Resolving to get fitter and healthier, unfortunately, is always never enough. Faced with the prospect of exercising 2-1/2 hours a week—as prescribed in the 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans—you may end up backpedaling from it all.
A fitness regimen called High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) seeks to turn this anxiety on its head, a promise that has taken the world by typhoon-strength storm. HIIT in fact ranked number one on the American College of Sports Medicine’s (ACSM) global poll of fitness trends for this year.
So what is the hoopla all about?
Benefits of HIIT
For a start, HIIT involves short but very intense bursts of anaerobic periods—entailing anything from sprints to weight lifting—interspersed with slow recovery periods.
In short, HIIT aims for efficiency. It jam-packs the benefits of hours-long exercise sets into half an hour, even three minutes. This guarantee resonates with people. Pressed for time, people tend to see conventional exercise as a luxury; they can easily sneak HIIT into their lunch breaks, in contrast.
HIIT pushes the threshold for exercise. It raises your heart rate to hitherto unknown levels, which then leads to a wholesale depletion of fats. Do not think this is all mumbo jumbo spouted by fitness trainers, for there is adequate science to back up HIIT.
Researchers at the University of Queensland found that HIIT is twice more effective than moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) at raising cardio-respiratory fitness in patients with chronic lifestyle diseases.
In addition, a study at Colorado State University also came to the conclusion that HIIT spectacularly boosts resting metabolic rate. Participants continued to burn 200 calories within 24 hours of performing a mere 150 seconds of HIIT.
Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Western Ontario observed that 30 minutes of HIIT can exhaust over 500 calories (150 representing fat stores). In comparison, half an hour each of jogging and walking only burned 200 calories (100 from fats) and 100 calories (85 from fats), respectively.
HIIT also has remarkable cognitive benefits. After putting subjects on a regimen of HIIT twice weekly for four months, researchers at the Montreal Heart Institute found that participants garnered extraordinarily high scores on cognition tests. Apparently, HIIT is an expedient tool to brain oxygenation.
How to do HIIT
Anyone in good health, who exercises regularly, is ripe for a session of HIIT. On the other hand, those who have taken a hiatus from exercise or are beginners should attain a base level of fitness before attempting HIIT.
When you get the all-clear, perform HIIT no more than thrice a week. Less is more, due to the sheer intensity of this regimen.
Choose from an array of HIIT workouts, named anything from Fartlek to Metcon to Tabata. The latter is one of the most sought-after kinds of HIIT because it takes no more than 180 seconds.
HIIT advocates are not very fastidious about what kinds of equipment to use: So much as a medicine ball or a pair of dumb bells work fine. However, many HIIT workouts also rely on fitness machines.
Sample HIIT workouts
What follows are some interval-training routines that you can do with bikes, rowing machines, and treadmills at home. As always, consult a physiologist, fitness trainer, or physician before attempting the following.
HIIT the bike
Warm up for 180 seconds at 65 percent of your maximum heart rate. Cycle as fast as you can for half a minute. Recover for the next half-minute. Repeat. (RPM during anaerobic period should not go below 120.)
HIIT the treadmill
Perform a three-minute warm-up at 75 percent maximum heart rate. Run for 30 seconds on a grade of 10 percent, and then straddle treadmill. Recover for half a minute. Meanwhile, increase speed to 5 km per hour. Then run for 30 seconds. Repeat until you’re out of breath. Rest for three minutes.
HIIT the rowing machine
Row steadily for 180 seconds to warm up. Right after this, row as swiftly as you can within one minute. Recover for another minute. This makes one set.
HIIT can be done in conjunction with other kinds of cardio. In fact, you can apply HIIT to your existing physical activity regimen. For example, alternate between sprints and jogs when you’re jogging.
Just remember that the essence of HIIT is to get you out of your seats and lure you to an activity that can be done in no time but with long-term benefits. So instead of sitting on the sofa and watching reruns, just run.
Joel Mayer is an Australian freelance writer and blogger. He loves fitness, wellbeing, plastic surgery, design and reviewing companies.