HIIT – Train Smarter, Not Harder!

One of the new words buzzing around the fitnessphere is “HIIT”.  HIIT stands for high intensity interval training and is a take on your standard interval training with a little extra oomph. It describes training that involves short bursts of high intensity exercise with periods of rest in between.  The beauty of HIIT workouts is that they are short and sweet, with sessions as short as 15 minutes providing significant fitness improvements.

What is HIIT?

High-intensity interval training is a form of cardio training that involves intervals of very high intensity work following by periods of active recovery or complete rest.  The ratio of recovery to work is usually 2:1 for example, 1 minute sprint followed by 2 minutes jog.  HIIT is great because it trains both the aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) energy systems which translates to large improvements in fitness.

What are the benefits of HIIT?

The obvious benefit of HIIT is efficiency.  Studies have shown that HIIT workouts of just 20 minutesduration, 3 times a week can provide greater improvements in aerobic capacity in just 2 weeks than long, low intensity workouts lasting 40-60 minutes performed 5 days a week.  The reason for this is that most people don’t push themselves into the anaerobic zone whilst training very often, this is the zone where you feel like you can’t breathe and you start to feel dead legs due to a build-up of lactic acid.  HIIT forces you in to the anaerobic zone and this stimulates significant adaptations within the muscle cells which enables them to work harder for longer.  Long, slow sessions burn lots of calories but you have to spend a whole lot longer exercising to get the same improvements and changes within your muscle cells.

HIIT training is also touted as a great way to lose weight.  This is true despite the fact that most people will burn fewer calories during a short, high intensity workout than during a long, low intensity workout.  This is because high intensity exercise creates what is known colloquially as ‘after burn’ where the body continues to burn energy at a higher rate for hours after finishing a training session.  This is due to a combination of factors including damaged muscles which then burn more energy repairing themselves and the release of growth stimulating hormones.  Furthermore, HIIT encourages muscle growth which leads to increased metabolism even when you are not exercising because muscle has a higher basal metabolic rate.

In addition, HIIT training can be performed without any equipment.  Whilst treadmills, bikes and rowing machines are great for HIIT, you can easily make a HIIT workout simply by running or performing plyometric exercises such as high-knees, skipping or burpees with gentle jogging or walking between intervals.

What are cons of HIIT?

HIIT is not for the faint hearted.  If you don’t push yourself to the max, due to the short nature of these workouts, you won’t get the benefits of HIIT or see results from your training.  If you hate pushing yourself to the max and prefer getting your exercise through a leisurely stroll or jog then you’re probably not going to enjoy HIIT.  Of course, if you’re training for a truly endurance sports then you simply can’t skip the long, slow runs or rides that are an essential part of an endurance training program.