So what is HIIT all about?
“HIIT”, or high intensity interval training, has been a buzzword in the fitness industry for some time. It involves exercising in short bouts at maximum levels of exertion with short recovery breaks. For example, a HIIT workout on a bike might consist of:
- 5-8 minutes warming up
- 8 -12 times of 1 minute of flat out pedalling, followed by 60-75 seconds of active, low-intensity rest
- Gentle pedalling for a few minutes to warm down
The above workout is about a 30’ commitment and should be repeated about 3 times per week.
Does science support it?
There has been some debate over the claims that these shorter, punchier workouts bring as much benefit as traditional, longer endurance sessions, however science is increasingly proving the value of HIIT workouts. Reynolds in her book, “The First 20 Minutes” presents research by Dr. Martin Gibala, PhD of McMaster University, Canada, who is at the forefront of HIIT science. His research compared a group doing a HIIT workout on bicycles for a total of 2-3 minutes of intense training (not including warm-up and rest intervals) with a second group doing 90-120 minutes of cycling at a sustainable pace. Both groups trained 3 times per week. After 2 weeks, both groups showed almost the same changes in endurance and the same molecular changes in muscle tissue. In short, Dr Gibala found that 6-9 minutes of hard exercise per week (plus the time to warm-up and rest between intervals) was about as good as 300 minutes of less strenuous exercise. Dr Gibala has also found that HIIT workouts lowers blood sugar and improves blood pressure control.
Can anyone do it?
The beauty of HIIT is that it can benefit virtually anyone (see your GP prior to undertaking vigorous exercise routines). Reynolds refers to research carried out on elderly walkers. One group walked at 50% of their maximum heart rate for 8,000 steps (3-4 miles). The second group did power walking for 3 minutes at 70% of their maximum heart rate and rested for 3 minutes by walking at 40% of their maximum heart rate for 5 sets. At the end of 5 months, members of both groups saw improvements in blood pressure readings, but only the interval group developed greater muscle power and higher maximum oxygen capacities.
Is there a catch?
Only one: it has to hurt to work, but you’ll feel amazing every time you finish a workout and you will see results fast!
Given that HIIT is available to everyone and it overcomes one of the biggest obstacles to fitness – time – it has profound and exciting potential to improve population health. If you are an endurance athlete, you can also benefit from incorporating HIIT workouts into your regime to improve cardiovascular, metabolic and skeletal-muscle function in the body. Check out this article by Zuhl and Kravitz if you are interested in finding out more about the science behind HIIT.
BodyUK is about to offer an exciting, supported, online programme called HIIT 90 that will enable you to make big changes to your fitness, nutrition and quality of life. For more information and to join our pre-launch club click here.
Reynolds, G. (2013) The First Twenty Minutes. Surprising science reveals how we can exercise better, train smarter, live longer. New York: Plume.