Most likely, you’ve heard of HIIT–perhaps even given it a try. Heck, you may do it and don’t even know you’re doing it! It’s a simple concept really. HIIT (pronounced hit), also known as high intensity interval training, is an approach to working out that involves periods of intense exercise followed by low intensity recovery or rest periods. These periods, or intervals, are performed consecutively for a period of time or for a certain number of rounds.
HIIT training has gained popularity as of late–and that’s a good thing. This style of training is so beneficial for health, can be a game-changer when it comes to fat loss, and can be done in half the time of steady-state exercise.
You may be wondering why HIIT training has all these fantastic effects on us and our health. Or maybe you’re a little skeptical about how such short duration workouts can produce such great results. Below, I explain how and why HIIT yields such impressive results…
- HIIT training has been proven to increase VO2 max which is the amount of oxygen that the body can use during exercise. VO2 max correlates to one’s ability to sustain aerobic exercise for an extended period of time. VO2 max is an important marker for athletes as it is a determinant of an athlete’s endurance capacity, so even long distance runners and athletes who sustain exercise for long durations at lower intensities, can benefit from high intensity interval training.
- VO2 max is also an important health determinant. The higher one’s VO2 max, the more optimal other health markers become. So, HIIT training not only has a huge beneficial impact for athletes looking to up their performance, but it also has been proven to impact significant aspects of health such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and body fat.
- HIIT training recruits the muscle fibers known as fast twitch. These muscle fibers have the greatest capacity for power or force but can only sustain their power for a short duration of time. We don’t use these fibers in our daily living; think about it– how often do you jump, hop, or sprint in your routines of daily living? Probably not often, which means that because of lack of use over the years as we age (now, think about how you probably did these activities much more as a child than you do as an adult), these muscle fibers can become weak. Thus, if you want to maintain strength and power in these muscle fibers (for those times in your life when you do want to move that way, or possibly need to move that way), it’s in your best interest to incorporate some HIIT training into your workout program.
- HIIT training can actually be a better choice for fat loss efforts than steady-state exercise. Steady-state exercise refers to exercise that usually lasts for an extended period of time during which you maintain a consistent level of intensity. While this type of exercise does have its benefits and its place in health and fitness, doing only steady-state exercise to initiate fat loss is not your best move. The reason for this is that when we have to maintain a level of intensity of an exercise for an extended period of time, we can only work so hard. Thus, people tend to exert more energy overall during a HIIT workout–even though it’s of a shorter duration–than they do during a steady-state workout.
- Recruitment of the fast twitch muscle fibers that occurs during a HIIT workout is also a point to note due to their ability to put the body into a fat burning state by necessitating a large amount of energy, and therefore, working to deplete your energy stores in a GOOD way. In a post a few weeks back, I discussed the impact of sugar on the body’s hormones and metabolism. I mentioned that the body cannot get into a fat burning state if you are constantly dumping glucose into your body’s storages throughout the day, and that this problematically decreases the sensitivity of the hormone, insulin. So, HIIT training works help keep those storages lower and insulin sensitivity higher.
- Furthermore, HIIT training not only has a positive effect on the hormone, insulin, but it also causes your body to increase a number of hormones that, together, affect your body composition, creating a more optimal scenario for fat loss.
Efficiency & Convenience:
- One of the reasons HIIT training is considered superior to steady-state exercise is because you can do it in less time than you would be able to do steady-state bouts of exercise and reap results. This can be helpful due to the overwhelming majority of us who have busy lifestyles and can’t always make time to do the recommended 150 minutes per week of steady-state exercise. Consequently, HIIT training can be more a more effective choice when it comes to exercise adherence and consistency over time.
- In my post last week, I discussed the concept of creating a lifestyle of fit living and coined it as #livingfit365 (you can find it here in case you missed it). One of the factors that help me to create that consistent lifestyle of fit living is that I created options for getting my workouts in. HIIT is a fantastic option to add into your own menu of workout options and locations. It not only can be done in a time crunch, but also can be done at home, in a hotel room, or in the park–and it is easy to design a tough HIIT workout with zero equipment.
Additional Important Points:
- While some people may not be physically able to do some of the exercises we might typically associate with HIIT training, or perhaps may not feel comfortable or ready to do things like squat jumps, burpees, and sprints, that does not mean that they can’t still participate in some form of HIIT exercise. HIIT is the concept applied to any workout, any exercise. You can even use HIIT for walking.
- The most important point is that you push yourself to work hard during those work periods. The benefits of HIIT training are reliant upon the notion that the work periods are periods of intense exertion. You should not be able to perform a work period for longer than a minute before needing a rest.
- Be sure to warm up sufficiently for HIIT training. Because of the level of intensity at which you are requiring your body to work, you need be ensure that your muscles and joints are fully warmed. Try performing some of the exercises or similar movements you will do in your workout at a low intensity to get your body primed for the type of movement you expect it to do.
Some ideas for structuring your HIIT workout:
- A 20 second work period, followed by a 10 second rest period. This workout is known as a Tabata workout. The full 30 second round is performed 8 times to total a four-minute workout. Perfect if you’re short on time!
- A 1 minute work period followed by a 1 minute rest period completed ten times for a total 20 minute workout. This is a workout suggested in the book, The One Minute Workout which goes into detail about high intensity interval training and describes the findings of studies that have been done on its benefits.
- Start out with a 20-30 second work period, feel out how much time you are physically able to for and how much rest you need to be able to complete another period of work; experiment a bit. Chances are, if you’ve never dabbled in HIIT before, you’re going to need to see what works for you before really nailing down a structure for a workout. And likely, your time periods of work and rest will differ depending on the exercises you’re incorporating into the workout.
In the video below, I’ve performed a sample HIIT workout and also provided modifications for the exercises included in the workout.
References consulted during the writing of this post: