When is comes to finding a great workout, the options out there include much more than pounding away at the treadmill. From group classes using dance moves, power yoga, sports, etc. there’s truly something for everyone. I tell my patients to “find what you like and break a sweat.” The current recommendation for healthy adults is to perform at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity continuous training (MICT) 5 days per week or for more vigorous exercise, then at least 3 days per week is recommended. As an alternative to MICT, the concept of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts has recently skyrocketed in popularity.
What is HIIT?
HIIT workouts involve exercise at high exertional levels, from 80-95% of your max heart rate for short bursts followed by a recovery period that is usually 40-50% of maximal HR. The period of higher exertion can be varied in duration, and can even be sustained for several minutes if your fitness level allows. Post exercise, workouts of this type create a state in the body where the oxygen use is increased for up to two hours after the workout is completed. This results in up to 15% more calories burned than traditional MICT exercises. This can go a long way in helping you to achieve caloric goals when designing your workout schedule to fit into your already busy day. Simply stated, this means that you get more (calorie burn) for less (time). For my patients, I usually recommend trying to burn 2000 kCal or more per week to see noticeable improvements in cholesterol levels to lower risk for heart disease.
There are also multiple studies now showing that HIIT is more than just optimizing calories burned during your workout. Significantly improved aerobic fitness levels have been documented, with an increase in peak VO2 (maximum volume of oxygen) capacity when compared to MICT. Peak VO2 represents the highest rate of oxygen usage obtainable with maximum exercise, and is one of the best predictors of cardiorespiratory fitness. This has added significance in that peak VO2 is an independent predictor of cardiovascular disease morbidity and mortality. HIIT workouts have been shown improve insulin sensitivity, allowing more efficient use of glucose by the muscles. There are also notable improvements in cholesterol levels and blood pressure with HIIT in line with what is seen with MICT. The incidence of metabolic syndrome decreases as well, which is a group of risk factors that increase the risk of heart disease, and includes increase waist circumference, glucose intolerance, elevated blood pressure, low good cholesterol (HDL) and high triglyceride levels.
How Do I Do HIIT?
HIIT is also easily applied to most people’s favorite current aerobic activities. Whether it’s biking, hiking, running, or using any of the widely available fitness machines, including elliptical and stair masters, heart rates can easily be tracked with technology available today, and the HIIT concept applied to the workout. There are multiple apps, Fitbits, Garmin devices, or similar technology that can be utilized to track heart rates and log workouts. Technology in this area is advancing rapidly and gives us even better tools to help achieve and track our fitness goals.
What Do I Recommend?
Overall, HIIT appears to be a promising way to maximize the gains of most any exercise program. It is easily incorporated into current exercise routines using readily available HR monitor technology. I would try to start by performing one HIIT session per week, incorporated in your normal exercise routine. As you progress, you can add more HIIT days during the week, and increase the duration of the high exertional periods as your fitness level improves. The personal trainers at the Village are well versed in HIIT, and can help work with you by designing a program that fits your needs. Good luck to everyone with their exercise goals in the New Year, and remember, the hardest part of working out is putting your shorts on!