What is HIIT?
High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is a cardiovascular exercise programme which alternates bursts of intense anaerobic exercise (crucially, these are done at almost maximum effort) with low-intensity periods of recovery.
(Anaerobic exercise, by the way, breaks down glucose in the body without using oxygen.)
Who is HIIT good for?
HIIT works especially well if you want maximum results but either don’t have a huge amount of time to spend working out or don’t want to be in the gym more than you need to be.
It’s also an excellent discipline in terms of weight management if you’re keen to shed a few pounds. HIIT intervals produce similar fat loss to traditional endurance exercise, but with a far smaller commitment of time.
Essentially, anyone who wants fast results quickly can rapidly start to feel the many positive effects of HIIT training. You’ll just need to be prepared to push yourself hard to make up for the reduced time spent exercising.
However, it may be best to look at another type of exercise if you have been advised to stick to a moderate-intensity workout programme.
Equally, some say it’s a good idea to have some familiarity with basic exercises such as the plank or squats before getting started. Meanwhile, others are of the view that you should only commence a HIIT programme after a good six months of consistent resistance and cardio work under your belt.
Finally, it’s also probably worth having a word with your GP before starting HIIT, as you should before embarking on any new schedule of exercise.
How does HIIT work?
Essentially, there are two types of this form of workout – Sprint Interval Training (SIT) and High-Intensity Training (HIT).
SIT is an extremely intense type of interval training which you should only attempt if you are already quite well conditioned and have no underlying health conditions. It involves between three and five short, maximum-intensity exercise bursts, in which you work until you can no longer sustain the intensity, after which you take a lengthy break. Typically, intervals are up to 30 seconds of work, before resting for between three and five minutes.
HIT, on the other hand, is probably more suited to the regular gym member. You work for between 30 seconds and three minutes at between 80 and 100% of your top heart rate, while the recovery periods in between the bursts of exercise are shorter.
One general rule of thumb is to make the recovery and workout intervals broadly the same, at least to start with – of course, they can always be shortened.
Ten reasons why you should try HIIT workouts
- This discipline is so effective when it comes to burning calories. Research has shown that HIIT can burn between a quarter and nearly a third (30%) more calories than other kinds of workout.
- Various pieces of research have shown that HIIT is able to increase metabolic rate for hours following the exercise session, more than for jogging or weight training. It’s also been found that HIIT shifts metabolism towards using fat for energy instead of carbohydrates.
- As we’ve said, time efficiency is one of the great advantages of HIIT. Get in a workout at lunchtime, before or after work, or any other time it suits you.
- HIITT can also help you build stamina. While traditionally endurance training typically enhances oxygen consumption with long cycling or running sessions, HITT has been found to provide the same results in less time. (Oxygen consumption is the ability of your muscles to use this gas.) Studies have found two or three HIIT sessions a week, together with regular runs, enhanced athletic performance in long-distance runners by boosting oxygen uptake.
One study in 2006 found that participants could bike for twice as long as they could previously after eight weeks of HIIT sessions, while keeping up the pace.
- No special kit is needed! While running, cycling and rowing can all work well for HIIT training, you don’t need any special equipment to do it. That extends to what you wear, too – just stick to your regular functional and comfortable workout gear.
- You’ll lose fat rather than muscle. With both HIIT workouts and weight training, the majority of the weight loss comes from fat stores, allowing you to retain muscle. If you’re relying on dieting alone to shed the pounds, it’s hard not to lose muscle mass at the same time as fat. HIIT means you burn fat, and burn it quickly.
- You can do a HIIT workout anywhere! Sure, you can attend a session in a gym. But if you either don’t live or work near a gym, or simply aren’t a member of one, that’s fine, too. Use a rowing machine, go for a run or jump on your bike and get out in the fresh air. The versatility of HIIT means you can keep up your sessions wherever you are. Simply adapt sessions to the time and space you have.
- It’s good for the heart rate and blood pressure – especially in those who are overweight or obese. Again, this is backed by science and research. One study found that HIIT significantly lowers blood pressure, at a level similar to the effect of taking medication for hypertension (high blood pressure).
- HIIT can even reduce blood sugar levels and boost insulin resistance. Some experiments involving those with Type 2 diabetes have found HIIT to be particularly effective for this group.
- Finally, HIIT is highly versatile. The constant change of pace means you stay engaged throughout. And, as mentioned, it can incorporate a number of different activities, which, again, you can switch regularly.
How often should I do HIIT workouts?
Probably not every day – you would put yourself at risk of injury, overtraining and burn-out, while your muscles need time to recover and become stronger in between sessions.
How often you should complete HIIT sessions will depend quite a bit on a number of variables. However, as a general rule, two or three sessions a week is a good principle to follow, perhaps combined with a couple of weekly resistance training sessions.
Each session will typically be up to 30 minutes long.
And there’s no harm in starting your HIIT programme with just one session a week, and then building up from there.
10 HIIT exercises you can do at home
- Jumping jack
- Russian twist (A simple abs exercise which works the core, hips and shoulders, and is typically done in repetitive sets.)
- Mountain climber
- Squats/squat jumps
- High knees
- Walkout – An increasingly popular plank variation that’s great for strengthening the core and shoulders.
Try HIIT with BBM Fitness
HIIT allows you to enjoy numerous health benefits with minimal investment of time and none in terms of special equipment. It’s a highly versatile and efficient way to work out, and will fit around everything else going on in your life.
You’re likely to feel its benefits most if you combine it with a programme of steady-rate exercise.
At BBM Fitness, we offer access to a wide range of personal instructors and can set you up with an individual training plan. It goes without saying that all our trainers are properly certified and qualified, and excellent at what they do.
We can help you find an instructor near you who specialises in HIIT training and can help you get the results you want. Get in touch and book your first session today.
Written by Becky Barrett.
Becky Barrett is a West-End and international stage, film and TV talent manager, with clients including cast members from much-loved shows Wicked and the Book of Mormon. Driven by her unique values of compassion and a holistic approach to talent management, Becky has devised an innovative solution to take on the fitness industry with a brand-new personal fitness concept that aims to inspire and boost ‘new normal’ approaches to exercise routines.