High-intensity interval training or “HIIT” continues to shine in the fitness industry, with many gyms and fitness businesses thriving on the interest and popularity of this training style throughout the years. What’s the hype, and how does it work? Let’s talk about HIIT.
While HIIT training is relatively new in the fitness industry, athletes have been employing this style of training since the early 90s . Olympian, Emil Zátopek, won gold in a 5000m race in the 1952 Helsinki Summer Olympics, crediting his win to HIIT being part of his training regime . But wait there’s more… Emil continued his gold streak in the 10,000m event and the marathon. Not only was this his first-ever marathon, it was also one he entered at the last minute! And not only did he win, he also broke Olympic records in both of these events … talk about winning!
Unsurprisingly, this led to growing interest in HIIT for athletes everywhere, including scientists who turned towards how it worked. Today, HIIT is not only for the elite athlete – it’s likely your local gym runs an exercise class focussed on HIIT-style training, or is inspired by some of its principles. It is also likely you have done some HIIT yourself, or are participating in classes based on HIIT formats!
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a type of training that orders exercises performed at higher intensities in alternation with exercises at lower intensities or periods of rest… all within one training session. HIIT exercises can be cardiovascular-based, resistance (weight)-based or a combination of both. What types of exercise are incorporated would depend on individual fitness goals, but all operate on the HIIT format of alternating high-intensity exercises with low-intensity ones.
Within a HIIT session, you would execute ‘work intervals’ and ‘rest intervals’. HIIT works best on optimal work-to-rest ratios that correlate with one’s level of exercise experience. The less experienced someone is, or the lower their fitness levels are, the longer the rest intervals generally are. As the individual gets fitter, the work intervals can increase, rest intervals decrease or a mixture of the two .
In the example above, our beginner client gets a 2-minute rest, while our advanced client gets a 1-minute rest.
Safety during exercise should be your number one priority in any training session, so modifications should always be considered in the context of your ability and exercise experience – HIIT is no exception to this rule. For beginners, we start at lower weights, distances or durations, allowing time for adaptation, enjoyment of the session and consistency in training. Over time, exercise intensity can increase as fitness levels grow.
HIIT is known to positively influence cardiovascular health by increasing one’s aerobic capacity [5,6]. Aerobic capacity is the body’s ability to use oxygen more efficiently and at higher intensities. A higher aerobic capacity assists in preventing cardiovascular disease and improving overall cardiovascular health**.
For this reason alone, HIIT is beneficial to include in any exercise regime for improving overall fitness.
Other benefits include:
When people think about HIIT training, they often misinterpret it as the use of all-out efforts. For those beginning an exercise routine, going “all-out” can be daunting and discouraging, leading some to believe they must ‘work up’ to HIIT or improve their fitness before attempting any HIIT program.
The truth is: HIIT is for everyone – you decide what ‘high intensity’ means for you, then set the bar challenging enough for the level of fitness you are at, increasing the bar as you become fitter.
This means that whatever weights you use need to be heavy enough, but not too heavy, or that explosive high jump does not need to be extremely high – just high enough. You get the picture!
Whatever the style of training you choose to do, consistency is key. If HIIT is new to you, why not change it up and feel the HIIT?
**When starting any fitness program it is important to ensure you are first fit for exercise. Consult a qualified personal trainer for health and fitness screening prior to commencing any type of exercise, or consult your General Practitioner.
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