High-Intensity Interval Training is inaccurately named. And, to mangle a Death Cab for Cutie song, everybody knows it. The intensity is high, yes, and it’s a form of training, definitely. But that second “I” is unnecessary, really. And fatally misleading.

You go into a HIIT session thinking, it’s cool, it won’t be all bad. You know there’ll be tough parts, and purely evil bits, but there’ll be intervals in amongst those, surely. A chance to breathe, even for a few seconds. This is not true. Those famous intervals may as well not be there. Against the massive extreme “HI” part of the whole thing, intervals fade into nothing.

The Armoury Physical Training Team, a.k.a. “H” and Alix, my personal torturers, are from England. Maybe it’s the accent, maybe it’s the fact that they know what they’re doing, but when they say HIIT they say “hit”. They don’t bother with that second “I”. They don’t mention intervals. They mention other things, like no, that’s not a proper burpee. Things like yes, you can jump higher, run faster, lift more. Things like, don’t worry, you can have a weekend off. In March. They say “Come on” a lot.

They play a lot of music, in 45-second bursts. This helps. And there are a lot of us, on the rooftop of the Buchanan Square building in Woodstock, which also helps. Some of the guys here are – believe it – not jocks. Some of them aren’t fit. Or, not as fit as they’d like to be. Or, not as fit, yet, as they’re on their way to being. Some of them, my point is, look an awful lot like me. Sweat flying every which way, T-shirts soaked through. Gasping hard, breathing ragged. Pushing through, in that way that says they’ve been here before. Done this a few times. Done it enough to keep coming back.

“Halfway there” is something you hear a lot. It’s part of the music, this voice reminding you how much further you have to go. Mocking you, telling you how little you’ve done, just as you’re about to fall over. “Half way there” is a phrase you come to hate; a reminder of your weakness. Your mortality. One of the guys, this big guy, has a way of shouting just when he starts properly sweating. “Come on gents” is something you hear a lot, when this happens. With clapping, and whistling.

The point here, on this rooftop, with all these people, the music going, everyone jumping and pushing and running like mad, is to spike your heart rate. Then the music stops, and your heart rate drops, supposedly. Then we go again, and it rises right back up again. You do that enough, and your resting heart rate comes out ahead, way higher than it went in. This is to help me stay upright in the ring, stay awake and able to keep my arms up. Stay not-beaten-up, stay alive.

High knees, for 45 seconds, fast as you can. Punching the air, as if it wasn’t tough enough. Burpees, but quickly, for another 45. Climbers, go go go. Jumping jacks, squat jumps, everything compound, everything hurting. This is where your rhythm goes to shit.  This is where those intervals become nothing. “Halfway there.”

An interval here isn’t any kind of interval you’ve seen before. Pauses shouldn’t be this painful. Not when you spend those precious few seconds trying frantically to breathe. Trying to deal with this suffocating chest. This paralysed diaphragm. Not when you can count those seconds on the fingers of one hand, or would, if you could only see your hand through the sweat in your eyes. Through the shaking, the stars. If my heart rate drops at all, it’s not by much.

This is one of those great-in-theory things: hell in practice. Run to the corner, do 10 push-ups. At the next corner, do another 10. Then again, one last time. Next round, same three corners, 20 tricep dips at each one. Next round, those corners seem further away, with 30 crunches every time you get there. “Come on gents.”

Alix tells me, the best way to build muscle endurance is to overload them. HIIT is the process of overloading. The reality of it. Consider my muscles, I say, well and truly overloaded. She doesn’t hear me. Maybe it’s the music, the shouting. Maybe it’s the fact I can barely speak for gasping for air, clutching at my chest.

“Halfway there” is a taunt, and an invitation. It’s a dare.

Challenge accepted.

“Come on gents. Come on gen-tle-men.”

Photo via Flickr by Alan