You’ve probably heard of high intensity, interval training by now, typically referred to by its acronym, “HIIT.” It’s a unique style of exercise that combines short bursts of intense activity with set periods of slow activity or complete rest.
An example of a simple HIIT-style workout, as applied to running, is 60 seconds of running at full speed followed by 60 seconds of walking, repeated several times. There are an endless variety of ways to incorporate HIIT, which is just one aspect that makes this workout subgenre so addictive to those who make it part of their lifestyles. Here are six other reasons they love it, and why you too.
It’s Accessible to Everyone
You don’t need to be a gym rat to start HIIT, and you don’t need to be a newbie, either. HIIT-style workouts are adaptable to any fitness level. The point is that you’re working out at your maximum effort, which is different for each person. You know you’ve got yourself a terrific workout if you’re sweating, gritting your teeth, giving it your all and coming away trembling. Of course, as with any exercise program, check in with your doctor to make sure what you’re doing is safe for your current state of health.
You Can Do It Anywhere
Many of us join a gym when we’re making promises to ourselves to get fit (New Year’s resolutions, anyone?). The beauty of HIIT is you don’t need to join a gym at all. You can do these workouts anywhere. Since many are bodyweight movements (also called calisthenics) you can do them in your living room, at your local park, on the beach, at the kiddie playground or anywhere that you feel comfortable.
It’s Seriously Challenging
Many of the movements popularly used in HIIT workouts are deceptively simple-looking. Take the competition burpee. You drop to your stomach on the ground, then get back to your feet and jump up in the air. Not so intimidating, right? Wrong! It’s an explosive, all-body exercise that will quickly drive you to your limits. By the time you reach the rest period, you’ll be panting.
It Burns Calories More Efficiently
What’s the best part about HIIT being so challenging? The workouts are crazily effective. In fact, according to the American College of Sports Medicine (acsm.org), these short, powerful workouts pack more of a punch than longer, steady-state exercising. First, HIIT exercises are designed to make your heart beat at 80 to 95% of its maximum heart rate, meaning you’re truly giving it all you’ve got. This alone burns more calories than longer workouts performed at a lower energy output. But the rewards extend beyond the workout. Exercise post oxygen consumption (EPOC) is the period of recovery after a workout when your body is returning to its normal state. After a HIIT workout, you burn significantly more calories during EPOC than during other forms of exercise because it takes much more effort for your body to calm down.
It Improves Your Level of Fitness Faster Than Steady-State Exercise
As if dropping weight faster weren’t sexy enough, HIIT can turn you into an aerobic and endurance machine. According to the University of New Mexico (unm.edu), studies have found that HIIT improves a person’s maximum aerobic capacity, which is your body’s maxed-out ability to consume, distribute and use oxygen for energy, a great indicator of cardiovascular fitness.
HIIT Can Make You Look and Feel Younger
There are no fountain-of-youth lies here, but a claim based on scientific fact. While HIIT can’t reverse the hands of time, it can flood your body with the human growth hormone, or hGH. What’s so great about that? According to the Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org), hGH is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that aids in the growth of muscles and bones, and sparks cell renewal. As we age, our natural production of hGH wanes. But, according to the Journal of Sports Sciences (tandfonline.com), the furious bursts of intense exercise that are the hallmark of HIIT trigger the production of hGH, turning us back into the fat-roasting campfires we used to be when we were teenagers.
Are you convinced yet? If you’re a little curious, why not put these claims to the test? The next time you go for your morning job, shake things up by inserting a few 30- to 60-second sprints. Or spice up your usual bike ride by gunning it for a minute or two. Or try a HIIT-style workout from start to finish. Here’s an example of one:
Simple HIIT Workout:
Set your timer for an eight-minute workout, with intervals of 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, times 16. If you don’t have an interval timer at home, there are plenty of free apps available for download.
High knees (20 seconds)
(Rest 10 seconds)
Competition burpees (20 seconds)
(Rest 10 seconds)
Jump lunges (20 seconds)
(Rest 10 seconds)
Crab toe-touches (20 seconds)
(Rest 10 seconds)
Repeat four times.
If you’re familiar with each of these exercises and you’ve been working out, then go full-tilt. If you’re new to exercise, look these exercises up to learn the proper form for each. Every one of them can be modified for beginners. The high knees, for instance, can be turned into walking in place. The competition burpees can be stepped into and out of, and you can turn the jump lunges into step-back lunges.
Remember that, in addition to maintaining good form, the most important element to a successful HIIT workout is the effort. You MUST be giving it everything you’ve got. You MUST be reaching far outside of your comfort zone. If you do so consistently, you’ll realize every one of these benefits and more.