High intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, is a training method that involves short bursts of work with maximum effort and maximum intensity (85-100% of max. heart rate) for a specified period of time, followed by an active rest and recovery period.
When there are several other way to train, why favour HIIT?
Because it’s high intensity, it drastically increases the body’s need for oxygen, thereby creating an oxygen shortage, which initiates the EPOC effect, or the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption.
What is EPOC you may ask? It’s a state where the body is in short supply of oxygen and can be used to your advantage to ramp up the number of calories burned during, and after, training. Studies have also shown that doing HIIT is an effective way of improving body composition. One specific study published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise showed that HIIT had a stronger and faster-acting effect on heart rate variability, a marker of fitness, than classic aerobic endurance training.
Need more to convince you that HIIT is superior to your everyday steady-state cardio? Here are more reasons why:
- A short HIIT session, like a series of bursts of sprints, is followed by a cascade of hormones that optimize your overall wellbeing and help burn fat!
- Strengthens your heart. When you ramp up the intensity if your workout, you make your heart work harder to supply oxygen to every muscle, therefore strengthening the heart muscles.
- Increases oxygen consumption. Oxygen consumption refers to your body’s ability to effectively use oxygen — from your heart and lungs to your muscles and blood vessels. A recent study showed that engaging in HIIT for just 20 minutes for 4-days per week over a 5-week period improved oxygen consumption by almost 9% .
- It can be tailored to your training level. Whether you’re a beginning or novice when it comes to HIIT, your workout can be tailored to suit your level. You don’t have to do 20-seconds on followed by 10-seconds off. Set the work and rest periods to your fitness level and increase them as your body becomes stronger and more efficient.
- You can do it anywhere (with no equipment necessary). Unlike strength training, HIIT doesn’t require equipment (bodyweight exercises are fantastic) and can be done anywhere. All it takes is a timer (you’ve probably got one handy on your phone) and a list of exercises you’d like to do. Whether it’s in your basement, at a park, or in a gym, HIIT is not location-specific.
So if you’ve never tried HIIT before, where do you start?
HIIT workouts can be done anywhere, so if you don’t have a gym membership or any at-home equipment, don’t sweat it! But remember, getting a good warm-up is key to preparing the body for hard work and preventing injury. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
- Find a hill and do hill sprint as fast as you can. Once you’ve reached the top, walk back down and repeat as many times as you can while maintaining good form.
- Do a set of 5 of each of the exercises with little to no rest in between, for as many rounds as you can: push-ups, squats, burpees, and mountain climbers.
- Do 10-second intervals of the following: jumping jacks, high knees, burpees, and skaters. Repeat for as many rounds as you can with little rest between exercises.
- Jump on a step with both feet then step back down into starting position. After 10 repetitions, alternate with one or all of the following: 5 push-ups, 10 jumping jacks, 30 second plank (extended arms), 15 crunches.
- Cycling sprint. Start slow with a few warm-up sprints, then work your way up to full capacity for as long as you can.
Remember, proper form is key to preventing injury, so if you are not sure about how to do one of the exercises mentioned, search or a specific exercise on Youtube to help guide you!
When you notice that doing the same amount of repetitions as before has become easier (which deserves a big congratulations right off the bat!), you’ve built up some stamina and you can up the game! Include some light barbells in your workouts, mix in some other moves, or increase your work time period.
If you continue working on this, bit by bit, you will become more confident and be able to progress further and further with each workout. Heck, you might even become interested in joining a gym and really take your fitness to the next level!
We’ve mentioned how beneficial HIIT is for the body, but here are some important points to consider:
- As beneficial as HIIT can be, it’s especially stressful on the body, so HIIT workouts should not be done overly frequently (2 times per week is plenty) and should be short (studies have shown as little as 6 minutes is enough! But do not go over a 30 minute limit). If you are already under a lot of stress in your daily life, seek ways to reduce it. Find 10 minutes a day for a mindfulness practice, take up yoga, frequent a sauna, venture out on long leisurely walks, or jump into a cold shower for a few minutes before bed. Go to bed early and observe good sleep hygiene. Only after you have dialled in sleep and stress, consider high intensity workouts.
- Women have a far more complex hormonal regulation than men, so it’s important to really pay attention to how you feel and adjust the levels of stress accordingly, especially if you are trying to get pregnant.
- Doing HIIT once or twice a week doesn’t mean that you can spend the rest of the time sitting around. Get as much slow movement in as you can, such as walking, cleaning the house, gardening, hiking, biking, swimming, etc. If you have a desk job, make a point to get up every 20 minutes for a few minutes to get your blood flowing and your body moving. Do a burpee or a plank, walk around the office or the yard, jump up and down (in the bathroom if need be!), or do some stretches. It has been shown that we can only maintain concentration on a particular subject for up to 20 minutes, so with this routine, not only you will do your body good, but you will complete tasks more efficiently!
HIIT is a great way to get your body moving, improve cardiovascular and respiratory function, and increase strength without spending hours in the gym. It also makes for a great at-home workout that’s easy to fit in if you already have a tight schedule. So next time you’re in a crunch and don’t think you can workout, plan out a few exercises that you can cycle through for 10-15 minutes at the highest intensity you can!
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