In previous blogs I’ve talked a lot about metabolic hormones, diets and finding out what workouts work for you. In all truth, finding something that you find fun is going to make your journey to fitness or whatever goals you have a whole lot easier.
But it’s not always easy to fit in the things you like. Using myself as an example, when I used to work in Aberdeen my training took a massive hit. Three hours a day travelling back and fourth on top of being sat stationary throughout made finding the motivation to train at 8pm a night was extremely difficult, especially if you’re trying to have any kind of social or home life.
This is where something like HIIT can really be a benefit to you. In general if you’re looking to get fitter or lose weight, then it’s all about burning calories or getting the desired cardiovascular response to aerobic exercise.
Before we analyse the benefits of HIIT we must get a clear grasp of the cardiovascular responses and adaptations that occur in response to aerobic exercise. So what is HIIT and why can It be beneficial? I’m not going to tear it apart, it is what is says on the tin, high intensity exercise for a short duration in conjunction with short rest times. In recent years, it’s become increasingly popular, with some individuals making a comfortable living offering HTIT plans telling you it’s possible to get that ripping six pack or skinny tummy in a matter of weeks just by forking over some cash for their state of the art cutting edge plans….For it’s simplicity, it’s made a lot of people well off. But why is it so easy to market and what are the advantaged of it? Why choose it over regular exercise methods?
There are hundreds if not thousands of studies have shown us that High Intensity Interval Training has a abundance of benefits, such as:
• Produces significant increases in aerobic and anaerobic fitness.
• Produces similar and in some cases better cardiovascular adaptations than continuous endurance training.
• Has a dramatic effect on insulin sensitivity.
• Is effective for fat loss and muscular retention. HIIT involves placing a lot of stress on muscle tissue similar to weight training. As a result of this it will elevate levels of human growth hormone, testosterone and insulin-like growth factor-1 which will not only lead to better preservation but better muscular volume and definition.
• Elevates metabolism post exercise due to EPOC (Excess Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption). This means that you not only burn energy during your workout but continue to do so afterwards as the body goes about repairing damaged proteins and replaces utilised energy.
• Increases oxidation of both carbohydrates and fats during and after exercise.
Alongside the physiological and metabolic benefits of HIIT there are several other benefits. Firstly is requires minimal equipment, in all honesty, you could use nothing but your own body weight and make an effect HIIT circuit. But the main benefit is the time it takes to complete.
When I used to take HIIT classes at my old work, I’d only use body weight exercises and it’s make it as tough a 30minutes as I could. In 30minutes I’d have our members pushed to their limits and they were free to go. Now, that’s not to say that when I tell members to go 100% they do, a big problem in any type of class is you’re limited to whatever effort someone wishes to put into it. At the end of classes, if someone walked out and my classes without a bead of sweat then It generally meant they’d mentally switched off during the class and reverted to minimal amount of reps as they could. Like everything else in life, you get out of this training what you put in, if you manage a few rounds of HIIT and you still feel ok, work harder, push the limit or else you won’t get the benefits of any type of training.
Methodology behind HIIT
You push yourself hard for a given time period or rep range and then follow this up with a recovery period or lower-intensity bout. This is then repeated in sequence a given number of times. It’s that easy.
In general, most research states that periods of intense workouts (95% maximal effort for say 5s-2minutes) should be followed by recovery periods of about 40%-70% of your maximal heart rate.
Repeat this for 20minutes of so and you’ve got yourself a metabolically challenging workout.
Bouts of HIIT tax the ATP-PC system, this is the energy system that supplies quick energy for short intense bursts. This system lasts for about 10-15s and then secondary energy system takes over to keep supplying the energy needed for these intense bouts of exercise. Another reason why if you hold back, your losing out. HIIT taxes all three energy systems and when performed properly can really improve fitness and up fat loss (diet depending).
During the short but intense workout periods, the body produces a large amount of metabolic waste, including hydrogen ions and lactic acid. The active recovery assists in removing these waste products to allow the participant to repeat work periods. The more you persist with training, the more efficient you becoming at recycling this waste and the more efficient your energy system becomes.
In general, this would be my breakdown for HIIT training:
Duration of work intervals: The shorter these are the more you sit at the end of the strength and power continuum, the longer they are the more we move towards endurance. Work can either repetitions or time under load or tension.
Duration of Rest intervals: The longer the rest the more the focus remains on strength and power, the shorter the more it impacts the cardiovascular system. Minimal rest periods puts the emphasis on fat loss but compromise intensity.
Intensity of work intervals: Again, intensity can be very subjective. In HIIT there are two options typically used for gauging intensity. Heart rate based programming where the working interval is based upon reaching a certain heart rate or RPE (Rate of Perceived Exertion). This is where intensity is based on the subjective feeling of intensity, often rated using the Borg rating of perceived exertion. As I mentioned above, a big issue I had when teaching HIIT was ‘coasting’ in classes, where once fatigue had kicked in members would resort to mediating there reps in the hopes of conserving energy. If you want to feel the benefits, go all out. You’ll probably feel pretty horrid, but you’ll get the most benefits and afterwards you’ll ride the endorphin high.
Intensity of rest intervals: Is the rest interval going to be passive with no activity or is the rest going to be active at a low intensity. Number of work/rest intervals: How many times will the exercise be repeated through the work/rest cycle.
Exercise used: Classically HIIT will utilise one choice of exercise repeated for a few rounds and then change. I usually opt for a lower body, upper body then full body type exercise approach. (Power squats, Push ups then burpee with a tuck jump)
Equipment used: Again, HIIT is typically done utilising a single, if any, piece of equipment.
As you can gather this gives a limitless amount of options for the prescription of HIIT workouts each influencing to different degrees it’s metabolic, cardiopulmonary, and/or it’s neuromuscular response.
To summarise, If you’re lacking time HIIT is a good alternative to a long, drawn out workout. 30 minutes max is all you SHOULD need....If you manage a 30 minute workout and feel fine after it, work harder.
Additionally, don’t reply on this on being your saving grace when it comes to weight loss, combine it with other aspects of training because like every form of training general adaption syndrome will limit the effectiveness over time….Mix up your training and find something that works for you!
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