If you have reached a training plateau, fancy a new physical challenge and/or you have a limited number of minutes free each day then High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) could be the dream exercise regime you have been searching for. With HIIT it is possible to burn more fat than the average endurance training session of double the length, increase power, achieve excellent body composition and improve cardiovascular fitness all in a few weeks from training just 3-4 times each week for only 15 minutes per session.
If you think that this is all sounding too good to be true then you should keep in mind that HIIT is really hard work. No pain, no gain...
What is HITT?
HIIT is a specialised adaptation of regular interval training which involves short intervals of maximum intensity exercise followed by longer intervals of low-moderate intensity exercise. Due to the varying nature of the intervals it is possible to condition both your aerobic and anaerobic capacity. To reap the most from these workouts, you must be willing to push yourself to the limit for the duration of the high intensity intervals and resist the temptation to take a break between low and high intervals.
The difference between HIIT and other interval training regimes is that the high intensity intervals involve maximum effort not just raising your heart rate to 80% of its maximum. Once you begin HIIT training, you can adapt the length of intervals, number of intervals and number of training sessions per week according to your progress and lifestyle.
Efficient – HIIT fits into the busiest of schedules, you can do it absolutely anywhere and it only takes 15 minutes (although this should be a minimum ideally). You can achieve more progress in 15 minutes than someone who spends a whole hour running at a steady state on a treadmill and still have 45 minutes spare to work/spend time with family/ indulge in a hobby. A 2011 study published in the American College of Sports Medicine found that 2 weeks of HIIT improved endurance capacity on par with 6-8 weeks of steady state endurance training.
Burn More Fat – Due to the fast paced nature and varying intensities of this workout, you will burn more calories during HIIT than you would training at a steady state. You will also burn more calories post-workout because of the intense exertion your body has gone through during training. The repair and progression that your body will go through after each training session will require a lot of energy which can elevate metabolism for as much as 24-48 hours post-workout.
Enhanced Cardiovascular System – Pushing into your anaerobic zone repeatedly is extremely taxing on the body but the health benefits you reap will outweigh any negativity you may feel towards this part of the training. A study conducted in 2006, found that subjects who participated in cycle-based HIIT doubled the length of time they were able to cycle for from 26 minutes to 52 minutes when training at 60-70% of their maximum.
No Equipment Necessary – You do not have to join a gym, buy equipment or hire a personal trainer for HIIT to be effective. Obviously will power is required, but this is free ;). Plyometrics, sprinting, burpees and the like are all ideal for the high-intensity intervals. In fact, using equipment can actually hinder the results of this type of training. The focus should be on elevating your heart rate to maximum and working at your VO2 max for 30 seconds – 2minutes, not on feeling the burn in your muscles by lifting weights. Although you will certainly feel the burn, believe me!
Lose Weight, Not Muscle – A lot of endurance runners suffer from slight muscle wastage when they lose weight and it can be very difficult to hold on to your hard earned muscles as you drop the pounds. However, like resistance training, HIIT is great at helping you lose weight while maintaining those powerful muscles you will be working hard to achieve! And of course, the bigger your muscles get, the more calories you will be burning to maintain that muscle which will help speed up fat burning.
Slows Aging – Exercise and healthy eating will keep you looking great regardless, but HIIT increases human growth hormone by up to 450% in the 24 hour period after training. This helps you to maintain that youthful glow, healthy hair, nails and teeth and an amazing physique. It is possible to slow down the process of aging without paying ridiculous amounts of money.
Challenging – Due to the intense nature of this training, there will be no time to chat with friends or jog along at a steady rate while you watch TV and pay no attention to training. You will have to be focused, determined and energetic to complete this workout to the standard it requires. The good news is that you will never get bored because it is short duration, easily adapted and highly challenging no matter what your fitness levels are!
If you are thinking of trying out HIIT workouts, make sure that you already have a good level of fitness (it is not for the faint hearted or exercise novices). Start off with just a few short intervals and build up from there. You do not want to dive in at the deep end with this training because your body won’t be able to recover quick enough to fit in three sessions that week and you are likely to injure yourself before you can reap any of the benefits!
Here is an idea to get you started:
|Week||Maximum Intensity Interval||Recovery Interval (60-70% Max)||Repetitions||Total Workout Duration|
Gibala MJ, McGee SL, Metabolic Adaptations to Short-Term High-Intensity Interval Training: A Little Pain for a Lot of Gain? Exercise and Sport Sciences Review, 2008, 36(2): 58-63.
Laursen PB, Jenkins DG, The Scientific Basis for High-Intensity Interval Training: Optimising Training Programmes and Maximising Performance in Highly Trained Endurance Athletes, Sports Medicine, 2002, 32(1): 53-73.
Laursen PB, Shing CM, Peake JM, Coombes JS, Jenkins DG, Influence of High-Intensity Interval Training on Adaptations in well-trained Cyclists, Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 2005, 19(3):527-33.
Talanian JL, Galloway SDR, Heigenhauser GJF, Bonen A, Spriet LL, Two Weeks of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training Increases Capacity For Fat Oxidation During Exercise in Women, Journal of Applied Physiology, 2007, 102(4):1439-47.