High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is all the rage, both in gyms, in online coaching videos, and athletes’ at-home or in-training routines. What is HIIT? How does it work? And why is HITT changing how we work out?
David Lintner, MD, an orthopedic and sports medicine specialist in Houston and Baytown, Texas, is always looking for science-based, effective methods to keep your body fit, flexible, and strong. Here he explains the basics of HIIT, how it works, how you can incorporate HIIT into your fitness regimen, and why it can be a game-changer.
What is HIIT?
High-intensity interval training is a time-efficient workout routine in which extremely high-intensity exercises are performed for short bursts, followed by a brief rest period. For example, it involves performing at your maximum aerobic velocity (MAV) for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest (you still move, just at about 50% of your MAV).
How do you know if you’re at MAV? If you can talk during your workout, you’re not. Or just use a heart rate monitor.
You repeat the high-activity bursts and rests several times in a row. As you gain strength and endurance, lengthen the high-intensity portion to be a minute or more, with just 30-60 seconds of rest. The entire routine shouldn’t take more than about 20 minutes.
Even though HIIT has exploded in popularity lately, it’s actually been around since the early 1900s. Originally designed to increase athletes’ endurance, it’s now available and used by everyone from performers like Hugh Jackman and Brittany Spears to athletes like David Beckham. The United States Marines even have a special HIIT program.
By raising your heart rate and forcing your body to adapt to short-term stress, a HIIT workout increases your metabolism so that you burn fat and build muscle quickly and easily. You can do HIIT anywhere and don’t need any special equipment.
Why HIIT is beneficial
Contrary to popular belief, short-term stress can be good for you. All stress — physical or mental — forces your body and brain to react and adapt quickly to the stressor.
When your body is under intense stress for short periods, it quickly releases adrenaline and cortisol that raises your heart rate and increases your intake of oxygen. That mechanism saved early humans in moments of short-term stress, such as being confronted by a tiger or a charging elephant.
Chronic stress, though, wears your body down. Your body evolved to handle short-term stress, but if you keep yourself in a high-stress state for long periods, cortisol (known as the stress hormone) causes inflammation.
Inflammation is at the root of many diseases, including diabetes, heart disease, and cancer. High cortisol can also lead to weight gain and depression.
By forcing your body into a short-term stress state, then alleviating the stress with a rest period, HIIT boosts your metabolism, resulting in benefits such as:
- Greater heart rate variability
- Improved blood pressure
- Faster metabolism
- Better endurance
- Rapid weight loss
- Visceral fat loss
- Improved aerobic fitness
- Improved overall fitness
- Improved lipid profile
- Reduced liver enzymes
- Increased testosterone
A HIIT routine can benefit anyone from overweight children and adults to diabetes patients to elite athletes.
How to HIIT it
You can design your own HIIT routine, or find one online that works for you. Our team can also help you create the perfect workout routine. Depending on your workout needs, you might choose a whole-body HIIT workout, or just concentrate on your cardiovascular system. You can also vary the types of exercises, based on the demands of your sport. We can refer you to an appropriate fitness professional who can customize a program for you.
Still sound too good to be true? It gets better. Don’t do more than 2-3 HIIT workouts a week, even if you’re a pro athlete. Doing too many HIIT workouts raises your risk for injury, which is also a game-changer, but not the way you want it to be.
In addition to HIIT, of course, you must still eat a healthy diet, vary your workout routine, and optimize your movement efficiency. If you’re struggling to reach the top of your game, or if you’ve injured yourself in a workout or on the field, contact the office nearest you.
Before starting a High Intensity Interval Training workout program, you must be sure you are ready to stress your cardiovascular system. Check with your medical doctor if you are unsure.