High intensity interval training, more commonly known as “HIIT”, provides an effective way to burn calories, improve your fitness and boost your mood in rapid time.
HIIT workouts basically alternate short periods of high intensity exercise (usually around 85 to 95% percent of your maximum heart rate) with brief periods of recovery.
An example HIIT workout could look like this:
- 5 minute warm up on an exercise bike.
- Followed by a 20 second burst of hard effort, followed by 40 seconds of light peddling.
- Repeat 9 more times for a quick and simple workout!
- 5 minute cool down.
Despite the explosion in the popularity of high intensity interval training it isn’t the only training method that can help you get fit and burn fat.
Traditional, slow and steady cardio training can also get the job done although you'll need to extend the duration of your workout to get similar effects.
If you're short on time or looking to get as fit as possible HIIT may provide the superior option.
HIIT FOR FAT LOSS
Lets see what the research shows us about high intensity interval training for fat loss.
A 2008 study found 15 weeks of HIIT produced significantly more fat loss than steady state cardio training.
In fact, the participants following the steady state cardio regime in this study actually gained body fat, whilst those in the HIIT group lost around 2.5 kg of flab!
Another study, compared 20-weeks of endurance-training against 15-weeks of HIIT.
The HIIT group lost more body fat despite spending 5 weeks less in the gym!
The study concluded that, when adjusted for energy expenditure, high intensity interval training produces 9 times greater fat loss!
Other studies have shown individuals attain very similar improvements in fat loss and fitness when performing HIIT or regular steady state training at a moderate effort level.
However, the authors in this study concluded that HIIT is the superior choice due to its ability to produce the same results in far less time.
HIIT FOR FITNESS
A 1996 study showed greater overall fitness improvements in participants following a short HIIT training protocol compared with a longer duration traditional cardio regime.
Once again, HIIT is shown to produce as good or better fitness improvement than traditional cardio workouts in less time.
IS HIIT ENJOYABLE?
According to the evidence HIIT is the superior cardio choice if you are short on time and looking for an effective way to torch calories and get fit.
But what about the enjoyment factor?
This is an important question to ask because the best exercise is the one you enjoy and will do consistency over time, after all no-one becomes lean, fit and healthy after a single workout!
There's no doubt that time crunched HIIT workouts feel harder than regular cardio training, but does this make them less enjoyable?
Lets see what the evidence says!
A 2018 study measured levels of enjoyment between 3 different styles of cardio training (traditional steady state training, HIIT, and sprint interval training) in inactive individuals.
Despite feeling much harder than the regular steady state cardio workouts, participants ranked the HIIT and sprint interval training workouts to be just as enjoyable!
Furthermore, nearly 80% of the participants in the study continued to perform HIIT training after the study had ended.
Due to personal preferences it’s impossible to say whether YOU will enjoy HIIT training or not, thats why it’s best to simply slip into your gym clothes and give it a try!
HOW TO START HIIT TRAINING
Before you search for a HIIT workout on youtube and jump in, take a moment to consider the following:
1. If you have a history of heart disease, stroke, or any other serous medical condition you should speak with your doctor BEFORE jumping into an any exercise regime – especially a demanding workout like HIIT!
2. Start out with just one HIIT workout each week and aim to build up gradually to a maximum of two or three sessions per week. Remember, you can get the fitness and fat loss benefits in less time using a good HIIT workout, so theres no need to train much more than 10-30 minutes!
3. If you can, use a gym machine such as a bike, elliptical trainer or rowing machine to begin with. The stability of these machines provide a smarter and more enjoyable starting point than cranking out burpees or treadmill sprints on your very first HIIT workout! (definitley a bad idea!).
4. Once you have a few weeks of HIIT under your belt, consider changing up your mode of exercise to something more challenging, such as body weight squats, jumping jacks, swimming, or hill sprinting, etc.
5. To progress your HIIT workouts consider:
- Adding additional reps every week or so.
- Making the hard efforts even harder by increasing the level or speed on the machine.
- Changing the mode of exercise (e.g. running instead of cycling).
- Decreasing your recovery period and/or increasing the work period.
If you are new to exercise or haven’t worked out since your school days I highly recommend getting a few weeks of normal steady state cardio training under you belt before jumping into a HIIT workout.
You should walk before you run (quite literally in this case!).
Being able to maintain 45-60 minutes of exercise at a low-moderate effort level is a good benchmark to aim for before starting HIIT (in my opinion).
HIIT provides a natural progression to steady state training and is more taxing to your body, for this reason it makes sense to use lower intensity activity first to prepare you for the increased demands of HIIT later down the line.
Once you reach this point and feel ready to take on your first HIIT workout consider using the following progressions for a quick way to burn calories and boost cardio fitness:
Start out easy with short periods of effort followed by relatively long periods of recovery, such as:
Once you feel like you have the hang of this workout and are feeling confident to take on more, try increasing your work period to 20 seconds and reducing your recovery to 40 seconds.
To keep on progressing in a simple manner keep continue to increase your work time and reduce your recovery periods:
Then try increasing the reps...
And a few more reps as the weeks pass by...
Further progressing to...
take home message
HIIT provides an effective and time efficient workout strategy to lose body fat and improve fitness.
If you enjoy this style of training consider making a permanent part of your exercise regime.
If you don't enjoy HIIT training you can still get AMAZING fat loss and fitness improvements through diet and other modes of exercise such as weight training, traditional cardio or a combination of the two.
try to view HIIT a a tool to use as and when you need - if you enjoy it.
If you are new to exercise and willing to give HIIT a shot, start out with a few weeks of regular low intensity steady state training before jumping into your high intensity workout. Trust me - you'll be glad you did!
Hope you find this helpful!