First and foremost as a quick refresher, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a form of exercise that alternates between short bursts of high intensity max effort (anaerobic) exercise and low-intensity recovery periods of low intensity or resting (aerobic) exercise. HIIT sessions can be performed via cardio exercise or weight training movements and last anywhere from a few minutes to longer sessions of 30 minutes or so (we will address why HITT rarely last longer).
HIIT is popular for a number of reasons. Here are the top few:
1. Takes less time to burn more calories than traditional low intensity cardio.
2. Improves athletic performance
3. Eliminates the possibility of the body adjusting to your cardio routine, thus allowing for more effective fat burning over a period of time (the body quickly adjusts to low intensity cardio).
4. Raises metabolism more effectively than traditional low intensity cardio.
5. Builds muscle (check out a sprinter’s physique versus a marathon runner).
1. HIIT involves pushing out max effort and taxing the body over a period of time. Thus, recovery is a huge factor around HIIT training. Walking on the treadmill for 30 minutes does very little damage to the body compared to HIIT. Therefore, you must treat HIIT as you would any other kind of max effort training (weights, cross-fit, etc.) and apply proper rest and nutritional strategies around your HIIT sessions.
2. HIIT is putting out max effort followed by recovery. This is where most people get it wrong. HIIT is NOT increasing effort and then lowering intensity. Everyone’s max effort is different. For an elite athlete it could be sprinting at max speed for 100m, but for the girl who is just starting her transformation it could be walking at 4.5mph on an incline. The key here is to perform the high intensity portion of the exercise at a level that ONLY allows you to continue for a short period of time (10-15 seconds max) before HAVING to stop. If you can perform the high intensity portion of the exercise for longer than 20-30 seconds, the intensity needs to go up!
3. HIIT doesn’t have to be done via traditional cardio tools. The treadmill is great, but for most-people it doesn’t allow max effort without safety concerns (there is a safe way- youtube Deadmill sprints). HIIT can be done with bodyweight movements (burpees, pull-ups, squat-jumps) or with out of the box tools (punching bags, jumping rope, kettle balls) and even with weights (you can literally just use a barbell and perform max effort movements followed by rest). Get creative! Remember—use max effort for a short period of time and then recover/repeat!
Overall we love HIIT, but it’s a tool to help you achieve your physique and health goals. It’s not a miracle form of exercise nor will it allow you to gorge on whatever you want. It’s important to track your caloric burn and to work on improving your cardiovascular health. As we always say, feel free to send me questions and to do your own research!