You may have seen the word HIIT banded around a lot in the fitness world and no it’s not a new martial arts craze. It stands for High Intensity Interval Training and here are the basics.
What is HIIT?
High intensity interval training involves alternating short periods of hard, intense exercise with periods of low effort – the recovery. This method of training is proving increasingly popular and it was recently named one of the top fitness trends in the world for 2019, based on an annual survey by the American College of Sports Medicine.
What exercise works for HIIT?
HIIT can be applied in many different ways as long as you maintain the fundamental principle of alternating the intensity part and the recovery. One of its benefits is how versatile it is as a workout and the application to any cardio exercise. Running, cycling, squatting, body weights, stair climbing, rowing – you name it you can probably use HIIT.
How intense is “intense”?
The intense parts are supposed to push you, the aim is to go as hard as you can in order to reap the rewards. As a rule, if you get halfway through your recovery period and feel able to run hard again, the chances are you didn’t push yourself enough on the previous interval. You will find as the more you train and your fitness increases you will be able to challenge yourself more with the workouts.
How long should the intervals be?
This is obviously dependent on the individual and the type of workout but generally they could be from 10 seconds to five minutes in length. Again, the periods of recovery are also subjective, but they should allow you to rest enough to be ready to give your all for the next interval of high intensity. If you are aiming to improve aerobic fitness (involves sustainable activity over long period of time) then intervals would usually involve a work to recover ratio of 1:1 or 1:2. If you are training anaerobically (bursts of activity for short periods of time) rest intervals tend to be longer for full recovery, typically a 1:5 ratio.
What are the benefits?
Firstly, it works fast. Because of the high intensity it burns more calories in less time. Furthermore, it is accompanied by an increase in resting metabolism, meaning your energy expenditure is increased in the hours following HIIT compared to a continuous, lower intensity exercise. HIIT will improve your cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce unhealthy visceral fat levels at a fast rate.
It is adaptable to different sports so not only working as a fitness boost but as a tool for improving performance in that field, for example, jump intervals for basketball players. Its also adaptable on an individual basis by varying the duration and intensity of the periods of physical effort as well as the recovery time.
It can also fit in to a busy lifestyle, with lack of time being cited so often as a reason for not engaging in physical exercise, HIIT provides a quick but fast acting method of training. A full HIIT session can last as little as 15 minutes – so there’s no excuse! And if you have a home gym set up then you don’t even need to leave the house.
Know your stuff and listen to your body
With this type of workout its vital you understand the correct way to exercise in whichever type of sport you are training in otherwise you could end up doing more harm than good. Don’t mistake feeling destroyed the next day as “well that must have worked then” as it may be that you are not working out correctly and your body is really saying “ouch you idiot”. Whenever you are unsure consult a professional first. HIIT is also not a daily go to – you should be looking at no more than 3 times a week depending on your ability to ensure you are not hurting yourself.
It’s important to note HIIT is not for everyone. If you are susceptible to injury then it might not be the best choice because of the risk of joint injury. In addition, HIIT causes a short-term increase in blood cortisol – the stress hormone. Consequently, if you already have a high metabolic stress parameter then you would benefit from a more moderately intense workout.
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