How you can benefit from High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

By | Movement, Performance, Strength & Conditioning

HIIT, besides being the number 1 fitness trend last year (2018), is still dominating fitness podcasts, local gym timetables and my personal training schedule. You will struggle to find a group fitness timetable without the initials HIIT etched into it somewhere. If you’ve been following my Instagram or YouTube channel, you’ll see that I’m certainly on board, posting weekly HIIT workouts to continually give you fresh ideas for HIIT workouts you can incorporate into your busy week. Here’s a recent example.

Why have we gone HIIT crazy?

HIIT, an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training, is not a new concept. The idea is that you perform an exercise that is going to push your heart rate up to near maximal level, rest and repeat ad libitum. In most of my own HIIT workouts the work interval is just long enough to get close to a maximal or near-max intensity. The rest period is then sufficient to allow a slight recovery but never a full recovery meaning it will take less time to reach that same near-max intensity during the next work interval. A HIIT workout will always have set rest intervals rather giving you small micro rests as you move from one exercise to the next in a typical circuit or crossfit style workout.

Optimal Work & Rest Times

Depending on the exercise, I find between 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes is usually sufficient work time to reach the desired heart rate, but there are many variables to take into account when setting the work time – the speed of the movement, the resistance being applied and the rate of perceived exertion (the RPE) required for a single rep of the given exercise. An exercise with a higher RPE for one rep would require shorter work interval. Similar to the work interval, required rest periods will depend on the intensity of the exercise and how long I spend at a near maximal intensity also generally around 30 seconds to 1.5 minutes. However, in the video above I used a tabata timer consisting of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest with longer rest periods at the end of a completed set.

I prefer to use a combination of strength based movements with no more than 50% of the load I would lift during a typical strength workout, that way I can do a high number of reps and continue with good form even when I’m gasping for breath. That’s the essence of HIIT work, repeatedly getting yourself into a state where you are gasping for breath. I often combine the strength movements with a variety of aerobic exercises such as skipping, spinning and running. Depending on your physical abilities and current level of fitness, the required exercise difficulty will vary from person to person.

The benefits of HIIT

The benefits of engaging in HIIT are numerous but I’ll list three key reasons that I believe provide enough evidence as to why everyone should be doing some form of regular HIIT.

HIIT increases your VO2 max

By training at a maximal intensity you are asking your body to adapt to this high physical output your week now requires. You adapt. You get stronger. One of the ways you do this is by increasing your capacity to transport and utilise oxygen in the energy creation process and subsequently the efficiency in which you can remove the metabolic byproducts of intense exercise – think lactic acid. In doing so life gets easier. Having a higher VO2 Max better enables you to adjust to the demands of your day. A set of stairs to climb – no breath shortness here, running late for the train – I’ll just jog and make it on time, playing with my kids on the floor – I’ll wrestle till they get bored (well maybe that’s a stretch, we all know wrestles end with tears and not boredom).

HIIT helps improve insulin sensitivity

Without going into a lot of detail about insulin sensitivity, simply know that whenever we eat foods which cause our blood glucose levels to increase (yep, that’s you doughnut) insulin is the key player which helps clear the excess glucose from our system. Excess blood glucose is toxic to our bodies so we need to efficiently convert it to glycogen (storage form of glucose) or fat, another handy storage form of energy. Glycogen stores are limited and there is only so much we can store. HIIT training leads to the breakdown of glycogen to be used as energy. When you inevitably enjoy that next carbohydrate feed, you now have available storage space in your liver and muscle tissue where you can push the excess blood glucose without adding to the other storage area, commonly known as the “love handles.”

HIIT increases your metabolism

Firstly, why is increasing metabolism a good thing? Metabolism is essentially the speed at which we can create and break down molecules within our body. To learn more about metabolism from a previous post, click here. Increasing your metabolism means your body is more efficient at carrying out the processes involved in breaking down food, producing energy, building hormones, repairing and building muscle, maintaining bone mineral density and the list could go on. My current stance on metabolic rate is it’s not just a matter of higher = better, however a majority of the population stand to gain considerably by increasing their metabolism, often resulting in weight loss and reduced lethargy.

To top it all off, not only will HIIT provide amazing physiological benefits, these benefits can be gained in workouts of 20 minutes or less making HIIT extremely time efficient. Knowing there are some major benefits to be gained from adding HIIT workouts into your week, are you on board the HIIT train?


Post by Russell Whiteford, founder of I GRASP Wellness. Russell is an experienced leader in fitness, wellness and sports coaching. With an undergraduate degree in Exercise Science and currently completing a Masters in Human Nutrition, Russell combines his theoretical knowledge with public and private sector experience in recreation, project management and high performance. All with the aim of bringing you thought provoking content to help you maximise your wellbeing, productivity and performance.

Cain “Insane” Brunton, Taking on Australia

By | Mental Health, Performance, Purpose

On the eve of his biggest ever professional fight, Cain “Insane” Brunton couldn’t be more excited. An ANBF Australian title awaits the winner of the feather weight boxing bout between Cain and his opponent Jackson John England on December 14 in Perth.

As his older cousin, I’ve known Cain his whole life, and being 9 years older than him I still remember him as a cheeky toddler running around in nappies. This cheeky boy, now a tenacious athlete is about to step into the ring for what could be 10 gruelling rounds of hand to hand battle. However, Cain hasn’t always followed this path. I’ve witnessed first hand the transformation from stereotypical teenager who chugged down bottles of coke while playing video games to national level elite athlete. How does someone go from being the small kid lacking in confidence and drive to a man with the discipline and focus to compete at the highest level in a fierce sport? And at the same time pursue his mission of helping youth navigate today’s challenges and take a stand against our mental health epidemic?

I caught up with Cain recently to ask him these questions and to find out how he prepares himself mentally and physically for the big stage.

Family Support Means Everything

Many people can think back to pivotal moments in life that fundamentally changed their life course. For Cain it was a series of events largely inspired by his family. First and foremost it was obvious that for Cain family support means everything.

The youngest of four siblings Cain was always looking up to his older brothers Shaun and Adrian and his big sister Crystal, tagging along with them whenever he was allowed. While he dabbled in a mixture of team sports through his high school years, it was the influence Shaun and Adrian who were always competing in something that spurred Cain on to push himself further. Both older brothers were constantly training and pushing themselves, Shaun dedicated to motocross and Adrian an accomplished Muay Thai fighter. They would drag Cain along to training sessions and that’s when he began to find his place in the gym. The environment was accepting, and he just felt like he fit in.

“Dad worked hard and supported us and he instilled that work ethic in me. Shaun had drive and Adrian had talent. I wanted to have all of it, Dad’s work ethic, Shaun’s drive and Adrian’s talent and do something special with it.”

Cain took that desire into the Muay Thai ring and quickly tasted success at a young age. However, as a young inexperienced fighter he soon felt the effects of being burnt out both mentally and physically and stepped away from the sport. This led to perhaps one of the most pivotal times in his life. After a year away from the sport he felt like he was drifting, struggling with his own mental health and having no goals. It was then he realised he needed a focus which he had previously found in a fight sport.

In a turn of events which Cain describes as good luck, he teamed up with now mentor and trainer Tony Salter of Salters Boxing Gym in Moolap, Geelong. Touted as one of the best trainers in Geelong, Tony saw promise in his new student and Cain quickly found his next goal: take on Australia in the boxing ring.

When you decide to pursue professional boxing it takes total commitment as the consequences of not being committed can be severe. With up to four major fights in a year there can be months of preparation before you test yourself on the big stage which creates the perfect scenario for setting short and long term goals. The short term focus is always on the next event while long term Cain has big plans for where he wants to take his boxing career.

The Mental Side

Some people might think you need to be a little mental to take up a sport like boxing, but it’s actually the mental health benefit of the physical training and discipline required that Cain thrives on. He describes Mental wellbeing as:

“A state of mind, where you can function to the best of your ability.”

At the same time Cain recognises that “we’re all a little insane” which flows though in his slogan “it’s OK to be insane.” With mental wellbeing such an important personal value Cain has focused on building the habits needed to support his own mental health. His training now is as much for happiness and contentment as it is for fitness, ensuring that this time around he doesn’t wind up feeling burnt out and depleted.

“If I want to walk, I go for a walk. If I want a day off, I mix it up and do something else.”

While flexibility is important, Cain follows a rigorous training schedule. He moves his body twice a day on most days and while the exact schedule might change week to week due to work commitments a typical week will look like this:

Walk or run
Boxing skills and pad work
Hot Pilates
Boxing skills and pad work
Boxing skills and pad work
Sparring Session
Low intensity exercise or rest

When asked how he can stick to such as tight schedule which often involves crawling out of bed at 5am, Cain replied with “I just make it work.” If he misses a session due to shift work, he’ll make it up with an extra session on the weekend. Having trained seriously since the age of 18, Cain has learnt a lot about his body and recovery. When reflecting on those earlier years he knows he didn’t have the same level of commitment that he does now. “Now it’s a completely different mindset.”

Optimising Performance Through Nutrition

Diet plays a huge role in the lead up to a fight which has been another process of learning, trying and refining. Having tried high carb, low carb and keto diets, Cain is constantly learning as much as he can about how he can manipulate his biology through nutrition. Knowing that four weeks out from a fight he can drop up to 8kgs for a weigh-in and still perform at the highest level (which to many people seems absurd) gives him great confidence.

Inspiring Youth

Cain hopes to pass on the benefits of a healthy, active lifestyle to the youth that he works with in his role as residential care worker with McKillop family services. A role he approaches with the same sincerity as his own wellbeing. He knows the fragility of the situation with some of the kids he works with having had first hand experience with suicide. He sometimes sees himself as a de facto big brother to the youth he looks after and wants to inspire them to set and pursue goals just like his big brothers inspired him.

Playing the long game

I loved this analogy. Cain likened his career to an old school PlayStation game. Each opponent he meets in the ring is a symbol of him progressing to the next level. The new opponent has different skills and special moves which he needs to study in order to beat them. Then one day he will progress to the “boss” who will have all the abilities and moves. It takes practice, persistence and strategy to work your way up to the boss, the title holder.

Cain, you very well could be the new “boss” in town after Friday night by bringing home the ANBF feather weight Australian title.


You inspire me Cain, just like I know you inspire so many of your friends, family, fans and fellow athletes. Whichever way it falls on December 14, I know I can speak on behalf of your family in saying you’ve already made them proud! Go get ’em.

Optimising Wellness to Optimise Race Performance – Corey Mccullagh

By | Coaching, Performance

Bananas, power lifting and diligence – insights from Sprintcar racer Corey Mccullagh about excelling in your field.

Motor sport enthusiasts will know there is far more to racing than meets the eye when it comes to keeping a sprintcar on the race track and a driver in blistering form. There’s a lot to be learned from people who are consistently performing at a high level in their field and sprintcar racing is no exception.
The latest technology, a meticulous maintenance regime and an A-grade support crew are all imperative in a sport where seconds can be the difference. Drivers are also continually seeking opportunities to help them find an extra 1% to give them an edge over their rivals. Which is what I wanted to find out about when I caught up with Corey Mccullagh, the 27 year old sprint car sensation who recently won Australia’s biggest race, the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic.
What I was really interested to learn from Corey was the strategies he has implemented to give himself the best shot at success. The physical, mental and nutritional practices Corey applies to stay focused and keep his foot down, that have contributed to him ascending the ranks as he now competes against some of his childhood idols.
There’s no question Corey is now a top threat in the Australian Sprintcar field having taken out four major wins from 15 starts last season with the pinnacle being the Grand Annual Sprintcar Classic in January. The field consisted of 111 entries including 11 top level international racers. What’s more impressive is that Corey won the final from a ninth place start, the furthest back in the field a winner has started. Not only has this put Corey in the history books, it’s also put him on the radar of some bigger teams and is already opening up new opportunities for him.
While you might think that driving around in circles is no big feat, when you are wrestling with a beast of a machine that has a bigger horse power range than an F1 car, the level of fitness and concentration required to perform at the top level is remarkably high. The constant g-force applied to a racers neck and arms puts a huge strain on their upper body and core, and with race meets lasting up to 4.5 hours long and a main race of 30 – 40 laps, the concentration demands of the sport are intense.
So how does Corey fuel, move and live to best prepare him for the demands of his sport and more importantly what can we learn from him to maximise our own performance?

Fuel – Race fuel and proper hydration

Corey has only recently started paying more attention to his nutrition. While he credits his girlfriend for much of his diet which he says is fairly normal, he does have a secret race fuel… bananas. One of the world’s most popular fruits, bananas contain a high amount of easily digestible carbs and have a fairly low glycemic index so they won’t give Corey a large blood sugar spike. The high fibre content will also help Corey feel fuller for longer so he doesn’t feel hungry during race meets. He also ensures that he eats a proper meal when he has a break during a race meet and is drinking a lot of fluids.
“When you feel thirsty, you wear out quicker.”
Through experience, Corey understands the benefits of staying hydrated, stating that it increases his energy levels and gives him clarity which allows him to make better decisions while racing. When one bad decision can be the difference between a podium finish or time and money spent on car repairs, it’s important for Corey to do everything he can to ensure he stays mentally alert during races.

Move – Power lifting and consistency

Over the past season Corey has stepped up his workout regime and it didn’t take long to notice an increase in his endurance. “I was previously getting puffed” he said recalling the fatigued he used to feel towards the end of races. Now with the help of his power lifting coach who he works with 3 time per week for 2 hours each session, he has increased the strength and power of his arms and core.
“I started looking at my racing like a business.”
Once Corey started looking at his racing more like a business, he realised there is more he can do when he’s off the track to give himself the best chance of success on it. He’s learned that he can’t seperate his racing career from “normal” life and as such he knows he needs to better look after himself physically everyday. Which is a great reminder for us that we can’t compartmentalise all the areas of our lives and particularly our health and pretend they have no impact one another.

Live – Systems, sleep and support.

Perhaps the biggest takeaway from Corey is that order is the first order of the day. Corey describes himself as slightly OCD when it comes to his pre-race preparation and uses checklists to ensure everything is ready, cleaned and packed just as it should be. When he knows that he’s well organised, it allows him to feel more relaxed and have a quality sleep the night before a race knowing there’s no more he can do until he’s on his way to the track the next day.
“The more relaxed you are the better you sleep.”
Sleep is the next big piece of pre-race preparation with Corey saying “it’s huge” when describing the importance of quality sleep. To stay alert during long race days, a good night sleep is a must for both focus and maintaining energy levels.
Lastly, one of the biggest contributors of his success… The support of his crew, family and sponsors. Even though Corey is the one sitting behind the wheel there are a plethora of people who have helped him get there.
“You cannot do this on your own.”  
Mates, mentors and family have been the key to his success and Corey says you need all three to achieve your goals in life. His crew are some of his best mates and they know how to keep it positive and keep it fun which “takes the pressure off” and helps keep the mood relaxed. One of his main sponsors, Murray, has been a great mentor for Corey who Corey says is “a bit of a life coach” who he can turn to for advice about racing and life. Combined with the support of his Dad and girlfriend, no matter what happens, Corey feels it’s the people around him that gives him the best chance of success.
Corey knows he’s putting in the work, and his effort is certainly paying off as he competes and holds his own against big teams with big budgets. Follow Corey’s progress on Facebook and Instagram @coreymccullaghv90 to keep up to date with his preparation for the upcoming season kicking off on October 13th at Avalon Raceway.
“You need to find what works for you. For me that’s being organised and being prepared.” 
Corey, you’re super impressive and I wish you all the best with the upcoming season, I know that you’ll start this season as strong as you finished your last!
Corey has had a lot of people help him along the way and wanted to use the opportunity to thank his main sponsors:
  • Warrnambool RV & Caravan Centre
  • Owenbuilt Homes
  • South West Conveyancing
  • Owentruss
  • Westvic Sheds & Garages
I Grasp Wellness provides wellness coaching for individuals to help create enduring healthy change. If you know it’s time to take a look at your own wellbeing and need help navigating exercise planning, nutrition, sleep strategies and motivation to stay focused, connect with I Grasp Wellness today for a complimentary wellness discovery session.