What is HIIT?
As a former competitive distance runner, I did a lot of “HIIT-type” workouts to boost speed and performance when I was training, but it wasn’t until after my competitive career ended with a devastating injury (more on that here), that my physical limitations and decreased amount of time to spend training led me to a whole new appreciation for HIIT and the benefits that go with it. In fact, no other types of workouts could get me back into peak shape as holistically and as efficiently!
The term HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training has become ragingly popular buzzword in fitness in the past few years. And there’s good reason for it, its much more efficient. In fact, CNN.com recently released an article naming HIIT as the number one fitness trend in 2018.
Time is the one thing we all seem to be starved for.
Don’t get caught in the thought trap that ‘more = better’ when it comes to exercise and results. I can say, with confidence, that is absolutely not true. The key is to workout smarter not harder. Working out smarter means working out with intensity and focus. And this folks, is where short HIIT style workouts come into play!
So what is it?
The definition of HIIT, short for High Intensity Interval Training, is defined as short, intense, unsustainable bursts of physical activity, paired with intervals of quick rests (intervals usually range from as for as 10 seconds to up to about 2-3 minutes, with most hovering around 90 seconds or less). The idea is that you should not be able to maintain this level of exertion for longer than each specified interval of time. This type of intense training causes a sort of metabolic disturbance, which results in the ultimate ‘after burn’, meaning your body continues burning calories at a higher rate up to 48-72 hours later – talk about great bang for your workout ‘buck’!
HIIT is also known for its overall ability to increase metabolism, reduce insulin resistance, improve cardiac function, produce improve endurance levels faster than steady state cardio training and can be an effective way to recruit/boost your type 2 fast twitch muscle.
Here’s a recap of 5 of the main benefits
1 // Burns Fat/Calories FASTER and Increases Metabolism
High-intensity interval training burns fat, preserves muscle, and boosts your metabolism by triggering a physiological reaction called Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). It is after between intense burst (during the recovery periods) that your body is forced to work harder for the lack of oxygen to bring your body back to its normal state, thus more fuel is being used. The effects of EPOC can last for 24-48 hours post-workout, continuing to burn fat in a resting state.
2 // Shorter Workouts that can be done Anywhere.
Due to the intensity of the workouts, the benefit is that they are much more efficient, aka shorter! Total time of a HIIT workout is typically less than 40 minutes, and results can be achieved in just 5-10 minutes depending upon the intensity and effort you are able to exert.
Note: The body has to heal after this type of training so it is not recommended that you perform HIIT every day –I usually recommend aiming to do this type of training a maximum of 1-3 days per week (depending upon your goals), on non-consecutive days.
HIIT is great to squeeze in during a lunch hour, or while your child is taking a nap. OR just get up 30 minutes earlier, you can do it anywhere! No gym needed!
3 // Improves Heart Health
The extreme training in this technique produces extreme results, pushing you into your anaerobic zone which should be is 80-90% of your maximum heart rate. This should not be comfortable, you should be gasping for air and counting down the seconds, but getting into this zone helps to reduce the risk of developing heart-related diseases. Increasing cardiovascular fitness gets your heart pumping to deliver oxygen more effectively to your muscle cells, which use it to produce energy.
4 // HARD, but modifiable for ALL levels!
YES, it’s hard, but intensity and effort is relative to your current fitness level. Remember we all have to start somewhere. Your ’80-90% max effort is going to be totally different from someone else, but the key is to know yourself how hard or working, and give your best effort, you only cheat yourself by taking the easy way out. HIIT can be modified for people of all fitness levels and people with various medical conditions including being overweight and people with diabetes.
Note: If you are considering giving HIIT a try make sure you are cleared by your physician or take a physical activity readiness questionnaire in order to determine if it is appropriate for you to begin this type of training.
5 // HIIT can be performed for Various Exercise methods
HIIT workouts can be performed using various methods of exercise including bodyweight exercises, strength exercises, cycling, walking, swimming, or running or group fitness classes. HIIT workouts tend to generate about 6-15% more calories burned during the EPOC period which adds to the overall workout energy expenditure.
When developing your own HIIT program you need to consider the duration, intensity and frequency of the work intervals and the recovery intervals — or check out and browse some of our favorites here.
HIIT can even be low impact or adapted to work for beginners, with the right types of exercises (low impact, add weights to increase challenge and difficulty) and intervals. Always talk to your doctor before starting into a program or workout that utilizes HIIT, just to be absolutely certain that it’s safe for you.
All in all, there’s no question, I’m a HUGE believer in HIIT – I love the results, the adrenaline pumping energy boosting qualities it breeds and it’s convenience. You can browse my endless HIIT workouts here, and I promise to keep updating you with new ones every week, so make sure to comment below and tell me what duration or type of exercise you want to see next!