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What is HIIT and is it for me?

Written By: 

Shannon Kitowski


Adventure 212 Fitness

 If you are reading this, you most likely have heard of HIIT (or high intensity interval training) – but you might be wondering what is it exactly?  What are the benefits of doing HIIT?  And most importantly, is it safe for me to do?

For starters, HIIT is a cardiorespiratory training technique that alternates brief bouts of speed or full body exercises at submaximal intensity (7-9/10 RPE) with recovery intervals lasting two to four times the duration of work intervals.  A HIIT session can last anywhere from four minutes to 25 minutes.  Exercises could include sprints on a cardio machine, pushups, pullups, squats and plyometric exercises, such as box jumps.

Now you may be wondering, “Why would I want to work that hard and put myself through that?!  How does this benefit me more than working in the traditional steady state or moderate state intensity that I do when I do cardio or weights?”  HIIT has quite a few benefits, with a major benefit including an improved VO2max.  In face, some studies have shown improvements by as much as 10 – 13%.  VO2max, in short, is a measure how efficient the body can produce work and is considered the “gold standard” in assessing one’s overall fitness and cardiovascular health.  In everyday, this would translate to being able to do daily activities easier and for longer periods of time that are more strenuous in nature, such as walking up a flight of stairs.

HIIT sessions have also shown to aid in weight loss in as little as one or two workouts per week.  The American College of Sports Medicine has recently published a report where subjects from its study performing HIIT training burned nearly 10% more calories in the 24-hour period after the workout session compared to those who did steady state cardio, due to HIIT sessions generating a greater excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or “after burn” than steady state exercise.  10% may not seem like a ton, but overtime, it can really add up.

Another benefit of HIIT is its role in reducing the risk of type II diabetes and helping manage it.  In a meta-analysis published in Obesity Reviews that complied 50 studies, it was shown that blood glucose is lower following a HIIT session than it is following traditional steady state exercise or no exercise at all.   Other improvements include: and increase in aerobic and endurance capacity, improved waist circumference, and freedom from boredom and stagnation during workouts.

Sounds great doesn’t it?  Now, there are a few things to consider before incorporating HIIT sessions into your scheduled workout routines.  First, check with your primary care provider to assess that your heart can handle the added intensity in your exercise program.  Second, if you are not used to working at submaximal intensity, start slow.  I suggest starting with 3 or 4 rounds and building your way up from there.  Similarly, what is considered submaximal or high intensity, is different for everyone.  Someone just starting out in fitness may find walking up a hill extremely difficult, whereas another person that is more conditioned may have to run up that same hill to feel the same level of intensity that the other person is experiencing.  With my clients, I have them work according to their own rate of perceived exertion (RPE) (scale 1-10 with 1 being least intense) between 7-9RPE while executing the exercises throughout the session with good form. As a side note, if you are using weights in your HIIT sessions, I recommend using weights that are 85%1RM or less to reduce risk of injury and ensure proper form throughout the duration of the interval.

In closing, remember that the goal of HIIT training is to increase the overall intensity of a workout, so make sure that you REST during the rest periods and, if needed, chose rest intervals that allow for ample recovery time.  Experiment with work to rest intervals as needed to find the ratio that works best for your current fitness level and goals.  Above all else, choose exercises that you enjoy doing, are align with your goals, and that you can execute with proper form so that you can get the most benefit and reduce risk of injury.