us, not at us…).

You move quickly between the exercises so just as you think you really can’t go on, you’re on to the next. Almost everyone regardless of age and ability stopped for a rest at some point or another, not only me.

Freestyle Group Training Strength

This class at Fitness First uses various hand weights such as sandbags and dumbbells as well as your own body weight to strengthen different parts of the body and develop lean muscle mass. It’s similar to the class above but with weights, and its focus is building strength and toning muscle.

Fitness. Group strength training workout at Fitness First
The group strength training uses a variety of weights in rapid succession

It combines weight training exercises, arm extensions using weights, and body weight training such as the plank (i.e. using your own body weight for resistance), all done to workout music.

I didn’t enjoy it, though. The weights were way too heavy and I felt a lot of strain on my lower back so had to ask for others. I didn’t feel there was an understanding of different ages and abilities, and although this is probably down to which instructor you have on the day. I wouldn’t recommend this for women over 50.

For me, I found using weights to be so hard that it wasn’t enjoyable. I had to stop in some of the exercises, so felt I didn’t get the most out of it. Of course if I went a few times I’d get more used to it, but I just don’t think squatting and hopping while lifting a sandbag is my thing.

How often should you do the 15-minute workout?

To see noticeable change in your body and fitness level, the class should be done at least two to three times a week. How long it takes to see a difference is individual to you, as it depends on factors other than the class: your lifestyle, your nutrition, and what other exercise you do.

The effect of any class depends on the types of exercises you’re doing. However, explosive, high-impact combinations push your body much more intensely than a low-impact cardio class such as aerobics. A 15-minute class doing high-intensity interval exercises burns more calories than a slower, less intense 60-minute class, or something like a moderate-level hatha yoga class.

Ratings for Fitness First Team Workout Freestyle

Fun factor: 7/10. As exercise goes, it was fun (especially as it was so short – an hour of it wouldn’t have been fun).

Fit factor: 7/10. It was high intensity and I was worked to my limit.

Would I go again? Yes, but I’d want to go two or three times a week to get the full benefit.

As for the Strength Training, you probably gathered that it wasn’t fun. Even though you’d for sure build strength if you kept going, I wouldn’t go again.

Thank you to Fitness First and their PT Ambassadors. Find your nearest gym and see all the classes on the Fitness First club finder

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