So, you’ve probably heard of HIIT (pronounced “hit”) and maybe thought that it sounded like a lot of work — it does have “high intensity” in the name, which usually implies hard. But seriously, hear me out.
It’s already hard to get most of the population to exercise on a regular basis, so it might seem silly that I’m advocating for even a more intense exercise program. Here’s where it gets good. HIIT workouts may actually mean that you can exercise less. Do I have your attention yet?
What is it?
HIIT workouts can take on different meanings, depending on who you ask, but generally, it is a series of exercises that go from high to low. For example, this could mean that you do an interval “set” of exercises that gets your heart racing and you keep it there for 1-2 minutes, followed by a rest/recovery period. Then you complete this series 5 times.
This could also mean sprint training, where you sprint for a specified amount of time and then walk at a normal pace…I’m pretty sure they just called this our “running” days in high school. Only now do I appreciate the efforts of my PE teachers.
You could do this on a bike with high intensity sprints for 60 seconds, followed by an active, much slower paced recovery period.
There has been a lot of research done on HIIT training and the results are in. Healthwise, you might want to try this. HIIT has been shown to improve:
- Heart function
- Skeletal muscle
- Exercise capacity
- Quality of life
We’ve been trained that more exercise is better. HIIT proves that the theory of more is better is not necessary, depending on the intensity of the work. Both moderate and high intensity exercise have been shown to be useful for weight loss, but with HIIT you get it done in less time.
Improvement in anaerobic capacity
This one may not apply to you if you’re not in sports and are just exercising for fitness or to lose weight, but for those in sports, especially power sports, building anaerobic capacity is extremely beneficial.
What is anaerobic capacity? I know you’ve heard of aerobic exercise, that’s anything that uses oxygen and we often think of this as “cardio” or endurance exercise — so, that’s running, long distance swimming, cycling, basketball, and brisk walking.
Anaerobic work is power work — sports that utilize short distance sprints (track, swimming) and sports that utilize short, power moves and jumps (basketball, volleyball, soccer, gymnastics). Your body doesn’t use oxygen for these power moves and relies on a different system of energy called the ATP – phosphocreatine (PC) system.
Building up this system and making your body more efficient is important for maintaining power. It makes you stronger and it activates this system quicker when you train your body the right way.
So, let’s just say you want to get stronger and help out your health, but you don’t have a strength and conditioning coach on speed dial. Here’s what you do. Check out a HIIT fitness class on a reputable site. I love POPSUGAR’s HIIT workouts, but there are so many out there, you just have to find one that appeals to you.
You can always create your own with running or cycling using the following strategy:
Very short: 10-20 seconds of sprint, with 30 seconds of recovery.
Short: up to 60 seconds, with 1 minute of recovery.
Long: 2-4 minutes, with equal time for recovery
Who shouldn’t do HIIT?
HIIT isn’t for everyone. If you have any preexisting conditions, it’s probably best to stick with the exercise your doctor recommended. HIIT can often involve jumping and sudden starts and stops, so if joint mobility is an issue, start with something like yoga and moderate intensity exercise before moving on to HIIT.
Haff, G. & Triplett, N. (2016). Essentials of strength and conditioning (4th Edition). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
Powers, S.K. & Howley, E.T. (2018). Exercise physiology: Theory and application to fitness and performance (10th ed.). McGraw-Hill.