Cardio can be one of the most challenging components of maintaining a lean, muscular physique. Often times, walking and running are what people turn to when they engage themselves in cardio. Others may turn to stair-stepping machines or elliptical.
However, there is a far better avenue for simultaneously burning fat and maintaining muscle mass. HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, works through quick bursts of repeated sequences of high intensity followed by a short recovery period. This method of training is frequently used in CrossFit, as well as boxers, sports athletes, and more. There is a large discourse on HIIT today and for good reason. When we look beyond the CrossFit memes, there are genuine health benefits to this vein of exercise that many are incorporating into their regimens.
Is the fast-paced world of HIIT for you?
Some Simple HIIT Exercises
There are many ways that you can perform HIIT so that it perfectly suits your style of training. But first, what does a HIIT exercise look like? It dips into the realms of both cardio and bodyweight training.
Riding the stationary bike at a steady pace for two minutes, followed by a pace of all-out intensity for one minute, and then back to a steady two minutes is an example of a routine you can do. Riding the stationary bike at a steady pace for two minutes, followed by a pace of all-out intensity for one minute, and then back to a steady two minutes is an example of a routine you can do. Modern stationary bikes like the Assault Airbike are particularly suited for this because you can transition instantly between intervals without fiddling with any controls.
Another is jogging at a comfortable speed on the treadmill or outdoor track, then bursting into a sprint for one minute, and then slowing it back down for another two minutes. You can perform this 2-1-2 sequence until you hit 20 minutes or keep going for more if you’re up to it. This could also be done on the stepper or elliptical.
Performing exercises like sit-ups or burpees at a rapid pace are also encapsulated by HIIT.
A random Google search will now populate countless HIIT routines using body weight moves like jumping jacks, high knees, planks, hopping lunges, and air squats. These typically work by doing each move for 30-45 seconds with a short 15 second rest in between circuits. While these may seem easy – it’s just body weight, right? – the rapidity of the circuit will quickly deplete your stamina, forcing you to work for those reps to finish out the training session.
The allure of these types of programs is that they could be done virtually anywhere. No matter where your travels take you throughout the year, you can always fall back on a HIIT session to keep those cheat meals in check.
You Get a Ton Out of It
The scientific data behind HIIT is strong, continuously pointing out the wide range of health benefits it offers. According to the ACSM, HIIT training has been shown to improve the following:
- Aerobic and anaerobic fitness
- Blood pressure
- Cardiovascular health
- Insulin sensitivity (which helps the exercising muscles more readily use glucose for fuel to make energy)
- Cholesterol profiles
- Abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass
As your cardiovascular health improves, so does much of the rest of your body. You’ll notice pretty quickly how you adapt from day 1 versus day 21 of HIIT.
Another way to consider the benefits of HIIT training is its effect on oxygen intake. In an article for the Huffington Post, Amy Schlinger quotes Eric Salvador, (NASM, NSCA) head instructor at The Fhitting Room in New York, saying that:
“A high-intensity workout increases the body’s need for oxygen during the effort and creates an oxygen shortage, causing your body to ask for more oxygen during recovery.”
Through this oxygen depletion, the body will burn fat and calories at a higher rate via Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. Your metabolism will be much higher following a HIIT exercise in opposition to lightly paced cardio. Doing HIIT twice a day, once in the morning and once in the evening, can really make a huge impact if you’re aiming to shed some weight this year.
HIIT Makes You Stronger
In June 2018, the American Council on Exercise (ACE) published “Is HIIT Resistance Exercise Superior to Traditional Resistance Training?”, a study performed with the aid of Lance Dalleck, Ph.D., and his team in the High Altitude Exercise Physiology Program at Western State Colorado University. 48 non-smoking men and women, with ages ranging from 21 to 59, were placed in three groups: one non-exercise control group, one HIIT-RE (resistance exercise), and one MI-RE (moderate intensity). After taking baselines for movements like lat pulldowns, chest presses, leg curls, and tricep extensions, the participants trained for six weeks. They then re-tested the participants’ one repetition-maximum (1-RM) and five repetition-maximum (5-RM).What the researchers found were three key points:
- HIIT-RE is equally effective as (and in some instances more effective than) traditional MI-RE at improving cardiometabolic health and muscular fitness.
- HIIT-RE improved muscular fitness in a time-efficient manner, as it required less than half the time of MI-RE to achieve favorable adaptations. The average HIIT-RE session (including warm-up) was 20 minutes in duration. In contrast, the average MI-RE session was 45 minutes in duration.
- Preliminary evidence suggests that HIIT-RE improves muscular fitness in a more rapid timeframe when compared to traditional MI-RE. Indeed, for a few MI-RE exercises (i.e., chest press and leg extension) there were no significant improvements in 1-RM and 5-RM values until after six weeks of training. In contrast, all 1-RM and 5-RM values improved significantly at three weeks in the HIIT-RE group. The achievement of such rapid results is important to highlight, as seeing these gains in only three weeks may improve the motivation levels of many clients during the early phase of a new workout, when they are typically most prone to frustration and dropout.3
One interesting note here is the time different between HIIT-RE and MI-RE. The HIIT group session was 20 minutes, and the MI-RE was 25 minutes longer. The extended duration hindered improvement. So basically, this is great news! In shorter workouts, you can achieve more than in similar ones with longer timeframes.
The participants’ 1-RM and 5-RM each improved by using HIIT, which is very significant. If you’re working on strength training, this could be a viable way to get those gains without having to always go heavy with the weights. To read the ACE study more in depth, click here.
You Have No Excuse Not To
With so many ways to engage a HIIT session, you can easily incorporate it into your workout regimen. Because it requires little to no equipment – depending on the type you choose to go with – HIIT is an accessible vein of training that can be done at the gym or in the privacy of your own home.
Take some time to look at different types of circuits on Google or YouTube, and check to see how your favorite fitness gurus and figures discuss HIIT. Finish out your workout with a fast-paced circuit or use it on your off days to keep your body moving. Instead of running a few miles – which is also totally plausible! – HIIT can be knocked out in as little as 20 minutes. And we’re all about saving time, right?
Kick start your metabolism and get your cardiovascular system thriving before work or during your lunch break this week by giving an HIIT workout a shot.