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Health & Fitness,  App Reviews

App Review: HIIT by Down Dog

Down Dog are possibly most well-known for their yoga app (hence the name – it’s a pose in yoga), but recently they have released a slew of related health-and-fitness apps which have been up to the same excellent levels of craftsmanship.

I use the yoga app and recently added their HIIT and meditation apps to my roster. This review is about the HIIT app.

For a long time, I have not settled on a preferred fitness app. I have been into running recently, tried push-up quests and a variety of styles over the years. But with the very cold winter weather, plus the heavy rains, I decided running was not what I wanted to do right now. In the snow, I prefer a nice gentle walk in the snow-covered woods to relax and unwind.

If you look back at my 2013 posts reviewing all the different fitness apps I used to have on my phone, only two survived the intervening time. One is YAYOG (You Are Your Own Gym) by Mark Lauren and the other is Sleep Cycle. Many of the apps reviewed in 2013 are no longer supported on iOS (they are extinct) and many just didn’t give me what I needed.

However, I need variety in my workouts and also my routine. I have never been able to stick to a single routine that works day in day out, but I still like to have a pattern or framework (a habit) so that I remain healthy. My diet is tuned and tweaked but not restrictive, I like to get good sleep, and some form of exercise is necessary.

Enter HIIT by Down Dog to my toolbox. But what is HIIT?

High-Intensity Interval Training – HIIT

HIIT exercises use your own bodyweight to get your heart rate up and efficiently burn fat while building muscle with no need for any equipment. The main benefit is that you can get a complete workout in less time than using more traditional methods found in the gym.

HIIT exercise sessions generally consist of a warm-up period followed by repetitions of high-intensity exercises separated by medium intensity exercises for recovery, then a cool-down period. The high-intensity exercise should be done at near maximum intensity. The medium exercise should be about 50% intensity. The number of repetitions and length of each depends on the exercise, but can be as little as three repetitions with just 20 seconds of intense exercise. The specific exercises performed during the high-intensity portions vary.

There is no specific formula for HIIT. Depending on one’s level of cardiovascular development, the moderate-level intensity can be as slow as walking. A common formula involves a 2:1 ratio of work to recovery periods, for example, 30–40 seconds of hard sprinting alternated with 15–20 seconds of jogging or walking, repeated to failure.

The entire HIIT session may last between four and thirty minutes, meaning that it is considered to be an excellent way to maximize a workout that is limited by time constraints. Use of a clock or timer is recommended to keep accurate times, the number of rounds, and intensity.

A few famous HIIT methods include Peter Coe, Tabata, Gibala, Zuniga and Vollaard.

Mark Lauren, mentioned above, created his You Are Your Own Gym HIIT system which offers a classic approach to the technique. Typically I was doing 16-minute workout sessions using a combination of 4 exercises, plus warm-up and cool-down. However, the variation in the exercises wasn’t enough for me and I found each session was often a repeat of the last and needed a few “randomise” attempts to get something different. OK, I’m no super-fit expert and take my exercise at the lower end of the spectrum, so there might not be a huge variety of variations in the free YAYOG app, but I do remember the early days of working with a personal trainer and they had more variety in the HIIT workouts even for a beginner.

Disclaimer: I am not a personal trainer, so please check with your doctor before embarking on any exercise program, especially if you have pre-existing conditions that could affect you. Your choice of app and program is your responsibility. This post is my experience with this app.

HIIT by Down Dog

The first couple of times I tried the app I wasn’t that impressed. It doesn’t follow a typical HIIT approach of repeating one exercise like the Tabata routines I did in the past, or that YAYOG adopts. With HIIT by Down Dog you do one exercise, then rest, then a completely different exercise, and so on until you finish.

Initially, I didn’t see the benefits and I reverted back to running and YAYOG with occasional yoga sessions and Chi Kung. However, I started to play with the options and it opened up the magic of the app and I now enjoy the variety and a tiring workout that gives me more energy for the rest of the day (as well as good aches from developing muscles).

Heres where the magic lies.

HIIT Options

Down Dog HIIT: Main Screen
Main Screen

The main screen is deceptively simple. The circular timer in the middle can be dragged longer and shorter and includes warm-up and cool-down times. At the bottom is a pull-up section which has the real power and should be your first place to go. If you just use the “start practice” as I did for the first couple of sessions you can get some odd exercises thrown at you which can be disconcerting.

Down Dog HIIT: Settings
The Options Panel

Here’s the magic. In the top-left you can customise the type of work you want to do (the “Mix”), from full-body with different variations (here, no jumps) to targeting specific body parts. You could create a shorter program targeting legs one day, arms another, core another, etc. This is another way to mix it up. You can see what this screen looks like below.

Down Dog HIIT: Choose Workout
The Mix Screen

Not only can you pick the high-level mix (e.g. Back Day) you can further customise the components of that workout further to tailor it to your preferences. The app will automatically select the different options depending on the high level workout but if you really hate ‘boats’ for example, you can disable them individually. Or you can build your own completely custom options but there doesn’t appear any way to save your custom workout options.

  • Under Aerobic, you can toggle: Cardio, Burpees, Jumping Jacks, Kicks, Walk Outs, Lunge Jumps, Jump Squats, Bear Cardio, Plank Cardio.
  • Under Legs you can toggle: Squats, Lunges, Balance Work, Inner Thighs, Seated Leg Raises.
  • Under Upper Body, you can toggle: Standing Arm Strength, Push-ups, Planks, Bear, Down Dog, Triceps.
  • Under Core, you can toggle: Standing Core, Forearm Plank, Side Plank, Forearm Side Plank, Boat, Leg Drops, Lower Abs, Crunches, Reverse Plank, Crab, Supermans.
  • Under Glutes, you can toggle: Frog Kicks, Tabletop Glutes, Kneeling Glutes, Outer Glutes, Bridges.

The “Type” section (to the right of the “Mix”) lets you choose between “Progression” and “Rotation.” Rotation means you won’t work the same body part in successive exercises and will rotate around different areas throughout the workout. Progression means you will do a set that works one area, then move on to the next. Use which suits you best.

You then have a set of timers so you can specify the length of each individual exercise, the break between each exercise, and the warm-up and cool-down times. The latter two can be set as actual times, or percentages of the overall workout. With HIIT, you are supposed to work out at maximum intensity for a short time (e.g. 20 seconds) then have a short break. As this app doesn’t repeat the exercise, I prefer a slightly longer exercise window so I can get into the form and feel the burn that HIIT is designed to generate.

Down Dog HIIT: Choose Level
Setting Your Levels

Next, you get to define your level of intensity. Level 0 is a beginner, level 1 the next, all the way to “as fit as the people on the screen.” You can set different levels for different regions too and progress at your own pace. You might get the odd exercise that seems misplaced (like the boat pose variation I get at level 1) but you can always improvise your own version or skip it, but these are rare. Part of this is getting used to the levels in the app, and you can always drop a level for that section (arms, legs, core, etc.) which solves this issue.

You can then choose your sound preferences from the main options panel. There are 3 trainers so pick the voice that works for you. I find Sammi more upbeat. You can also choose your music to accompany your workout. I use Upbeat Dance, but you can have piano, acoustic, nature sounds, no sound, and more. The background pictures change randomly on the options screens also.

When you’re ready, hit “start practice” and the app downloads the sequence of exercises it decides for you. You will see a loading screen like the one below and you’re then straight into your workout. Once you’ve spent a couple of minutes customising the options (and a couple of run-throughs), you’ll get a better feel for what works best for you. It’s now become my preferred home-workout HIIT app. Thank you Down Dog!

Down Dog HIIT: Start Workout
Let’s Get Started!

Irrespective of the voice you choose, the trainer who demonstrates the exercises is the same person (as seen below). She demonstrates a good pace, though you go at your own speed, and you get to see the exercise demonstrated during your rest period so you know what’s coming.

Down Dog HIIT: Training
Meet Your Trainer

The screen is clear so you have no distractions. At the top left is a timer so you know how long is left for that exercise (or your rest), and the top right is a music control so you can skip tracks if you want to.

Down Dog HIIT: Training 2
In-Workout Controls

If something comes up, you can pause the workout by tapping the screen (as above). This also gives you additional controls such as “exit practice,” a fader between voice and music volumes and the ability to move around in the playlist of exercises if you so desire.

It’s very clear, very clean and very professional. Check out the main website here – Down Dog. There is a free version, though the subscription is not expensive. I hope you like it.

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