High Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT) training methods have been used for many years. As with many fitness trends, what is old often becomes new again, and the current generation is likely to believe that they were the first to discover the methods that are most effective. It's almost impossible nowadays to pick up a health magazine or read a fitness blog without a mention of HIIT training or an example of a new interval training workout.
But what exactly constitutes a HIIT workout session?
What exercises should be incorporated? What are the advantages to training in this mode and what are the drawbacks associated with incorporating HIIT training in your workout routine? You would be wise to understand the answers to these questions before starting any intense training program.
You Likely Already Have HIIT Training Experience
Most people who participated in track or cross-country running in their formative years can recall jogging and sprinting sessions that many coaches referred to as “fartlecks” or maybe having to run “windsprints” in gym class or sports training. The goal was to improve cardiovascular capacity by using short bouts of all out effort followed by recovery periods or lower intensity work. These methods put a high demand on the body’s aerobic and anaerobic systems. These methods can be very effective not only for sports conditioning, but for fat loss as well.
After a quick history of HIIT training, we'll delve more into how HIIT is used for fat loss and very efficient total body workouts.
Sample HIIT training video using kettlebells:
From the Olympics to the Fitness Studio, a Brief History of HIIT Training
HIIT Training is based on a 1996 study by professor Izumi Tabata. (Yes, the “Tabata” workout protocol came from the professor who did the initial research.)
The study involved Olympic speed skaters using cycle ergometers and used a 2:1 work to rest ratio. During the work period, which lasted 20 seconds, the athletes pedaled as hard as they possibly could and rested for 10 seconds. They performed this 4-times-a-week for 4-minutes-at-a-time. This study showed the athletes training under these conditions exhibited a greater work capacity when compared to a similar group who trained for 30 minutes maintaining a steady state heart rate.
Today, this study is referenced many proponents of high intensity interval training. But coaches and trainers have moved these work and rest intervals to other methods and apparatus. Now, work and rest intervals are applied to everything form cycling and running to plyometrics and traditional strength training exercises like squats and pushups.
Benefits of and Physiology Behind HIIT Training
For the biology, and anatomy and physiology nerds in the room...
There are many benefits to HIIT training. Probably the most important benefit for athletes is the fact that the interval training has been shown to improve sports performance when practiced within the sports’ specific demands. The central nervous system as well as the cardiovascular system have also shown improved function and capacity. The power generated during high intensity training stimulates muscle recruitment, builds muscle capacity, and improves aerobic capacity (citation).
The intensity of the exercises quickly overloads the muscles, which elevates the heart rate and relies on cardiovascular support. These short intense intervals can be valuable to an athlete who is trying to develop the bursts of strength and speed needed to excel in competition.
Unfortunately, for specific sports performance using cross-training exercise for interval purposes does not correlate to equal improvement in the athletes sport specific performance. For example, the cyclist used in the Tabata study showed improvement in cycling capacity, but that improvement does not correlate equally to their improvement in soccer or basketball. But capacity will still be improved to some degree.
Why is HIIT so effective for fat loss?
As the Tabata study shows HIIT training is superior to steady state HR training when it comes to fat loss as well. Not only can you burn more calories in a shorter period of time using HIIT but these workouts have been shown to stimulate the metabolism for a longer period of time after the workout has ended. So your body will still be using energy more efficiently long after your workout has ended.
Some of the best aspects of HIIT training are what make it a good choice for a busy professional. If you are pressed for time you only need a few minutes to reap the benefits of a HIIT workout. They are also fun to do which helps keep you motivated and you can do these workouts anywhere with little or no equipment.
So, if you are traveling on a business trip for example, and you don't have access to fitness equipment, you only need your own body weight to start a workout.
HIIT sample sequence video using TRX:
Drawbacks and Contraindications to HIIT Training
While it is hard to debate how effective HIIT training can be for fat loss, there are drawbacks to this particular training style.
Most of the HIIT workouts I see on tv infomercials and in magazines are not for beginners. There are contraindications you must consider before starting any program. With HIIT, overtraining is a huge concern. These workouts are intense in nature and adequate recovery time is needed. When intensity increases, recovery time must increase as well.
There is also the increased risk of injury. Many of the exercises commonly associated with HIIT training are advanced movements. If you are a beginner or are have taken a significant break from training, I would suggest working on perfecting movement patterns first before incorporating HIIT training.
The wrong movement or the right movement done the wrong way can prove detrimental for the untrained athlete.
How Often HIIT Training is Suggested
While HIIT training can efficiently improve work capacity, it can just as quickly lead to a plateau if it is done too much too often. HIIT training is an efficient and effective way to decrease body fat, but it can be taxing on the body. This is troublesome for someone who is trying to build muscle or “tone”. You become stronger after a weight training session while you are recovering.
Lots of hit training means lots of recovery time, and if you are trying to go both ways at the same time, you will most likely go nowhere.
However, the right amount of HIIT can help you stay lean, while working in a program to maximize strength gains. Five to ten minutes of interval training at the end of a strength training workout can have a huge effect, not only on your physique, but you health as well.
How We Do HIIT Training at Our Chicago Studio
At Hustle Fitness, helping people move better and feel better comes first.
We focus on getting our clients stronger and keeping them injury free. If you are not getting stronger, you are getting weaker. Interval training requires proper stretching and movement warm-ups before every session to ensure our members are prepared and focused.
We typically focus the first part of our personal training sessions on correcting movement patterns, and increasing stability and mobility. The majority of each session is devoted to strength development, and we generally finish each session with some form of HIIT training to end with a metabolic effect. These metabolic finishers typically last no more than 10 minutes. As a result the member benefits from building muscle mass and getting stronger and still reaps the benefits of interval training without zapping their energy and increasing recovery time.