What is HIIT?

So you’ve probably heard the term HIIT (actually an acronym) a lot recently whether at the gym or just discussing fitness in general. There’s been a huge shift towards this style of training over the past few years with numbers backed up in a study conducted by ‘The American college of Sports Medicine’, which found it to be one of the top two fitness trends of 2014 with continued growth into 2015.

So what is HIIT?

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training, a training technique in which you give near all-out effort through quick & intense bursts of exercise, followed by short, usually active recovery periods. HIIT exercise sessions generally consist of a warm up, followed by High Intensity Intervals, then a cool down. The workouts vary in length and intensity depending on the exercise & individual, with some workouts being as short as 4 minutes.

Why is it so popular?

Apart from being time positive HIIT workouts can be done almost anywhere considering the variety of programs & methods available. You don’t need a gym membership or any particular equipment, reducing cost and preparation.

What really makes it popular though is the fat burning efficiency, and who doesn’t want to lose fat right! Eric Salvador, a fitness instructor in New York City says “A high-intensity workout increases the body’s need for oxygen during the effort, creating an oxygen shortage, causing your body to ask for more oxygen during recovery. This after burn effect is referred to as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) and is the reason why intense exercise will help burn more fat and calories than regular aerobic and steady-state workouts.”

Recently a study in ‘The Journal of Obesity’ showed that 12 weeks of HIIT reduced body fat and increased muscle mass. There were also substantial reductions in total abdominal trunk & visceral fat, and increases in lean body mass and aerobic power. The most surprising aspect of the results was that the subjects’ diets remained the same.

How to do it?

As mentioned HIIT consists of High Intensity exercise bursts followed by Low Intensity recovery, repeated in intervals, aimed at increasing your heart rate for a prolonged period. There’s no specific formula to HIIT. Depending on one’s level of cardiovascular development the moderate-level intensity can be as slow as walking; the high intensity exercise should be done at near maximum intensity, around 90%.

A common formula involves a 2:1 ratio of work to recovery periods – for example: 30–40 seconds of hard sprinting alternated with 15–20 seconds of jogging or walking. Again the number of repetitions and length of each interval depends on the exercise, but may be as little as three repetitions with just 20 seconds of intense exercise.

The entire HIIT session may last between four and thirty minutes, meaning it’s considered an excellent way to maximize a workout that is limited by time. Use of a timer is recommended to ensure consistency.

Exercise Varieties

The specific exercises performed during the high-intensity portions vary, with examples including running, rowing, riding, punching a bag, push-ups, squats & burpees to name a few. There’s also many classes available that focus on HIIT, one of which is the popular Tabata program.

My HIIT running program usually consists of 1 minute near sprinting pace, followed by 30 seconds jogging. I repeat this 10 times and by the end the tank is well and truly empty. (I personally prefer using a treadmill as it’s easier to maintain a constant pace).

HIIT can also be incorporated into your strength training which adds to its versatility. “Mixing cardio and strength training at a high intensity gives you the ultimate full-body workout” says Tom Holland, an exercise physiologist.

Benefits of HIIT

Some key benefits of HIIT include:

  1. You lose Weight not Muscle – Long periods of standard cardio exercise has been shown to lead not only to fat loss but loss of muscle mass as well.
  2. Increases your Metabolism – HIIT results in EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption) which speeds up your metabolic rate. This boost continues well after the workout is complete, with some research suggesting it can last up to 48 hours depending on the length & intensity of the workout.
  3. Quick and Convenient – HITT programs can be performed nearly anywhere & can last from 4 to 30 minutes, meaning you can tailor your training to suit individual needs.
  4. No Equipment necessary – Seeing as the general focus of HIIT is getting your heart rate up, there’s a multitude of body weight & cardio exercises available where no equipment is required.

Have you done any type of HIIT before? We’d love to hear how it went and whether you have any tips for our users. Feel free to leave a comment below.


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