If you’re low on time and looking to get the most bang for your exercise buck, then high-intensity interval training may be just the answer.
Simply put, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) refers to any workout that alternates intense bursts of activity with fixed periods of less-intense activity. For example, running as fast as you can for a minute followed by walking for two minutes, then repeating that interval three to four times.
“I recommend this to anyone who does not want to spend 10 hours a week doing long steady state (LSS) cardiovascular activity,” said Mark Messer, president of MesserFit LLC and CrossFit Lebanon, in Lebanon. He says that HIIT is not limited to running/walking and can be implemented into any type of exercise, “even digging ditches.”
In addition to its efficiency, HIIT also has many other benefits, including the fact that no equipment is necessarily needed, it can be done anywhere (inside or outside) and it gives a boost to metabolism.
“The biggest contributor is something called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. Without getting too technical, this is basically how many additional calories you burn after the session ends in order for your body to return to a pre-exercise state,” Messer said. “This represents a huge fat metabolizing effect that you just don’t get as much of when doing LSS.”
Messer also points out that there is no set formula for HIIT, enabling you to create a routine and mold it to match your training goals and events. However, he advises exercisers to remember that cardiovascular training needs to mirror your goals as well as your carbohydrate consumption. For example, if you’re training for a marathon, then getting in those long steady runs is necessary for building up the endurance and stamina needed for the race; if you’re just training for fitness, then the long, steady cardio sessions aren’t as important. Also, “if you are on a no carb (carbohydrate) plan, it would be better to stay away from HIIT; if your diet consists of moderate to high levels of carbs, then implement HIIT three to four times a week,” Messer said.
Also key to implementing HIIT into your workout is figuring out your maximum heart rate. “Cardio training is about pushing your heart rate,” said Donte Cowin, personal trainer with Anytime Fitness in Springboro. “Basically, you take your age and subtract it from 220. That will give you your maximum heart rate. For HIIT, during the intense bursts, you want to try to get your heart rate above 90 percent of your maximum.”
To make it even easier, the American Council on Exercise describes high-intensity on a 1-10 scale of perceived exertion with 1 being the least exertion, 10 the greatest. High-intensity is considered anything over 7.
Cowin said that high-intensity isn’t always about increasing speed; on a treadmill for example, increasing the incline can be the “burst” part of the interval since it will result in an increase in heart rate.
While HIIT is efficient and effective, it is also intense. “I typically use HIIT with my clients on a regular basis,” Cowin said. “Most say they’ve never worked this hard in their life!”
Messer agrees and advises using caution if you are just beginning to train or if you are outside of your ideal body weight/image. “These cautionary measures really speak to the implements you use or don’t use while training. For example, if you are a newbie, I wouldn’t use a kettle bell because of the complexity of the movement patterns,” said Messer said. “I would gravitate to … something that you can work at maximal capacity without risking injury. This will keep you healthier in the long run.”
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