High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is an exercise practice that has been both in the news, and in the gym, a lot lately. Although this might seem to be a new type of training, HIIT has in fact been around, in one form or another, for more than 100 years. Legendary distance runners of the early 20th century Paavo Nurmi and Hannes Kolehmainen of Finland, as well as mid-century champion Emil Zatopek from Czechoslovakia incorporated interval training into their preparation for their Olympic triumphs (1, 5).
At first glance, the term and the activity might sound a bit intimidating until one takes a closer look at what HIIT is really all about, and what the benefits of including it in one’s training routine might be. There are several protocols and patterns for High Intensity Interval Training, and none of these should be incorporated into one’s training regime without full consultation with a healthcare professional. They are generally centred around full body exercise like cycling, running, or rowing, but several creative trainers have also developed HIIT routines focused on resistance training applications using machines, free weights and body weight exercises (6).
Many of my clients have successfully incorporated HIIT into their training regimes. I am a particular fan of beginning a resistance training workout by using a HIIT session as a segue between a few minutes of modest warm up on a stationary bike or rowing ergometer, with the more focused functional strength training session to follow. Here is how we often start. On a stationary bike, we begin cycling for one to two minutes at a modest resistance and at 50 per cent capacity in order to begin to warm up. If not loose and relaxed after a minute or two, warm up for a few more minutes. When heart rate is up to approx 50 per cent max and body temp is just beginning to rise, then the first high intensity interval may begin. Increase effort to 90-100 per cent at an increased resistance for 30 seconds. This is followed by a return to 50 per cent effort, and lowered resistance for one minute, and then another high intensity 30 second burst – and so on. This pattern is repeated six to eight times, followed by a two to three minute cool down with little resistance. Once this HIIT session is complete, we go on to the resistance training portion of the 45 & Thrive routine. This is a regime that works well for my clients, but there are others. A HIIT session can last anywhere from approximately eight to 30 minutes, depending upon which pattern one follows, previous training, and level of fitness. I encourage anyone interested in trying HIIT to look at the various protocols and try to find one centred on an activity they already enjoy and more likely to stick with.
But, why do this? Why not just go for a 30 minute run or cycle? What are the benefits of HIIT and why should you consider adding HIIT to your exercise routine? There are several reasons, and they are compelling. For some time now, many elite and aspiring athletes have included some sort of staggered, interval training in their workout schedule on the advice or their trainers/coaches. Until the 1990s however, not a lot was known about why athletes responded to this practice, nor, more importantly, what the benefits of adding such training to an average person’s exercise routine were. Ground breaking research beginning with speed skaters in Japan in the 90s by Tabata et al. Deeply significant work on HIIT has been done in Canada at McMaster University by Gibala et al in the past several years, which quantified the application of this practice for elite athletes, for average people interested in maintaining physical fitness, and even to help treat diabetes and metabolic disorders (2, 3).
A few of the key benefits of HIIT include:
- Time efficiency: six to eight minutes of HIIT has been shown to produce the same, or better cardio-vascular workout as 20 minutes of steady state aerobic activity (3, 5, 9). This is particularly attractive for those of us interested in making the most of our time, and fits beautifully with the 45 & Thrive principle of Minimum Effective Dose.
- More calories burned: A typical HIIT session burns 25-30 per cent more calories than other types of exercise (5).
- Metabolic boost: HIIT stimulates a metabolic surge, which lasts up to 24 hours after the session. This means that your body continues to use energy stores at a higher than ‘resting rate’ for a longer period after working out than is typical following other exercise routines (5, 8).
- Improved insulin resistance: HIIT boosts Insulin Resistance which is a key element in curbing and controlling Type 2 Diabetes (4).
So, convinced yet? Well, how about the fact that effective results from HIIT may be achieved by adding this routine to your current three day per week training sessions, and that these results can begin to appear in as little as three to four weeks’ time (5, 10)? Since I first came across HIIT about 10 years ago, I have been a big fan of this type of training for many reasons. The more I explore and review the latest research, the more convinced I am that, for many of us, HIIT might just be one of the best exercise ‘hacks’ ever. Finally, for most people interested in maintaining fitness as part of an active lifestyle past middle age, the combination of functional strength training (focused on maintaining muscle mass), and High Intensity Interval Training (designed to promote aerobic capacity, cardiovascular health, and metabolic benefits) is an ideal ‘one, two punch’ aimed at fighting off health challenges and promoting robust longevity (7).
Until next time,
Michael Patterson, M.Ed.
Lift long and Prosper
Michael Patterson M.Ed, has spent 30+ years as a fitness and health professional. He holds degrees in Physical and Health Education, Psychology, and Education. Find out more about Michael and follow him on his website at www.45andthrive.com, and on Instagram @45andthrive. Questions and comments can be sent to [email protected].
*Disclaimer: The information provided and discussed in this column is based on my personal experience, studies of physical and health education and my expertise as a lifelong fitness and health professional. Any recommendations made about fitness, training, nutrition, supplements or lifestyle, or information provided through this column, should be discussed with your physician or other health-care professional
*Reminder: If you don’t currently exercise regularly, then make sure you consult with your health care professional, and receive their approval, before trying HIIT.