Looking for an effective workout to achieve your fitness goals, high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, may be just the workout for you.
Whether you are a seasoned gym-goer or only recently thinking about embarking on your fitness journey, you may have heard of the HIIT method in passing. Is it for you or is it just another fad to pass up?
What is High-Intensity Interval Training?
High-intensity interval training, as the name states, is a type of interval training. For those not familiar with the concept, interval training involves alternating periods of exercise and rest within a workout. The periods of exercise are at or near anaerobic levels, while the rest period entails activity of lower intensity.
Therefore, HIIT is a form of interval training where short spurts of intense anaerobic activity are used with periods of less intense activity. Because of the overall intensity of the workout, a HIIT session's duration is usually under a half hour. The exact duration of a session will depend on the intensity of the workout as well as the fitness level of the trainee.
Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training
In contrast with other training methods that provide gym-goers with either cardiovascular benefits or gains in muscle hypertrophy, HIIT provides a spectrum of rewards. It allows you to achieve health and fitness gains that are vital to your productivity, longevity and appearance.
1. Effective for Fat Loss
Due to the fact that a high-intensity interval workout burns a lot of calories in a short period of time, the HIIT method is an effective way to burn fat. For those that have busy schedules, an interval training programme is easier to fit into a daily routine than two-hour gym sessions.
Also, it should be noted that conventional cardiovascular activity has been proven to be less than optimal for fat loss. Therefore, spending countless hours on a treadmill will end up giving you less spectacular results than shorter, high-octane interval sessions.
2. Speeds Up Your Metabolism
In keeping with the fat loss benefits of HIIT, it's important to state why this type of workout can be superior to conventional cardio sessions. Steady-state cardio activity such as riding an exercise bike at a steady rate only burns calories while you pedal. Once you get off the equipment and head for the locker room, the fat-burning stops.
HIIT workouts have the unique ability to keep the calorie-burning going after your session has ended. To better illustrate the comparison with conventional cardio, it has been shown that a HIIT session with sufficient intensity can improve several cardiometabolic health markers by the same amount as riding an exercise bike for over two hours.
3. Muscle Gain
Mike Mentzer was a golden-era bodybuilder that applied a high-intensity approach to his workouts. This high-intensity training dictates that the trainee completes fewer sets of higher intensity with much greater rest periods between workout sessions.
Although Mentzer's bodybuilding approach differs from HIIT in scope and overall outcome, the methodologies are similar in a key way. Mentzer believed that muscle hypertrophy is dependant on intensity rather than duration. When following a HIIT programme, you are working your muscles with enough intensity to cause them to grow. However, you shouldn't expect to become as big as a bodybuilder with HIIT as the amount of weight you will be using for your routines will not be enough to produce continuous hypertrophy.
4. With or Without Gym Equipment
Although dumbbells or kettlebells can pack a punch for your HIIT sessions, a lack of equipment will not keep you from reaping the benefits of this method. The HIIT philosophy can be applied to bodyweight exercises like push-ups, lunges or jump squats. This is ideal for fitting a workout in during a lunch break, in the morning before leaving for work or at a hotel during a trip, like these Simple HIIT Workouts You Can Do From Home.
5. Can Reduce Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
There is sufficient research to support that people that use HIIT are able to reduce their heart rates and blood pressure. Specifically, one study showed that eight weeks of training on an exercise bike with a HIIT protocol reduced blood pressure for participants as much as conventional endurance training. Those that partook in the study were adults with high blood pressure and were divided into two groups.
One group followed an endurance training regimen with a frequency of four days per week for 30 minutes a day. The second group followed a HIIT regimen three times per week for only 20 minutes. The results as echoed in heart rate and blood pressure measurements were in favour of the HIIT group.
6. Can Reduce Blood Sugar
While on the topic of studies conducted around HIIT, it is important to mention that 50 different such studies concluded that this method of training reduces blood sugar. An additional benefit discovered is that HIIT improves insulin resistance more than conventional methods of continuous exercise. This was further studied and proven in experiments with people who have type 2 diabetes.
7. Supercharges Cognitive Function
The human brain requires oxygen and ample blood flow in order to function properly. Apart from the benefits of HIIT to your body, the training method also helps improve cognitive function. The positive effects of HIIT on memory and learning are documented in studies with obese people as well as individuals over 50 years of age.
Furthermore, the researchers conducting these studies found that people following a HIIT protocol released more of a protein called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF, in their bodies. Deficiency in this protein is linked to Parkinson's disease and Alzheimer's.
What Are the Disadvantages of HIIT?
Despite the fact that using a high-intensity interval protocol can provide many benefits, there are also disadvantages to following such a regimen.
Maintaining Good Form
When trying to perform an exercise with a high degree of intensity, it is hard to maintain perfect form. Adding a timed period in which you complete the repetitions causes an added factor that may contribute to form breakdown.
Higher Occurrence of Injury
With form breakdown comes a higher probability of injury. Even a slight sprain can sometimes be enough to keep you away from working out for a few days or weeks, making injuries a concern for those looking to remain active. However, with proper form and exercise selection, you should be able to avoid downtime.
Not as Good at Developing Aerobic System
Since HIIT focuses on exercise at anaerobic levels, you don't get to develop your cardiovascular endurance as much. Therefore, those training for a marathon would not use this as their training regimen of choice.
Who Can Use High Intensity Interval Training
Anyone that is fit to exercise can use HIIT. It should be stated that it's always a good idea to cheque with a professional before entering any fitness regime. However, from the studies mentioned above, HIIT has been applied to study participants that are obese and suffering from high blood pressure. So, it's likely that unless your physician detects a serious health issue that prevents you from exercising that you will get the green light to use HIIT.
Who Should Avoid High Intensity Interval Training
Although HIIT is a great workout regimen for most individuals looking to improve their fitness, there are a few people that should avoid such a programme. These include:
- People who are injured
- People suffering from Immune suppression
- Women who are pregnant or in the first three to six months postpartum
- Those with a heart condition
- Osteoporosis sufferers
- People with incontinence or any pelvic floor weakness
- Those who have never worked out before
The Different HIIT Regimens
Different HITT protocols have been developed over the years. Each of these regimens tweaks intensity and rest periods in order to achieve slightly different objectives.
Peter Cooe Regimen
This branch of HIIT was developed in the 1970s by athletics coach Peter Coe. It involves sessions with repeated 200-metre sprints with 30 seconds of recovery between each sprint.
Developed for Olympic speed skaters and based on a 1996 study, the Tabata regime is characterised by 20 seconds of extremely intense exercise that is followed by 10 second rest periods. This is repeated for eight cycles.
The Gibala regimen is a product of a 2010 study on students at a university in Canada. This method starts with three minutes of warm-up, followed by 60 seconds of intense activity and 75 seconds of rest. The cycle is repeated for a minimum of eight times.
The Zuniga regimen came about as an effort to determine how to fit the highest oxygen consumption and volume of work into the shortest amount of time. The conclusion was that 30-second activity intervals at 90 percent of power output followed by 30-second rest periods achieved the stated goal the best.
The Vollaard regimen came to the interesting conclusion that high-intensity intervals, when done at the highest possible intensity, saw health benefits plateau after two or three sprint repetitions. The result was the development of a routine that combines high intensity and lower intensity activity as a way of maximising results.
Example HIIT Workouts
The workouts you can create with HIIT are virtually endless. There are workouts that can be done indoors or outdoors, using bodyweight exercises or dumbbells, rowing machines or in a swimming pool and many others. The routine you decide on is mostly dependant on your needs and specifications.
A timer or specialised mobile app will come in handy for timing your intervals and being able to move seamlessly from one stage of the workout to the next. Let's look at a HIIT workout you can do without any equipment and that will only take 30 minutes to perform.
You always want to warm up before any workout. Find some stairs and start climbing. Begin your warm-up at a light pace and pick it up as you progress. After five minutes you should be ready for the main part of the workout.
The first circuit is made up of two exercises that are done at 20-second high-intensity intervals that you follow up by 10 seconds of rest. These exercises are mountain climbers and lateral lunges.
Mountain climbers are done by assuming the plank position and pulling in one knee at a time, alternating between your knees. It looks as if you are on the side of a mountain and raising one knee so as to propel yourself upwards.
Lateral lunges are done by starting with a stance where your feet are placed wider than shoulder-width; approximately twice as wide. Move your weight to one leg while pushing your hips back and lowering your body as much as possible. Keep your other leg straight with your foot remaining flat on the ground.
This circuit should last four minutes, meaning that you will be doing 8 cycles. Make sure to alternate exercises for each cycle. So, start by performing the first exercise for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. Do the second exercise for 20 seconds and rest for 10 seconds. Repeat this until you have completed eight cycles.
Now that you understand how HIIT feels in practise, you can understand the progression between activity and rest. Below is the complete second circuit listed out fully. You can see that this time you will be performing 3 exercises per cycle. Going once through this circuit will take another five minutes in total.
- 60 seconds of alternating lunges
- 30 seconds of curtsy lunges
- 15 seconds of plyometric lunges
- 30 second rest
- 60 seconds of body weight squats
- 30 seconds of low squat pulse
- 15 seconds of squat jumps
- 30 second rest
This circuit moves the focus to your upper body. Performing this circuit will take another five minutes.
- 60 seconds jumping jacks
- 30 seconds push-ups
- 60 seconds glute-kicks
- 30 seconds chair dips
- 60 seconds cherry pickers
- 30 seconds reverse plank
- 30 seconds rest
This circuit is aimed at strengthening the core. If you find yourself unable to hold the exercises for the allotted time, don't be discouraged. Do the exercise to the best of your ability so as to build up the necessary strength and endurance.
- 30 seconds of plank jacks
- 60 seconds of plank
- 30 seconds of moguls
- 60 seconds of side planks (hold for 30 seconds per side)
- 30 seconds of skaters
- 60 seconds of semi-superman holds (hold for 30 seconds per side)
The last five minutes of the workout are devoted to a cool-down. The purpose is to prevent injuries and to bring your heart rate down in a comfortable manner. Walk around the room if you are performing your workout indoors. If your choice was to work out outdoors, enjoy the sun by taking a walk in the park or around the track. Feel free to do some stretches and sip some water. Hydration plays an integral role in achieving the best possible health and fitness benefits.
HIITing Your Fitness Goals
With the busy schedules that most people have, it's easy to neglect exercising in favour of business and family commitments. With a high-intensity interval training regimen, you can achieve significant results by dedicating less than two hours per week to your fitness.
Alternating lunges: Stand up straight with both feet together. Step forward with one leg and lower your body as you bend your other leg's knee to about 90 degrees.
Curtsy lunges: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your arms by your side. Cross your right foot behind your left foot in a semi-circular motion while clasping your hands at your chest. Lunge down while keeping your knee a few centimetres off the ground. Push off with your legs to return to your initial curtsy position.
Plyometric lunges: A plyometric lunge starts by stepping forward with one foot into a conventional lunge. From this position, explode up as high as you can and land on your feet.
Bodyweight squats: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart with your feet pointing slightly outward to allow you to comfortably perform the exercise. Place your hands straight forward or on the back of your head. Lower your body till your thighs become parallel with the ground. Hold this position for a brief moment and push through your legs to return to the starting position.
Low squat pulse: A low squat pulse is performed like a bodyweight squat up until the point where your thighs are parallel to the ground. In that position, pulse a few centimetres up and down before pushing back up to the standing position.
Squat jumps: Squat jumps, also known as jump squats, are performed by lowering your body down to the position where your thighs are parallel to the ground and exploding out of that stance into a jump. Land as softly as possible with your knees bent before moving on to the next repetition.
Glute-kicks: Also known as butt kicks, this exercise entails running in-place while trying to bring your heels as close to your glutes as possible.
Chair dips: Sit in a chair or other surface that is sturdy enough to hold your weight. Keep your feet shoulder-width apart on the floor. Lean forward with your back and shoulders straight and grasp the arms of the chair with your hands and push off, lifting your body off the surface of the seat. You can modify this exercise by placing another chair in front of you and placing your feet on that chair. You can then use your hands to keep your body suspended between the chair on which you were sitting and the chair with your feet on it. By bending at the elbows, you bring your body below the level of the seat of the chair. Pushing off with your hands will bring you to the starting point.
Cherry pickers: To perform this exercise, stand with your legs slightly wider than shoulder-width apart. Bend your knees slightly and hinge at the hip. Place your arms forward and bend forward as if wanting to touch the floor. Recoil partly toward the standing position and reach down again to touch the floor behind your body through your legs. Return to the standing position and you are ready for the next rep. Keep in mind, if you do not have the flexibility to touch the floor, don't worry. Perform the stretch as deeply as you can without placing excessive strain on your body.
Plank: To perform a plank, assume a push-up position where your elbows are bent at 90 degrees and touching the floor. With the weight of your body resting on your forearms and your shoulders directly over your elbows, look straight at the floor and hold your body stationary in a straight line. Side planks are done by keeping one elbow on the floor and turning your body so that you are facing parallel to the ground to the left or right.
Reverse plank: Start by sitting on the floor with your palms on the ground. Lift your hips and torso upwards while keeping your arms and legs straight. Hold your body in a straight line by squeezing your core.
Plank jacks: Plank jacks are performed by starting off in the conventional plank position and opening and closing the distance between your feet by slightly propelling your feet off the ground as if doing standing jumping jacks.
Moguls: Moguls are done by assuming a partial squat position. Keep your arms ahead of you as if holding onto ski poles and jump laterally to the left or right and then back to the initial position.
Skaters: To do skaters, start with your feet slightly wider than shoulder-width apart with your arms at your side. Bring one of your legs behind your body at a slight angle into a reverse lung position. Your front knee should come to a right angle. Swing your arms in front of the bent knee and shoot the back leg forward to change stances. The motion should resemble that of a skater.
Semi-Superman holds: A Superman hold is when you lay on the floor on your stomach and simultaneously lift your head, arms and legs as if you were the comic book character flying through space. With semi-Superman holds, you raise your left arm and right leg while your other appendages rest on the floor. You then lift your right arm and left leg simultaneously while bringing your previously raised limbs to the ground.
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