If you’re stuck in the 40 minute cruise control elliptical routine daily, then this is going to be an eye opening article for you I’m a staunch advocate of HIIT cardiovascular workouts as an integral part of my training protocol, and the training regimes of my clients as well.
I’m well aware that there are bodies on both sides of the fence when it comes to HIIT and whether or not it’s effective. For every person, such as myself, who advocates in favour of HIIT workouts, there is an equal number of people who will swear that steady state, low intensity cardio is best. I will say that I’m a firm believer that HIIT could and should be a facet of everyone’s routine, whether small or large scale. But before I get into why you should incorporate HIIT and how, I need to explain what it is, and how it found its way into the hot spot of trends as far as fitness goes.
I went to good old Wikipedia for a textbook definition of “what” HIIT is. Wikipedia defines HIIT as the following; “High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise (HIIE), is an enhanced form of interval training, an exercise strategy alternating periods of short intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. HIIT is a form of cardiovascular exercise. Usual HIIT sessions may vary including warm up and cool down from 10–30 minutes. These short, intense workouts provide improved cardio capacity and conditioning, improved glucose metabolism and improved fat burning”
HIIT is fascinating, it’s a novel form of cardio that couples intervals of high-intensity exercise (such as ski jumps) with intervals of either low-intensity exercise (such as walking at a slow pace) or complete rest. This style is a departure from continuous steady-state (slow and steady) cardio that most people do at a moderate intensity for 30-to-60 minutes. Typically HIIT has been seen in the training programs of athletes, not the average man or woman but they to can gain great benefits.
HIIT was developed decades ago by track coaches to better prepare runners, which is part of why it’s so strongly associated with athletic performance rather than someone looking to simply shed body fat. At the time it was known as “Fartlek” training, the conjoining of the Swedish words for speed (fart) and play (lek). So essentially HIIT means “speed play,” which is a good description of what the training method is all about.
HIIT is for everyone, at least in my opinion. Whether you perform only one or two HIIT sessions a week or incorporate HIIT into your program on a much broader scale, if you’re concerned with how you look on the beach, you’re a bodybuilder or a figure athlete, you’re looking to shed body fat OR gain muscle- HIIT fits.
What about muscle mass? I’m sure by now you’ve heard that steady state cardio is best for maintaining muscle mass. I beg to differ. Cardio done at a higher intensity for a shorter period of time will not only help you maintain your muscle, but can actually help you build muscle mass. When you train at a slow and steady pace for a longer period of time, you are training your muscle fibres to be more aerobic and have greater endurance- you’re stimulating SLOW twitch muscle fibres. Do you know how muscle fibres adapt to becoming more aerobic and gain greater endurance? By becoming smaller and weaker! Think about a marathon runner in comparison to a sprinter- think about the physique differences. Distances runners (think steady state long duration cardio) are smaller, thinner, and far less muscular or powerful then the physique of a world class sprinter. By comparison sprinters are compact, muscular, and have a much more dense solid appearance. The reason distance runners look so thin is that the smaller a muscle fibre is, the less time it takes for nutrients to travel within the muscle fibre. This speeds up the rate that the nutrients can be burned for fuel- fuel needed for long runs, bikes, or swims.
Think about it from a common sense perspective. The statement that slow and steady cardio for longer periods of time is best for maintaining muscle mass is similar to saying that curling 2.5kg dumbbells for 30 minutes straight will build more muscle than curling 20kg dumbbells for sets of 10 reps with rest between sets. Food for thought huh? Think about a bodybuilder’s muscles from pulling heavy weight in comparison to the average guy slinging around lighter weights in the gym. Which do you THINK builds more muscle and stimulates fast twitch muscle fibres’? The research backs it up as well. I can think of one study completed in New Zealand that demonstrated that HIIT produced MORE testosterone than longer steady state cardio. Since testosterone is critical for boosting muscle size and strength, this means that doing HIIT with greater resistance can aid muscle growth and strength.
What about fat loss? Well if fat loss is your goal, or you simply want to shed the tire around your middle and get in shape – you’re in luck. HIIT is where it’s at.
The why is pretty simple- the research backs it. HIIT stumbled into the mainstream fitness spotlight for one simple reason- the more research that was done on the method the more people wanted to know about this fat incinerating style of training. One of the first studies to discover that HIIT was more effective for fat loss was done over a decade ago in 1994 study by researchers at Laval University (Quebec, Canada). Their report claimed that young men and women who followed a 15-week HIIT program lost significantly more body fat than those following a 20-week continuous steady-state endurance program. This, despite the fact that the steady-state program burned about 15,000 calories more than the HIIT program! This study was shocking- how could HIIT destroy more body fat through less training duration and less overall calorie expenditure?
HIIT should be integrated progressively, meaning you should start with work to rest ratios that allow for longer rest periods then work periods. For example, maybe 15 to 60 work to rest ratio. This will allow your body to adjust to the integration of HIIT. This type of training, done properly is VERY intensive and should be treated as any other intense training method- I recommend not doing HIIT on the days you also incorporate intense weight training to allow for recovery.
You can gradually tweak and change your work to rest ratios as your body progresses. So maybe after the first initial 4 weeks performing HIIT, move to 30 seconds intense exercise and 60 seconds rest, then 30 to 30 work to rest ratios and finally 30 to 15 work to rest ratios in which your rest period is shorter than the duration of your work period.
Keep your HIIT workouts short, no longer then 30 minutes in duration. I recommend a good 10 minute warm up, at a very slow pace to encourage blood flow to your muscles and get your body ready for higher intensity activity. Then begin your workout by increasing your speed to a barely sustainable intensity for your fitness level. Alternate that level of intensity with a low intensity recovery period. Alternate the high intensity segments with low intensity segments for the duration of your workout.
Plan to do HIIT just two times per week on non-consecutive days, at least to begin. Allow your muscles to rest at least 48 hours between sessions so they can repair and grow stronger. As you become stronger, add in a third session per week if you desire.
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