Published Tuesday, 02 April 2013
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has been around since the Roman times (well, maybe not quite), and used primarily with elite athletes, but this form of training has recently been creeping in to the fitness regimes of many regular gym bunnies, due to the incredible results documented in many research articles, one of which is effective fat burning.
The appeal of HIIT is down to not only fast results, but the fact that you don't need specialist equipment, a gym membership, a lot of time, or large amounts of space. If desired, HIIT can be done in your front room for 20 minutes a few times a week.
The magic of HIIT involves repeatedly alternating between periods of very intense exercise, to low levels of exercise intensity. An example of these workout levels would be sprinting for 30 seconds, then walking for 60 seconds (but don't forget you have to keep repeating this - it's not that magic!).
If HIIT is a new term for you, you may be wondering why all the cardio gym equipment screams 'fat burning zone' at you. Well, first of all, let's just clarify that both HIIT and steady state cardio burn fat - it's not that the shiny graphs on your treadmill are now wrong. The 'fat burning zone' (i.e. around 65% of your maximum heart rate) was once thought to be the superior training method for burning fat, because at this level your body burns relatively more fat to fuel your body during the workout, compared to when doing high intensity exercise. But, and it's a big but (no pun intended) for body fat reduction results, we need to be looking at the total fat burned, and HIIT wins hands down, despite a lower fat/glycogen ratio.
A contributing factor to this is the added bonus of 'afterburn' that HIIT provides. This means an increase in your metabolic rate, for around 24 hours after your workout, so your body will continue to burn fat even after your workout is completed. So, if working out for shorter amounts of time to get better results wasn't good enough, you now have the extra feel good factor in knowing that you'll be continuing to burn fat post-workout, even at rest. Something which you don't get from those gentle jogs.
You may be giddy with excitement that you can now spend half the time working out, while getting twice the results, however there must be a word of warning before you ditch the long power walks.
HIIT training, as the name suggests, is very intense. It is not for everyone. Of course beginners and intermediates can perform HIIT workouts at slightly lower intensities, but to properly execute HIIT drills, it requires you to push to a very intense level to reap the benefits. The stresses put on the body may not be appropriate for your fitness level or medical state.
To maximise HIIT you also must ensure that your body is receiving the correct level and type of fuel to sustain, maximise, recover and benefit from optimum HIIT workouts, so if you're constantly following a very low calorie diet or you avoid carbs like the plague, then it may not be for you.
Fat reduction is a goal for a majority of people - and personally I think it is brilliant that as a society we are starting to take individual steps towards combatting the obesity problem and improve our own health and well-being - however, despite the noted benefits of HIIT, it's worth bearing in mind that you may reap more realistic benefits for fat reduction, through adapting your nutrition and building muscle along with some steady state cardio. There's more than one way to skin a cat.
So the key message has to be, especially for any beginner, if you want to improve your health and fitness in general, don't get side-tracked by picking apart numerous training methods and following the latest trends - even if that is the superior magic of HIIT - just eat well and move more.
Don't over-complicate things.
Keep it 'simples'.
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