What Is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and Its Benefits?

If you’ve been keeping up with trends in the fitness industry, you’ve probably heard of HIIT, or high intensity interval training. More and more personal trainers and fitness gurus are practicing and recommending this form of training to maximize the results of your workout. But what exactly is HIIT, and what are its benefits?

What is High Intensity Interval Training?

Simply put, HIIT is a style of training that alternates bouts of intense exercise with bouts of lower intensity exercise.

Intense periods can last anywhere from a few seconds to several minutes, and are performed at 80%-90% of a person’s maximum heart rate. Recovery periods may last just as long as intense periods, and are typically performed at 40%-50% of a person’s maximum heart rate.

HIIT workouts continue alternating between intense and recovery periods for 20-60 minutes.

High Intensity Interval Training

The Benefits of HIIT

Why bother with HIIT workouts? Aren’t steady-state workouts just as effective? Not necessarily. HIIT offers numerous benefits and has been shown to improve:

  • Cardiovascular health
  • Cholesterol
  • Blood pressure
  • Overall fitness
  • Insulin sensitivity
  • Body fat and lean muscle mass

Aside from its many benefits, HIIT has become popular with fitness gurus and personal trainers because it’s versatile and doesn’t require an abundance of time.

Workouts that follow the high intensity interval training principles can be modified to suit any fitness level as well as people with special conditions, like diabetes. Aside from running, HIIT can also be applied to walking, cycling, swimming, elliptical, aqua training and even group exercise classes.

As an added bonus, HIIT offers the same benefits as an endurance workout, but in less time. Why? Because those periods of high intensity help you burn more calories during and after your workout. Once your workout is complete, your body transitions into the post-workout, or EPOC, period. This period lasts approximately two hours after exercise. During this time, the body works to restore itself to its pre-workout state, which requires more energy. Because HIIT workouts are more vigorous, this period adds an additional 6%-15% more calories burned.

Safety Concerns to Consider

HIIT workouts are generally safe for most people, but it’s important to check with your doctor first to make sure you’re healthy enough for such intense exercise.

If your fitness level is low, consider creating a foundational level of fitness first before progressing into a more intense routine. To establish this foundation, begin performing consistent aerobic training with three to five sessions every week at 20-60 minutes each. Maintain this routine for several weeks before you begin adding high intensity interval training workouts into the mix.

Always remember that HIIT workouts should be modified to suit your own personal fitness level and optimal training intensity. What’s right for one person, may not be right for you.

Because this style of training is more intense than a typical endurance workout, a longer recovery period will be needed. Consider adding one HIIT workout to your weekly regimen, and adding an additional workout in the future. For best results, spread the workouts out throughout the week to avoid overexerting yourself.