Walking a few miles in the morning? Spending an hour on the elliptical watching shitty reruns? Risking life and limb to peddle a primitive two wheeled machine through an urban jungle? You’re doing it wrong… While these exercises have some health benefits, none of them are anywhere near as efficient as HIIT training.
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and it’s what the human body was designed to do. Sure, early humans did walk several miles a day, there’s no question…. However, we weren’t always at the top of the food chain. They had to high tail it when predators came around or close that last 100 yards quickly to capture dinner.
It’s no different today. You can walk all you want or jog around the park. You might burn a little fat and a few calories but you’re not going to transform your body with those exercises unless you spend hours a day performing them. In our modern world, who has time for that? Exercise smarter, not harder.
Fortunately, people much smarter than you or I have already performed the research comparing extended cardiovascular exercise with High Intensity Interval Training. The results of several studies place HIIT somewhere between 9% and 15% more efficient at increasing your VO2 max (maximal oxygen absorption) and training your heart: increased efficiency, higher stroke volume, etc. Furthermore, HIIT increases mitochondrial density by up to 36% when compared to endurance exercise.
That’s great news. This means you can reap better health benefits by working harder for a much shorter period of time. You don’t have to change your favorite workout type either. If you like to swim, swim! If you like to bike, then bike! Just do it smarter. Instead of working an hour at 50%-60% of your max heartrate, do a series of intervals at 80%-90%!
Choosing the interval that’s right for you
If your goal is to build power and strength, do shorter intervals at higher intensity. Depending on the exercise, do reps of 30-60 seconds at maximal effort followed by a rest of the same length. If that’s too intense you can lengthen the rest to a 1:2 ratio. For example, if you’re running on a track, sprint as hard as you can for 30 seconds followed by a minute of jogging. Repeat the interval at least 8 times. At a 1:2 ratio, that’s 12 minutes of exercise that will be equivalent to spending an hour jogging around a track.
If you’re an endurance athlete, you can lengthen the intervals to help you reach your goals faster. For this type of training, a 2 minute to 4 minute interval at roughly 80% of max HR is ideal. Perform the exercise at a 1:1 work to rest ratio. For example, if you’re riding your aluminum horse, pedal at near maximal effort for 3 minutes, followed by 3 minutes of lower intensity (40-50% of HR) for at least 4 reps. That would equate to a 24 minute bike ride that’s more effective than an hour riding at lower intensity,
If you’re an endurance athlete, replacing a few of your extended cardio workouts with HIIT workouts will give you the best of both worlds. You’ll see an increase in your performance despite reducing the overall distance covered, especially if you’ve already plateaued.
If you’re like me and a bit ADD, there’s an even more efficient version of HIIT. What if I told you could burn fat and build muscle by working out for just 4 or 5 minutes a day? Enter Tabata training. Developed by Izumi Tabata, a PHD at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo, this technique distills HIIT to a body changing four minute workout. You will perform intervals at max intensity with a 2:1 work to rest ratio.
For example, if running, you’ll want to sprint for 20 seconds, rest for ten seconds, sprint 20 seconds, rest for ten seconds and repeat for 4 minutes total (8 cycles). This technique can also be used for lifting weights or bodyweight exercises. Dr. Tabata recommends performing 2 exercises and alternating between the two. For example, you can perform deadlifts for twenty seconds, take a ten second break then do bent over rows for twenty seconds, rest for ten, etc. Again, you’ll perform 8 cycles for a total of four minutes.
Like HIIT, the Tabata technique has been researched by the academic community. A study performed by Izumi and his team determined that performing one four minute Tabata four times a week will increase anaerobic capacity by up to twenty eight percent! Amazingly, V02 max and aerobic output can increase by up to fifteen percent, as well.
In whatever form you choose, HIIT can be a highly effective piece of anyone’s training regimen. The best part about it is it produces results in a short amount of time. Not everyone can commit an hour or two to training everyday but we all have 5 to 20 minutes. If you think you can’t get a good workout in five minutes, try a Tabata alternating between burpees and tuck jumps!
You don’t need to follow a complicated training plan of muscle splits and fancy circuits to become a beast. Just push yourself harder in the exercise of your choice for a shorter period of time to receive the scientifically proven benefits of High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT.