High-Intensity Interval Training: Benefits of the Workout Regimen

by head coach Rhys Mitchell


Posted on August 15th, 2018


HIIT Workout

Do you ever compare the body build of sprinters like Usain Bolt to that of long distance runners like Mo Farah? Though they are both into the same form of athletics albeit of varying distances, while Bolt is sculpted with shredded quadriceps and chiselled arms, Farah just looks like the regular skinny guy. Granted, both runners are fit in their own way but Bolt's physique stands out of the two. So what is the difference in the work out regimen?

Intensity

While sprinters require intense high energy bursts of training, distance runners are more into less hard-core exercise routines with longer training times. If you are looking to get fit, it is imperative that you're smart about your cardio. There's no need to be at the gym slogging away at the same pace all day long if your body goal is an Adonis-like build. You could spend far less time at the gym and see better results in a shorter time if you do something called HIIT.

What is HIIT?

HIIT is an acronym for high-intensity interval training. It is type of cardio work out characterised by alternating periods of short intense anaerobic exercise with fixed intervals of less intense activity or rest which serves as a recovery period for the high intensity periods.

The idea behind HIIT is to work out as intensely as possible within a short amount of time, slow down or rest, and repeat until you are exhausted. HIIT is challenging, it takes workout to another level and pushes the body to work harder than it does during steady-state cardio. HIIT is specifically an extreme level workout regimen and it can be very effective training. However, to get the desired fitness results, you need to do it right.

What are the benefits of HIIT workouts?

HIIT workouts have been around for quite sometime now but the fact that the fitness industry is continually abuzz with this workout regimen is testament to its benefits. Here are a few of the benefits associated with high intensity interval training.

Burns more calories and fats

HIIT torches calories and burns fats at the same time. Research has proven that HIIT burns at least 25% more calories than steady state cardio exercises such as treadmill running and cycling. A recent study showed that individuals who engaged in endurance activities for 30 minutes three times weekly lost about 0.3% of body fat compared to the 2% loss in body fat of those who did 10 minutes less of HIIT exercises at the same tri-weekly rate. This is because the body can keep up with the demands of low intensity exercises as opposed to the challenging HIIT exercises which demands more from the body pushing it to burn more calories and fats rather to keep up with the energy demands. HIIT essentially drives the body to function at maximum capacity and efficiency.

Increases oxygen consumption and metabolism

HIIT pushes the body system out of its comfort zone into what is best described as an 'overdrive' mode. The body demands at that point are excessive which causes an increase in body metabolism. For example, during a HIIT workout session, at some point breathing could become difficult because the body is using up oxygen at a faster rate than normal necessitating an increase in oxygen consumption. In this time, all of that intense exertion boosts the metabolism and even after exercising, your body will still operate at that higher capacity for a while before the body system function is normalised again. This normalisation process could take up to 24 hours and in that post-HIIT workout time where the body is still running at maximum capacity, science has proven that you are more likely to burn more calories than in the regular steady state cardio like jogging.

Strengthens the heart muscles

The heart is a muscular pumping machine - emphasis on muscular. As HIIT helps to build muscles, the heart muscles also become stronger in the process. So, when you are sweating it out during HIIT workouts, you cause your heart to work harder and the harder a muscle works, the tougher it becomes. HIIT is not just beneficial for muscle strength building, the overall cardiovascular system is also boosted in the process and one thing that can not be overestimated is the importance of a healthy heart. However, if you have a pre-existing heart condition, as HIIT makes great demands from the heart, you should consult your doctor before you start out.

Checks blood sugar levels

HIIT workouts improve glucose metabolism. How? When your body is unable to metabolise the excess glucose in the system, the pancreas releases insulin to check the blood sugar levels. However, after a while of constantly using insulin to level glucose, the body becomes resistant to insulin, an occurrence that could lead to more severe issues like diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity, heart diseases and in severe cases - death. HIIT helps the body to metabolize more glucose, improves insulin sensitivity by at least 23% and maintains a relatively even level of blood sugar.

Lowers blood pressure

One of the contributing factors to high blood pressure is high blood sugar levels, and as it is already established that HIIT checks the blood sugar, it also indirectly lowers blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of cardiovascular diseases and according to a study, 20 minutes of HIIT workouts, three times weekly for 12 to 16 weeks can greatly reduce high blood pressure. A feat that would take 30 minutes of steady state exercising at four days every week for 12 to 16 weeks to achieve similar results.

Improves athletic performance

If you are an athlete training for a competition or just for the sake of becoming a better athlete, sets of high-intensity interval training will surely help in making you stronger, faster and better. This is because HIIT pushes your body to the max and for every time you workout, your body limit stretches just a bit further and your endurance is boosted to enhance overall performance.

Utilising HIIT workouts

Every form of exercising is targeted at being fit. But one distinct factor that differentiates HIIT workout regimen from regular aerobic exercise regimen is the intensity. More intensity means you're running out of breath more, which means faster metabolism and consequently more calories and fats burning. On the basic level HIIT workouts involve short and intense burst of activity, however one major part of the program that should not be overlooked is the rest periods. The rest or low intensity recovery period is as essential as the anaerobic/high-intensity period. It gives your body time to recover and perform at its max during the high-intensity activity. The good thing about HIIT workouts is that you do not need a fitness trainer, gym or equipment. The most important thing is to start out with an activity that spikes your heart rate.

However, going from 0 to 100 during workouts is not always easy, hence it is recommended that you start out with some warm ups and stretches to get things going, especially focusing on the muscles you will utilise in the high intensity training. Once you feel that your body is ready, you can start the actual HIIT. Exercises you can try out include burpees, pull ups, push-ups, jumping jacks, jumping ropes, sprinting etc. For beginners, it is recommended you start out with a 1:2 ratio, in other words, your low intensity recovery period should be twice as long as the high intensity period. For example, if you sprint for 30 seconds, you can jog or walk for a minute to recover your strength. As you progress in the training program, you can transition to a 1:1 ratio and maybe even a 2:1 ratio later.

Still, it is important that you pay attention to your body while working out. Push your limits but try to complete every session in the best form possible. There is no universally fixed amount of time for a standard HIIT workout but it is usually recommended that the workout sessions, inclusive of both high and low intensity periods, are kept between 20-45 minutes.

Conclusion

HIIT is far more efficient than aerobic activity. At the 2011 annual meeting of the American College of Sports Medicine, a report presented at the gathering revealed that 2 weeks of HIIT is capable of providing results equivalent to what you would get in 6 to 8 weeks of steady state training. HIIT promotes strength building, fat loss and high endurance levels. The nature of the exercise requires an immense level of self motivation to carry out. Nevertheless, once you break through those confines of comfort, the possibilities are endless.


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