High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has exploded in popularity, being touted as one of the most effective workout methods for shedding pounds and improving cardiovascular health. So what exactly is HIIT, and why is it so popular? Plus, does high-intensity interval training really work, and should you give it a try? Read on to get the skinny on this immensely popular workout.
HIIT: What It's All About
High-intensity interval training is a style of training that focuses on performing short but very intense bursts of exercise, with very little rest between sets. Training styles do vary quite a bit in terms of the type and amount of rest you can take between sets; some HIIT regimens feature "active" rest periods, where you're basically following up an intense exercise with a relatively low-intensity one, while other routines do not permit any rest between exercises at all until you get to the end of your "circuit" (a series of exercises performed in consecutive order).
The whole point of HIIT is to elevate your heart rate by performing an essentially non-stop series of exercises for about 15 to 20 minutes, which is thought to produce an important fat-burning effect known as Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). What this official-sounding acronym basically means is that the intensity of the HIIT workout will require your body to consume more oxygen, actually creating an oxygen shortage that lingers on even after you have completed the workout.
This causes your body to require more oxygen during the post-workout recovery period, producing an "afterburn" effect that burns calories, sheds fat and promotes lean muscle growth. Proponents of HIIT claim that the quick and super-intense nature of the workouts allows you to burn more fat and calories than you would with less intense workouts such as aerobics, walking or jogging.
Benefits of HIIT
1. HIIT boosts your metabolism. The demands that are placed on your body during the average HIIT workout will kick your metabolic rate into overdrive, and the effects of EPOC can linger for up to 48 hours after completing a HIIT routine. This translates into more calories burned even while you're at rest, a key factor in weight loss.
2. HIIT is super-convenient. HIIT workouts are highly time-efficient; most routines take less than 30 minutes to perform. Most people, no matter how busy they are, can spare at least 30 minutes a day to get in a good workout!
3. HIIT promotes heart health. The anaerobic nature of HIIT, although grueling, will ultimately improve your cardiovascular health by giving your heart a solid workout. According to one study highlighted by the Journal of Physiology, participants who engaged in HIIT workouts for an 8-week period could bicycle twice as long at the end of the study period than they could at the beginning.
4. HIIT enables you to maintain muscle while losing fat. As most dieters will tell you, one of the big problems with traditional dieting and exercise is that you typically lose muscle right along with the fat, which is not ideal if you're looking to develop a slim, toned physique. HIIT targets fat stores in the body while helping you to maintain your lean muscle mass.
Typical HIIT Exercises
So what kinds of exercises are performed in a typical HIIT workout? Here's a list of common exercises that you might see:
- Squats (including variations such as jump squats)
- Jumping jacks
- Box jumps
- Split jumps
With some HIIT workouts, you perform a certain number of repetitions of each exercise, while others set a time limit (e.g., 30 seconds) in which you perform as many reps as you can of an exercise before moving to the next one. The key is to go all-out and give your 100% best effort during each set. The very nature of HIIT demands that you push yourself beyond your normal comfort zone, which provides a healthy challenge during the workouts and a true sense of accomplishment when you're done.
So should you try HIIT? It really depends upon your fitness goals, and your current physical condition. If you maintain a busy schedule and you're looking for a quick but effective workout you can do to burn fat and tone your muscles, HIIT will be right up your alley.
As with anything else, it is always a good idea to consult with a healthcare professional before starting a HIIT regimen. Once you get the "all clear", you'll find that adding HIIT to your lifestyle will help you burn more calories, build lean muscle and break through old plateaus to enjoy new levels of personal fitness.