High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a pretty popular term currently in the fitness world. “So you just workout harder than you normally would?” Not exactly. It is high intensity, hardcore fitness in short bursts. For some, it is tough to wrap your mind around without an appropriate example.
I was roped into playing on a men’s slow pitch softball team years ago. I enjoyed playing baseball growing up, and I quickly figured out softball could be enjoyable, too. Although, if you have ever played slow pitch softball, you realize that the guys that play it aren’t all physical specimens. In fact, the ones that are in shape usually stand out. I was a lean and powerful 235 pounds when I played for my team.
Now here is the HIIT part of the story. I was a lean 235 pounds like I said, but three guys on the team were much more shredded than I was. They were also 50 pounds less than I was at the time, but they had muscle mass as well. They weren’t like those skinny guys that have abs just because they are so thin. These three guys were ripped and muscular. However, they only lifted weights usually once a week! What was their secret?
The three guys were college sprinters. And not just average sprinters, but very accomplished at it. They were constantly running short distances as fast as they could. And they were great at it. With our softball team, none of them could hit the ball too well, but they always beat the throw over to first base. This was my first real-life introduction to HIIT workouts and the results it could achieve.
Explanation of HIIT
Not all cardio is created equal. There is the slow and steady cardio and then there is the hardcore, high-intensity cardio that you can only do for short amount of time (HIIT). I’m definitely not putting down doing cardio. Any cardio is good for you, but let’s look at the two types that we are comparing.
We’ve all seen the long distance runners on the treadmills at the gym going for miles and miles at a slower, but constant speed. They are there quite a few times a week doing the same workout. The problem is slow and steady cardio that goes on for long periods of time will burn muscle as well as fat. It will actually deteriorate your muscle mass, leaving you with a less than ideal physique for how hard you are working out.
In 2009, a study was done by researchers at the Queensland University of Technology in Australia examining the effects of steady-state cardio. The people who participated in the study did the slow and steady cardio five times a week for twelve weeks. In total, after the twelve weeks, the people lost an average of seven pounds. But remember, that is over a three-month period of working out five times every week. The worst part is that half of the people that participated in the study lost less than two pounds each. These are not the results I would be looking for if I was exercising five times a week for three months in an effort to lose weight.
HIIT is a different type of workout. It is the opposite of slow and steady, it is all out cardio in short bursts (30 to 45 seconds) as hard as you can. It is followed by about a minute of rest, and then repeat several more times. Most HIIT workouts only last 20 to 30 minutes because it is so grueling, it will leave you exhausted much quicker. It could be sprinting, jumping rope, swimming, jumping jacks, or almost any other exercise you can think of. Just make sure it is full speed and don’t hold back!
According to a 1994 study conducted at Laval University in Quebec, Canada, HIIT was found to be nine times more effective at burning fat than normal cardio in the test subject. It also allows for the exerciser to retain muscle mass much better since short bursts of intense cardio will attack the fat and leave the muscle alone.*
*Genetics, hormones, lifestyle, and nutrition play a significant role in how energy is metabolized during exercise.
It is important to recognize that all types of exercise can be beneficial. The simple process of activating muscles and increasing your heart rate will result in overall physical development. Each type of exercise will also possess their own distinct advantages. The most important thing to consider when deciding your cardio routine is which type is most enjoyable. If you are forcing yourself to partake in activities that you do not want to do, you are likely to quit. Some people enjoy running for an hour every day, while others would rather burn as much fat as possible in a short amount time. Another thing to consider when choosing your routine is your general fitness goal. If your goal is to optimize fitness and performance, variety of is essential. If your goal is overall wellness, do what you enjoy! As cliche as it sounds, consistency is key!