HIIT seems to be a popular buzzword these days. But what exactly is it? It stands for high-intensity interval training. Think sprint training as opposed to long-distance running, for example. It’s doing short bursts of intense exercise interspersed with breaks. Another example is doing several sets of burpees. So why is HIIT something you might be interested in? Here are nine ways it benefits your health.
A recent study suggests that HIIT training may be better than traditional cardiovascular exercise at improving heart health. The study measured a group of participants who engaged in HIIT training over a period of six weeks and compared that to a control group doing ordinary cardiovascular exercise. At the end of the six weeks, the HIIT group saw their VO2 max (a cardiovascular health indicator) improve by an average of 15 percent and their anaerobic capacity by 28 percent. The control group saw only a 10 percent improvement in VO2 max and no change in their anaerobic capacity.
The possibility of burning more calories
When you begin to research HIIT, you’ll find that much is made of its ability to improve EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). So what does that mean? Well, when you’re working out, your body needs to work extra hard to get a sufficient supply of oxygen. After a HIIT workout, your body continues working harder for several hours, meaning you’re still burning calories after the completion of the workout. This isn’t the case with traditional cardio — at least not to the same degree. So there is the potential to burn more calories with a HIIT workout. But it’s important to note that this isn’t always the case — there’s a little math to do here. If your ordinary cardio workout is long enough that you burn significantly more calories than you would during a shorter HIIT workout, then traditional cardio may be a better choice in terms of calorie burning, even with HIIT’s improved EPOC. Your HIIT workout needs to be intense enough (or your regular cardio workout needs to be short enough) that you actually burn more calories over the course of the day than you would have with a regular cardio workout. Nonetheless, the potential for more effective calorie burning is there.
As you may expect, HIIT can help burn body fat. A study in the Journal of Obesity found that HIIT workouts can help to reduce abdominal, visceral and subcutaneous fat. And the study also suggested that HIIT workouts can lead to increased aerobic capacity.
For many of us, finding the time to exercise can be a challenge. But because HIIT workouts require less time than traditional cardio exercise, it may be easier to work them into our schedules. And as a result, we might be more likely to stick with this kind of training. And of course, we all know how important consistency is when it comes to reaping the benefits of exercise.
The intimidation factor
If you’re not someone who regularly exercises but you want to start a workout routine, HIIT might be a good option (assuming, of course, that you don’t push yourself too hard too soon, which could result in injury). Although HIIT workouts are designed to be quite intense, they are also relatively short and include intervals of rest. This might be more appealing to someone just beginning an exercise routine than a longer cardio workout.
So HIIT training may be less intimidating than traditional cardio workouts to those just beginning an exercise routine. But research is showing that it may also actually be more tolerable for those suffering various ailments than longer cardio workouts. For example, one study by researchers in Norway suggests that stroke patients may show greater improvement after a period of doing HIIT workouts than traditional cardio. And researchers at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens have reported that patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, who are frequently unable to exercise long enough to see the benefits of traditional cardio, are more often able to do HIIT workouts and demonstrate less shortness of breath and leg discomfort. This is particularly significant given that HIIT workouts have traditionally been considered the domain of athletes looking to gain a competitive edge.
Studies suggest that HIIT workouts can improve the body’s ability to use insulin. And in turn, this can help to lower blood-sugar levels for people with diabetes. According to Jonathan Little, a researcher at the University of British Columbia at Okanagan, even one workout can result in improvement when it comes to blood sugar.
Keep boredom at bay
While some love going on long runs or bike rides, others find it a little boring. Because HIIT workouts require short bursts of exercise rather than longer periods of sustained activity, some people find them to be more enjoyable. And the key to creating a workout routine you will stick with is to find something you genuinely enjoy, whether that’s an hour-long run or a 20-minute HIIT workout.
The traditional uses of HIIT workouts remain important, as well. If you’re an athlete and you’re seeking to increase your fitness and performance level even more, adding HIIT workouts to your training can be quite helpful. For example, competitive distance runners often include interval workouts, where they do short, intense sprints as part of their training routines. While more recent research is showing that interval training has benefits for people of all levels, its traditional role is still significant.
For many people, HIIT workouts can be a great option. However, if your health or ability to exercise is compromised, it’s a good idea to talk to a health-care provider before beginning any exercise routine. It’s also important to keep in mind that the principle behind HIIT is that each individual exercises at a level that is high intensity for their unique body — it doesn’t mean pushing ourselves to the same limit as seasoned athletes.
And of course, there are those who are very much attached to their distance runs or longer cardio classes, and if that’s you, there’s no reason to give that up. At the end of the day, it’s about finding an exercise routine you will be able to maintain over the long term — and for that to be the case, you have to enjoy what you’re doing.
Sarah Cooke, is a Certified Body Image and Eating Psychology Coach and writer who is passionate about organic food and helping others heal at the deepest level.