High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Looking for a Challenge?

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High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a highly efficient and challenging approach to exercise and it’s becoming more popular every day. If you are in moderate to excellent physical shape, HIIT may be a perfect fit for you especially if you don’t have a lot of time to exercise. But efficiency is not the only benefit and HIIT is not just for the most conditioned athletes.

Many elite athletes use high-intensity interval training for a competitive advantage but fitness centers throughout the nation also offer HIIT classes for the less elite among us. While HIIT workouts are often found in group settings, many people apply the same principles in their individual workouts.

What is high-intensity interval training?

High-intensity interval training alternates between exhausting periods of exercise and less-intense periods or rest periods. HIIT is usually done in a shorter amount of time compared to more moderate levels of exercise and is designed to get your heart rate pumping near your maximum rate for short periods of time.

There are various types of high-intensity interval training classes like CrossFit®, Tabata or boot camps. But HIIT can be used in your own individual training regimen like riding a bike, lifting weights, running outside or on the treadmill. Any type of activity that alternates high intensity with lower intensity or rest periods may be considered HIIT and the workouts can be adapted for nearly any fitness level. Maximum heart rate and maximum effort vary depending on the level of the individual.

There are unlimited variations for HIIT workouts. But one typical HIIT workout may last half an hour and involve an interval of maximum effort for approximately 20 seconds. This would be followed by a rest of 10 seconds, for instance. This pattern may be repeated several times until a new exercise is introduced. Each exercise interval lasts approximately 4 minutes.

What are the benefits of high-intensity interval training?

For busy individuals, HIIT workouts are enticing because the time commitment is minimal with most sessions lasting 30 minutes or less. An hour of gym time can be hard to find. What if you could achieve the health benefits in half the time? While even small amounts of exercise on a consistent basis can be beneficial to our health, the HIIT approach may be even more beneficial.

In one study, researchers had 30 volunteers pedal stationary bikes for 30 seconds at top intensity then rest for four minutes. They repeated the pattern six times. The researchers then took muscle samples from the thighs of the volunteers and found that a single session of HIIT triggered molecular changes in muscle cells, particularly in the calcium channels. These changes have been shown to increase muscle endurance. The study suggests that short sessions of high-intensity interval training may have the same health benefits for the heart, respiratory tract and muscles as an hour long workout of moderate intensity.

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Since you are working at or near your maximum level of effort while doing a HIIT workout, you are likely to burn more calories in less time, as your heart rate increases. The shorter, more intense workouts help build muscle and increase your resting metabolism rate which in turn has a longer afterburn effect. “Afterburn” is the amount of calories you continue to burn after your workout due to increases in your metabolism.

Like any workout, how much you get out of your short high-intensity workouts really depends on you and how much you are willing to push yourself. However, HIIT workouts also help with your endurance, so when you change things up and go for a long steady workout, you can go longer or further. That is to say that HIIT is not the only way to get and stay fit but it may be a great addition to your current workout routine. On the other hand, if you love HIIT workouts—many people do—it can also be your exclusive approach to exercise if it seems to be working for you.

If shorter bouts of exercise at a high intensity are for you, or you just want to try one out to add variety to your routine, check out a Healthways BOOM® class which are shorter, more intense classes compared to our SilverSneakers Signature classes. Many SilverSneakers SilverSneakers FLEX® locations may also offer high-intensity interval training classes such as boot camp. The best workout for you is one you like and will keep you coming back.