HIIT workouts have been a secret weapon for lots of athletes who want to get in great shape in as little time as possible. But what exactly is HIIT, why is it good for you, and how should you do it?
In this guide you’ll learn:
Let’s get started...
HIIT (high intensity interval training) is a type of workout that is fast, efficient, and intense! According to wikipedia:
“High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called high-intensity intermittent exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training (SIT), is a form of interval training, a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods, until too exhausted to continue. Though there is no universal HIIT session duration, these intense workouts typically last under 30 minutes, with times varying based on a participant's current fitness level.”Basically these workouts include short bursts of near maximal efforts, followed by a period of lower intensity recovery time. That circuit is repeated several times.
HIIT workouts are great for nearly everyone. These workouts are proven to have loads of benefits (we’ll get into those below) and are a super-efficient way to get your fitness in during a short period of time.
HIIT workouts are especially good if you:
*Please note that you should see a physician before starting or changing any exercise program
Want to get your metabolism stoked and torch some calories? HIIT workouts can do exactly that.
One study compared healthy men who performed a HIIT workout vs doing steady state cardio, and the calories burned was greater when performing a high intensity interval workout.
“These data suggest that individuals can burn more calories performing an HIIT session with an HRS than spending the same amount of time performing a steady-state exercise session. This form of exercise intervention may be beneficial to individuals who want to gain the benefits of both resistance and cardiovascular training but have limited time to dedicate to exercise.”
But wait, there's more! HIIT workouts can have you burning more calories AFTER your workout is over, as well, according to Scott Weiss, C.S.C.S, as he describes in Men's Journal.
“HIIT burns more calories during and after a workout than continuous aerobic training,” says exercise physiologist and athletic trainer Scott Weiss, C.S.C.S. “The bursts of increased intensity simply increase the caloric expenditure; thus, more total calories are burned, aiding in better body composition.”
Even more: You burn more calories for about two hours after exercise, adding to the greater caloric burn, he explains. Exercise post-oxygen consumption is the body’s natural ability to return to homeostasis after exercise. “With HIIT, the total calories burned is greater in EPOC than with continuous exercise,” he says.
VO2 max is a measurement that determines how fit you really are, and you can improve it by doing HIIT workouts. Laura Williams of Runner's World explains:
“VO2 max is the measurement of the maximum oxygen delivery and utilization for cardiovascular exercises,” says Jamey Plunk, Ph.D., professor of exercise science at the University of Mary Hardin-Baylor. “It’s trainable and de-trainable, and to some extent, it’s governed by genetics—any individual will only be able to reach their genetic maximum potential VO2 max through training.”
HIIT workouts are proven to increase VO2 max, which means improved fitness levels and better performance in any sport that requires sustained endurance.
"You might not think that one workout can do a whole heck of a lot, but if you’re doing HIIT, it can. In fact, one study. of people with type-2 diabetes had subjects either continuously walk (moderate intensity) or interval walk (at low and high intensities) for an hour five times a week for four months.
The results: VO2 max increased. In the interval-walking group (but no changes were seen in the continuous-walking group). Body mass and fat mass decreased. in the interval-walking group only, and they also had better glycemic control. “It can lower glucose levels in diabetics, even a single session,” says Holland."
There’s definitely something to be said about going out for a long run, swim or bike ride, but let’s face it - life often gets in the way and doesn’t allow for us to take hours out of each day for that.
That’s where HIIT workouts can really help. More importantly, doing HIIT workouts can get you lots of the same benefits of longer endurance sessions PLUS add other benefits as well.
"We know: You already know these workouts are more efficient than any other kind. But, there’s science to back up just how crazy-efficient they are. “You can get the same, if not greater, results in half the time of low-intensity longer-duration workout sessions,” says Holland, citing a 2013 study in the Journal of Physiology.
That study found that sedentary men who did 40-60 minutes of cycling at 65% of their max five times a week, and those who did sprint interval training for less than 12 minutes each time three times a week saw similar results, including reduced aortic stiffness and increased insulin sensitivity."
So if you’re strapped for time, or just want to be as efficient as you can, HIIT workouts can help you get your fitness levels up without having you sacrifice hours each day.
Let’s be honest - doing the same exercise over and over again is boring. HIIT workouts can solve that because you do almost any exercise to reap the benefits...as long as the intensity and workload is there.
So go ahead - you can sprint, do burpees, jump rope or cycle...anything that will get you to the right intensity level can yield epic benefits for your health and fitness.
Long cardio sessions are good for your heart but aren’t doing your muscle-building-efforts any favors. That’s because muscles can break down during endurance training. HIIT workouts can give you the best of both worlds - muscle building + fat burning.
One study showed that people performing HIIT workouts burned more fat than people who were doing steady state endurance training, even though they actually burned fewer calories!
Even better, the people who performed the HIIT workouts built muscle, while the endurance trainers broke down muscle.
Stabilizing your blood sugar levels is important for your general health - unhealthy spikes in blood sugar can lead to fatigue, weight gain, sugar cravings, and more.
HIIT workouts are one way to help stabilize your blood sugar, in a short amount of time.
"One small study of healthy but sedentary people found just one minute total of HIIT performed three days a week for six weeks was enough to significantly improve blood sugar scores and aerobic capacity, a measure of physical fitness. The study participants completed 10- to 20-second bouts of “all-out” cycling on a stationary bike, each broken up by a couple minutes of rest. The total workout time, start to finish, was 10 minutes."
One study published in the July 2014 issue of applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism found that just one HIIT workout does a better job of regulating blood sugar after a meal compared to a moderate intensity steady state cardio session, as described in US News & World Report.
“Your muscles are like a large sink that sucks up blood sugar after exercise: When you do HIIT – as opposed to steady state walking, for example – you call upon more muscle fibers to do the work,” explains study lead author Jonathan Little, an assistant professor in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at The University of British Columbia Okanagan. “As a result, you have a larger sink that’s hungry to suck up blood sugar after exercise.”
And guess what? If you have Type 2 diabetes, HIIT workouts can help you reduce blood sugar levels as well.
"For the same reason, HIIT also can be beneficial for those who already have Type 2 diabetes. A study published in the March 2017 issue of the European Journal of Applied Physiology found that people with Type 2 diabetes who did 12 weeks of HIIT (walking or running uphill) gained greater increases in their aerobic capacity and more dramatic reductions in their hemoglobin A1C levels – an average measure of blood sugar over a three-month period – than those who did moderate-intensity continuous walking."
There’s no such thing as the fountain of youth...or is there?
HIIT has powerful anti-aging benefits at the cellular level in skeletal muscle, and is great for adults of all ages, according to Dr. K. Nair of the Mayo Clinic.
“For aging adults, supervised high-intensity training confers the most benefits, both metabolically and at the molecular level,” says senior author Dr. K. Sreekumaran Nair, a professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. So it’s a good investment in aging slowly."
When was the last time you stretched...your heart???
Believe it or not, heart flexibility is important for long term health.
"Flexibility isn’t just important when it comes to touching your toes. “HIIT increases the flexibility. and elasticity of arteries and veins better than continuous aerobic exercise,” says Weiss. “Because HIIT increases pressure demand on your blood vessels, they actually get a workout as well.”
In fact, high-intensity interval training is not only safe, but also easier to tolerate than a more moderate workout in people with coronary artery disease, according to one study."
Years of data on HIIT workouts shows that it provides basically the same benefits as steady state cardio...which means you can get more bang for your buck by doing these shorter, more intense workouts.
“We now have more than 10 years of data showing HIIT yields pretty much the exact same health and fitness benefits as long-term aerobic exercise, and in some groups or populations, it works better than traditional aerobic exercise,” says Todd Astorino, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, San Marcos, who has published more than a dozen study papers on HIIT."
A study of 58 young adults were randomly assigned to either perform high intensity exercise, or to a control group of non-exercisers. They were then put to the test (literally). The people in the high intensity exercise group scored much higher on the cognitive tests vs the control group.
So, the next time you have a big test or presentation, schedule a HIIT workout right before so you can ace it!
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Dr. Martin Gibala is a leading expert on HIIT workouts. In a podcast episode of the Tim Ferris Show, Dr. Martin shared loads of tips on how to develop a HIIT workout program, and offered 3 different types of HIIT workouts that would yield health and fitness benefits.
Dr. Martin suggests that people just starting out with HIIT should start with workouts that have shorter bouts of intense efforts - for example, a 10x1 protocol. He also recommends that your recovery in between intense efforts is active, not stagnant.
“Deconditioned individuals we would start with shorter more frequent repeats.” Dr. Martin Gibala
So if you're on the bike, keep pedaling at a low intensity. If you were sprinting, try doing a light jog or walking during your recovery.
The 10x1 HIIT workout is as follows:
“The more deconditioned the individual, the more effective protocols (or the more tolerable programs) for those individuals involve more frequent repeats that last a shorter period of time.” - Dr. Martin Gibala
3 times per week, 25 minutes total per workout
3 to 5 minute efforts
“Set the workload so the Intervals are challenging and you’re almost ready to give up where you’re getting towards the end of the 3 or 5 minute interval but then we give you a little bit of break and you do it again.” -Dr. Martin Gibala
Dr. Martin Gibala recommends doing 3 workouts per week, of around 25 minutes each workout.
Researchers from Penn Statehave similar recommendations, although with slightly longer workouts.
"When it comes to HIIT, adding volume doesn’t deliver better results," the report says. "It actually hinders. To get the full benefits of HIIT and prevent overreaching, our recommendation is to maximize your weekly HIIT sessions that are above 90 percent maximum heart rate to 30-40 minutes and balance them with other less demanding workouts."
Jillian Levy, CHHC of DrAxe.com agrees:
"Most experts recommend practicing HIIT workouts 2–3 times per week, but not much more than this. The body needs an adequate break period between HIIT workouts to fully repair and grow stronger.
In fact, this is just as important as the workout itself and if you fail to properly give yourself enough rest, you miss out on some of the benefits of HIIT.
That being said, you will improve your ability to practice HIIT workouts closer to each other as your recovery periods become shorter. Even after you’ve seen great improvements, it’s still best to allow 48 hours in between HIIT workouts and avoid practicing them multiple days in a row."
Make sure you're not over-doing it with HIIT because these workouts can be very taxing, so you'll need to make sure you're managing your workout recovery properly.
“If you want to get the best possible results from HIIT, our recommendation, based on these findings, is to balance your weekly HIIT sessions with other, less intense cardiovascular and strength workouts," Jinger Gottschall, associate professor at Pennsylvania State University, said in a media release. "It’s also imperative that you let your body recover properly after a HIIT session. This way, you’re likely to perform better when you do your HIIT workouts and benefit from the positive results.”
During your intense efforts, you need to be going all-out. If you slack off during the sprints, you're not going to reap the benefits of these HIIT workouts.
"According to studies, it’s believed that an optimal HIIT workout produces maximum cardiovascular benefits when athletes spend at least several minutes per session in their “red zone” — this generally means reaching at least 90 percent of maximal oxygen uptake (VO2max).
In order to estimate when you are working at 90 percent of your VO2max, you can think about your level of perceived effort on a 1–10 scale; you should be aiming to give it “your all” and reach a score of nine out of a possible 10 for at least a few minutes during a 20–30 minute HIIT workout."
There's lots of ways you can increase the intensity of your HIIT workouts and continue to get results. The levers you have to tweak are:
“The progression is either increasing the workload and keeping the protocol the same. Or increase the work interval, decrease the recovery interval, until at some point that individual might be able to sustain 20 minutes of continuous exercise at that pace.” Dr. Martin Gibala
The best exercises for HIIT workouts include full body movements that will get your heart pumping quickly WITHOUT becoming dangerous as the intensity increases, or those that require high levels of concentration or technique to complete the movement.
Sprinting is a great option because you can quickly increase the intensity and complete the exercise without as much risk of injury as other exercises involving heavy equipment. Overhead barbell snatches probably aren’t your best bet because although you can rapidly get your heart rate up, your risk of injury is much more likely as the intensity and duration increases.
HIIT workouts are efficient, effective and varied. They'll get you in great shape, are good for your heart, your brain, and can be done anywhere in a short amount of time. Give these workouts a shot and shoot us a message with your favorite HIIT workout and we may add it to the list.
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