Last week Catalyst (ABC TV, Tuesday nights) ran a story about the benefits of High Intensity Interval Training. (There is a link to the episode on our Facebook page.)
It was focused on how HIT or HIIT has a positive impact on your mitochondria, the cells in your body which produce energy. Its the decline in these cells that is responsible for numerous aspects of the aging process, from needing nanna naps to saggy skin.
Until recently many people believed this could only be achieved by doing longer duration sustained ‘cardiovascular’ exercise. But HIIT is proving to be a much better option, especially if you are time poor, looking to keep your weight under control or wanting to prove that 40 is the new 30. Talking of being time poor, I’ve decided to recycle an article I wrote about HIIT early last year.
Here is what you need to know:
High Intensity Interval Training refers to a method of training where short bursts of very intense efforts are interspersed with short rest periods.
It has evolved from Tabata training which involves 20 seconds of maximal effort work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is done for 8 rounds or 4 minutes and was shown to improve the aerobic and anaerobic fitness of test subjects. The original Tabata work was done on a stationary bike. Obviously most of the training effect was in the cycling specific muscles. For the general population a more ‘well rounded’ approach is recommended.
As well as using ‘aerobic’ exercise like running and cycling for HIIT you can also use strength building exercises.
By alternating carefully selected exercises e.g. push ups and squats, you can work one muscle group with sufficient load to maintain or increase muscle strength, then while those muscles recover, you work a different muscle group. You are continuously active, going from one muscle group to another; hence your cardiovascular system is challeneged at the same time.
Because the intensity level is high, you burn a large amount of energy (calories) in a short time frame.
The other ‘secret weapon’ that high intensity training offers is EPOC. (Excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). To put it simply, your metabolism (how much energy you burn) stays elevated for a very long time after the workout finishes
Another advantage of HIIT is a great return for the time invested. It enables you to work on both muscle strength and aerobic fitness simultaneously.
Because you are working against moderate to high resistance, you are able to maintain or even increase muscle mass. Muscle burns energy, so the more muscle you have the higher your metabolism. Long, sustained exercise results in muscle loss, which is detremental to nearly every reason you could have for exercising including weight loss.
HIIT style training also allows you to do a lot of different movements instead of lots of repetitions of the same movement. This will help reduce the development of muscle imbalances and overuse injuries.
So if you want improvement to everything, body composition, aerobic fitness and strength in a relatively short time frame, give HIIT a go.
In my experience you get the best results if you apply the following guidelines:
Emphasise hips and shoulders movements. Movements that combine both hips and shoulders are the king!
Alternate exercises for the lower body, upper body, core and total body.
Use relatively low skill exercises.
If you are after fat burning, use shorter rest periods.
Training and rest interval times should be varied over the course of weeks to challenge different energy systems.
The ‘training age’ of the person, their current state of health and fitness and their lifestyle has a huge influence on how much training someone should do. As does the persons goals and how much time they can invest. For weight loss Id recommend shorter more frequent workouts. For strength gains I like slightly longer workouts with more rest days. For most people 3 x 30 minute workouts per week will get great results if it’s well designed.