You’ve probably heard that when it comes to cardio, slow and steady is getting a run for its money (pun!). HIIT, an acronym for high-intensity interval training, is all the rage among recreational fitness enthusiasts.

HIIT has been a staple in athletic training for years because it mimics the bursts of activity commonly performed in many sports. It involves intense bouts of working at 90% to 95% of your maximum heart rate, thus the “high intensity”. These intense periods alternate with recovery periods working at 40% to 50% of your maximum heart rate. The duration of the intense and recovery periods vary depending on the program. One example is 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 90 of seconds walking, repeated for 20 minutes. Or, the workout may involve 2 minutes of intense work followed by 2 minutes of recovery. While many HIIT workouts are on the shorter side, some may last up to an hour.

So what’s so great about interval training, and more specifically, high-intensity interval training?

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People of all fitness levels can participate in interval training

Work with a personal trainer to help design a HIIT program that fits your individual condition. And if the thought of repeating full-out sprints is daunting, consider easing into interval training.

One way to ease into interval training is to preform what I call “pyramid intervals”, which gets you used to speeding up and slowing down, but not as intensely as you would during HIIT.

An example pyramid interval (after warming up) may look like this:

1 minute: run at 6.5 MPH
30 seconds: run at 7.0 MPH
30 seconds: run at 7.5 MPH
30 seconds: run at 8.0 MPH
30 seconds: run at 7.5 MPH
30 seconds: run at 7.0 MPH
1 minute: run at 6.5 MPH
1 minute: walk at 3.5 MPH

Repeat three to five times.

Interval training can quickly improve your level of fitness

By turning up the intensity of the exercise, you’re using more oxygen and therefore increasing your aerobic capacity. Some long-distance runners use interval training as a way to help increase their speed for their long runs. Many people find that interval training is an effective way to get into shape quickly, especially when they don’t have much time to dedicate to working out.

HIIT burns more fat than steady-state cardio

Due to increased oxygen consumption from the intense work, a HIIT workout can help your metabolism stay higher for longer (in science speak, this is called excess postexercise oxygen consumption). This means that for about two hours after your workout, you’re burning more calories than you normally would.

HIIT can help improve cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity

A 2015 systematic review and meta-analysis found that HIIT is superior to moderate-intensity continuous training when it comes to vascular function, heart disease risk factors, inflammation and insulin sensitivity.

Regardless of the health benefits, interval training is a fun way to mix up your routine. If you’re used to steady state cardio such as long-distance running, interval training can give your body and mind a fresh experience. It’s fun to play around with different speeds, inclines and types of activities (cycling, stair climbing, swimming, etc.) to design your own interval workouts.

As always, talk to your doctor about safe physical activity and work with a fitness professional to determine the appropriate type, duration and frequency of exercise for you.

Resources:

American College of Sports Medicine: High-Intensity Interval Training

Mayo Clinic: Rev Up Your Workout with Interval Training

The impact of high-intensity interval training versus moderate-intensity continuous training on vascular function: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Aerobic interval training vs. moderate continuous training in coronary artery disease patients: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

 

 

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