Getting and staying fit is part of managing conditions, such as obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart diseases.
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a challenging training session that involves repeated bouts of high-intensity efforts followed by varied recovery times.
HIIT is a form of cardio exercise done in short, intense bursts (anaerobic), alternating with fixed periods of less-intense activity or short-term rest. HIIT aims to maximize athletic performance under conditions where the muscles are deprived of oxygen.
14 benefits of HIIT
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is becoming an increasingly recognized and well-liked method of training with several benefits, including:
- HIIT is better at burning calories and helps shed unwanted pounds
- It can improve heart health, increase fat loss, and strengthen and tone the muscles
- Similar to cardio exercises, such as running and biking, HIIT can strengthen legs and lower body muscles
- HIIT is a great alternative to routine workouts
- This workout increases endorphins (the feel-good hormone)
- It is a great way to lose weight and boost overall health
- It is a fast workout at a very intense level followed by a slower recovery period, this strategy saves time (higher calorie loss in lesser time)
- It helps lose weight, build muscle mass, and boost metabolism
- It stimulates the production of human growth hormone, increasing the overall metabolic rate
- It increases the body’s ability to eliminate lactic acid buildup through a process of glycolysis that breaks down glycogen and converts it to energy
- HIIT workouts are the ideal type of exercise for a busy schedule
- HIIT improves both aerobic and anaerobic performances
- It can improve oxygen consumption in a shorter time
- HIIT training has been proven to improve:
- Fitness levels (aerobic and anaerobic)
- Blood pressure levels
- Cardiovascular health
- Cholesterol profile
- Abdominal fat
- Muscle mass maintenance
- Insulin sensitivity
7 reasons to try HIIT
- Ideal for weight loss
- As a pumped-up and intense form of cardio, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is an effective way to burn away stubborn fat.
- The high intensity of the exercise leads to an increased rate of fat oxidation, including excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. During this stage, adipose tissues are broken down and converted into energy or fuel.
- HIIT workout means that the body will stay in fat-burning mode for up to 24 hours after the workout, which means you burn more fat and calories than you would after a steady-pace run.
- HIIT regulates your appetite by decreasing the amount of ghrelin, an appetite-regulating hormone. HIIT increases blood sugar and blood lactate levels temporarily, which also helps curb your appetite down.
- Builds strength and improves muscle endurance
- HIIT increases the amount of oxygen the body can absorb and use in a minute, a rate called VO2 max.
- VO2 max affects the physical capacity of athletic performance, provides better endurance in aerobic exercises, and improves overall health.
- VO2 max is strongly associated with the health of telomeres, which are components of the DNA system that regulate the aging of cells.
- HIIT forces the body to use energy from stores of fats instead of carbs, which makes losing fat more efficient and maintains muscle mass.
- Post-workout burning of calories
- HIIT tends to burn more calories than traditional cardio exercises both during and after exercising. This phenomenon is called the after-burn effect or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) effect.
- It provides an additional post-workout bonus; your body will burn calories for about two hours after you exercise.
- Because of the vigorous contractile nature of HIIT workouts, the EPOC generally tends to be modestly greater, adding about 6 to 15 percent more calories to the overall workout energy expenditure.
- Easily modifiable for people of all fitness levels and special conditions
- HIIT regulates blood glucose levels by increasing glucose metabolism and insulin sensitivity, thus people suffering from prediabetes or type II diabetes can benefit significantly from HIIT.
- Performed on all exercise modes
- HIIT is a more efficient form of cardio exercise (cycling, walking, swimming, aqua training, and elliptical cross-training).
- HIIT workouts involve short, intense bursts of any aerobic exercise (running, biking, jump rope, rowing), as well as high knees, jumping jacks, or jumping rope.
- Maximal health benefits in minimal time (time-saving workout)
- HIIT workouts provide similar fitness benefits as continuous endurance workouts but in shorter periods.
- Even if you are short on time, a quick at-home workout (anything from 3 to 20 minutes) can blow off steam and boost your metabolism.
- This is a great workout to start slowly with just three to four-speed intervals and then, ramp it up as you get better.
- No heavy equipment is required
- No equipment is needed for an effective workout unless you plan to work out on cardio equipment, such as a treadmill or stair-climbing machine, or with a weight set.
- Most of the exercises can be done efficiently right in your living room when you aim to hit the desired number of cardio hours.
- It is estimated that every hour of HIIT is roughly equivalent to four hours of conventional endurance training.
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What is a HIIT workout?
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is very similar to a typical cardio workout, which is done in spurts of 30 seconds to 3 minutes followed by recovering period for about the same time or longer.
This intense workout period ranges from five seconds to eight minutes long and is performed at 80 to 95 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate (maximum number of times the heart will beat in a minute without overexerting). The recovery period may last equally long and is usually performed at 40 to 50 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate.
The activities being performed include sprinting, biking, jumping rope, using a stationary bike, or other bodyweight exercises.
Depending on the activity type, there would be rounds or repetitions of HIIT, and you typically complete four to six repetitions in one workout.
The workout continues with the alternating exercise and relief periods of about 20 to 60 minutes.
Safety concerns with HIIT
Regardless of age, gender, and fitness level, the key to safe participation in high-intensity interval training (HIIT) training is to modify the intensity of the work interval to a preferred challenging level.
Medical clearance before starting HIIT or any exercise training could be an appropriate safety measure for anyone with coronary disease, a family history of heart diseases, cigarette smoking, hypertension, diabetes (or prediabetes), advanced arthritis, abnormal cholesterol levels, and morbid obesity.
Before beginning HIIT training, you should establish a foundational level of fitness referred to as a “base fitness level.” This may consist of aerobic training (three to five times a week for at least 20 to 60 minutes) for several weeks to produce muscular adaptations and improve oxygen transportation to the muscles.
Safety in participation is the primary priority, and you should focus more on finding your optimal training intensities as opposed to keeping up with other people.
How do you develop a HIIT exercise program?
When developing a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) program, consider the duration, intensity, and frequency of the work intervals and the length of the recovery intervals.
There are several ways to structure exercise to rest ratio. Some people prefer a 1:1 exercise to rest ratio, but a 1:2 or 1:3 ratio works perfectly if you are a beginner or your current fitness level is not too high.
How many times a week can you do a HIIT workout?
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts are more exhaustive than steady-state endurance workouts. Therefore, a longer recovery period is often needed.
Start with one HIIT training workout a week, with other workouts being the steady-state workouts. As you feel ready for more challenges, add a second HIIT workout a week, making sure you spread the HIIT workouts throughout the week.
The American Heart Association recommends moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes (2.5 hours) or vigorous activity of 75 minutes (1.25 hours) in a week for all adults.
Health Solutions From Our Sponsors
Robinson KM. HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training). WebMD. https://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/a-z/high-intensity-interval-training-hiit
American College of Sports Medicine. High-Intensity Interval Training. https://www.acsm.org/docs/default-source/files-for-resource-library/high-intensity-interval-training.pdf
Ito S. High-intensity interval training for health benefits and care of cardiac diseases - The key to an efficient exercise protocol. World J Cardiol. 2019;11(7):171-188. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6763680/
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