When it comes to fitness and weight loss, there is an overwhelming amount of information on the internet. For most people this information overload is too much to handle and prevents any action at all. For those who do start a fitness program, sticking with a program that gets slow results can be very frustrating.
The right program shouldn’t require hours and hours of exercise and should get results within a reasonable time. There is a lot of research supporting the use of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) as a fitness program to get rapid results with little time investment.
Though I personally follow a more complementary approach to exercise and fitness – incorporating Yoga, weight training and some aspects of cross fit, I wanted to share more about interval training since it’s becoming a popular form of exercise.
What is HIIT?
HIIT is an enhanced form of Interval Training which improves fitness, boosts weight loss while building strength and stamina. It has a unique approach which combines very intense exercise with intervals of rest and recovery to achieve optimum workouts. Not only does it build muscle strength but it also improves cardiovascular endurance. It’s intense, fast, requires less time and gets rapid results.
How To Do HIIT Workouts?
Though there are lots different HIIT programs, the basic protocol is alternating high intensity workout followed by low intensity or short rest periods for a total of 20 minutes.
To prevent injury, it’s best to do a light warm up before starting the high intensity exercise. A high intensity bout of cardio or strength training can last anywhere from 20-60 seconds, followed by a low intensity or rest period ranging from 10-75 seconds.
A period of high intensity training is designed to achieve maximum muscle fatigue, which translates to maximum oxygen consumption (VO2 Max) by the body. Basically, the maximum amount of Oxygen your body can use during exercise. This is used as one of the most important measurements of overall cardiovascular fitness and aerobic conditioning.
Exercising close to the VO2 Max will result in an after-burn effect – even after the end of the workout session, intense oxygen consumption will continue in the body for 24-48 hours. Higher oxygen consumption means more calories are burned. Since one liter of oxygen consumption burns about five calories, intense training is a sure way of shedding off extra pounds really fast.
Interval training also helps boost metabolism much faster than a steady intensity workout. It helps build lean muscle much faster than steady intensity training. Due to the high demand on the body, HIIT workouts should be done only two or three times a week. It’s ideal for someone who’s looking for an intense work and has limited time for exercise.
In the last 20 years or so HIIT has been undergoing an evolution with modifications and improvements in training methods. Here are some of the more well known HIIT programs.
Tabata method – This protocol came into being in 1996 following a study done by Professor Izumi Tabata of Japan. The study was aimed at finding the most ideal protocol for aerobics. This protocol consists of twenty seconds of high intensity exercise, upwards of 170% of VO2 Max. Which is then followed by 10 seconds of recovery. The entire workout lasts 4 minutes, covering 8 cycles. Training by this method is done two to four times a week. This is a really tough workout routine, so best for someone who is really fit. If you are just starting out, some of the other methods might be better to start with.
Turbulence method – Developed by a former athlete, Craig Ballantyne, this method combines cardio and weight training. It alternates between 1-2 minutes of cardio and 8 repetition weight training sets. Recommended for 3 times a week, each workout session lasts 45 minutes. This is great for people who are interested in building strength but also want cardio as part of their routine.
Little method (also known as Gibala method) – This HIIT method was created by Drs Johnathan Little and Martin Gibala in 2009. It is based on cycling at max intensity (at 95% of VO2 Max) for 60 seconds, followed by cycling at a low intensity for 75 seconds. These fast/slow bouts are repeated for 12 cycles, which takes 27 minutes to complete the workout. This is done three times a week. This method requires about 30 minutes so better for those with a little more time and who are at least at an intermediate level of fitness.
Timmons method – By Professor Jamie Timmons, where you can pic any activity (bike, running, etc.) Start with a 3 minute warm up. Followed by 2 minutes of light exercise and then 20 seconds of all out exercise. Repeat 3 more times for a total of 4 sets. Finish with a 3 minute cool down at the end. It is done 3 times a week with the warm up and cool down at the end.
Research Supports HIIT
According to research HIIT has a powerful effect on improving overall fitness and very quickly. It helps burn calories faster, during the workout and for up to 48 hours after the workout. It boosts metabolism and builds lean muscle mass while promoting fat loss.
Boosts Human Growth Hormone Production
Unlike other exercise methods, HIIT has been shown to boost Human Growth Hormone (HGH) production….aka “anti-aging hormone”.
Improve Insulin sensitivity
It improves the body’s ability to utilize insulin. Insulin works to convert blood sugar into stored sugar (glycogen) in the liver and muscles. Improved insulin sensitivity means better utilization of blood sugar and less sugar (calories) being stored up in the body as fat. The Journal of Obesity published a study report in 2011 by Boutcher and showed that HIIT decreases insulin resistance while promoting oxidation of fat in skeletal muscles. This study may even point to the positive effects of HIIT in helping prevent Diabetes.
By pushing the body to workout at such a high intensity level, HIIT helps with faster weight loss by burning more calories during and after the workout.
HIIT affects the body’s metabolism in a number of ways. It has a positive effect on both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. It increases the resting metabolic rate during training and for more than 24 hours after the training bout. It also boosts VO2 Max or cardiovascular fitness much more in comparison to long workouts. Shown in study by King, East Tennessee State University, ‘comparison of effects of interval training versus continuous training’.
Better Endurance And Athletic Performance
HIIT also increases the body’s lactate threshold. This is the level at which lactate builds up at a rate faster than it can be removed from the body. Usually, people reach this threshold at about 50-80% of their VO2 Max. HIIT training pushes you to workout above the normal lactate threshold level, resulting in a higher lactate threshold. A higher lactate threshold means being able to exercise or train harder and longer…often translating to better performance.
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Pros And Cons Of HIIT
There are lots of health benefits of HIIT listed above, ranging from faster weight loss, increased metabolism, reducing insulin resistance, boosting Human Growth Hormone levels and overall health and fitness. It is also really powerful training method for athletes looking to enhance sports performance. If you have limited time and are in fairly good shape, HIIT is a good option to get in better shape.
I my view HIIT is not appropriate for a number of people due to risk of injury and the demands it places on your system. From pregnant women, obese individuals, those with previous injuries (knee, ankle, etc.) and serious medical conditions like heart disease, etc. Also, if you are really out of shape, might be better to get to a moderate level of fitness before starting HIIT.
If you are looking to start HIIT, better to get cleared by your doctor before you start.
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