Work Harder and Smarter
Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training
by Kirby Baldwin
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts may sound like a trendy buzzword reserved only for experienced athletes, but this versatile, short-form exercise is safe and effective for just about everybody, including beginners, as long as it is done properly. According to Bogdan Goia, fitness expert and founder of Far Hills Fitness, in New Jersey, “HIIT training can benefit almost any age demographic, from teenagers to clients in their 70s and 80s.”
“In a recent study, even menopausal women diagnosed with osteoporosis successfully completed 13 months of high-impact HIIT with a very high adherence rate, with no injuries and high satisfaction ratings,” shares Debra Atkinson, a medical exercise specialist, certified strength and conditioning coach, and founder of Flipping 50 (FlippingFifty.com).
Basic Principles of HIIT
A HIIT workout consists of a series of short bursts of intense activity interspersed with periods of rest or low-intensity movement called “active recovery”. A session is deemed to be high intensity when it is at or near peak effort, which translates to an eight or nine out of 10 on the exercise intensity scale, or 80 to 95 percent of an individual’s maximum heart rate. Such exertion is characterized by heavy sweating and an inability to say more than a few words without gasping for breath.
While HIIT workouts provide many of the same benefits as traditional, “steady state” exercise training, where the required amount of effort remains relatively consistent, HIIT sessions are typically shorter in duration, ranging anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes. HIIT is the perfect solution for busy people that are short on time or those hesitant to commit to longer exercise routines.
The exercise format is easily adaptable to most types of physical activities, such as running, weightlifting, swimming or biking, as long as a high level of intensity can be maintained. Adding to the convenience factor, HIIT does not require a gym membership or access to specialized equipment.
Benefits of a HIIT Workout Regimen
HIIT workouts have been the subject of numerous studies and have been shown to help with fat loss, improved metabolism and muscle gain. One study found that participants burned 25 to 30 percent more calories during a HIIT workout than in other forms of exercise. Because HIIT boosts metabolism, calorie burn has also been shown to last beyond the workout.
Researchers have discovered other health benefits, from reducing blood sugar levels, resting heart rate and blood pressure, to balancing hormones, slowing the rate of cellular aging and even increasing longevity.
The practice also reduces the wear and tear that chronic cardio can inflict on the body. While federal guidelines currently recommend 150 to 300 minutes per week of moderate exercise, only 75 minutes per week are recommended when the exercise is vigorous.
How to Get Started
For those looking to improve aerobic fitness, intervals typically involve a one-to-one or one-to-two work-to-rest ratio. For example, in a one-to-one cardio workout, the person would exercise strenuously for 30 seconds and rest for 30 seconds.
If the goal is to gain strength, longer rest intervals are needed, with at least a one-to-five work-to-rest ratio. A person might exercise for 30 seconds, followed by 150 seconds of rest, for example, allowing their targeted muscles to recover and heart rate to drop before the next exertion.
HIIT should not be performed daily or when energy levels are low, to avoid injury and give the body enough time between workouts to rest and repair. Atkinson cautions, “Injury rates increase considerably doing more than 50 minutes per week of HIIT, due to the additional stress and need for recovery between. The good news is, there’s no need to do more. Short sessions actually get the best results.”
According to Goia, “I believe the key is to have a fitness professional select the exercise, monitor form and function, adjust work-to-rest ratios and monitor heart rate variability. HIIT workouts give my clients a 60-minute workout in 30 minutes and, if done correctly, will greatly increase the vitality, longevity and strength of any client.”
Jump Right In
For a flexible, efficient path to fitness, HIIT checks all the boxes. By starting small and slowly working up to a high level of intensity, a whole host of fitness gains and health benefits are possible without sacrificing time.
Kirby Baldwin is an editor and writer for KnoWEwell, the Regenerative Whole Health Hub and parent company of Natural Awakenings Publishing Corp.