High-intensity interval training (HIIT) combines quick bursts of exercise at maximum effort with short recovery periods. It has taken the fitness world by storm, and for good reason. Research has shown that HIIT produces the same anaerobic and aerobic improvement as cardiovascular traning in less than half the time. It also helps to control blood glucose levels, so is valuable in the prevention and treatment of Type 2 Diabetes. HIIT has been shown to significantly improve VO2 max (the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use). HIIT gets our bodies as close to VO2 max as possible, which triggers the afterburn effect, meaning the body continues burning extra calories for hours afterwards.
There are various forms of HIIT, which have different lengths of time for both high- and low-intensity training intervals, different ratios of high- to low-intensity levels, and different levels of intensity during lower-intensity intervals. The Tabata Method, for example, includes 8 rounds of 20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest; whereas rest-based training allows the exerciser to choose when to stop and how long for, depending on how their body is feeling. Peripheral heart action (PHA) offers similar benefits to HIIT by alternating extreme effort between the upper and lower body. I include a range of HIIT methods and PHA in my Body Blast classes, rather than limiting the effort to the steady state of a traditional aerobics class. Below I give eight reason why I bother with the rest of the hour!
Dr. Michael Moseley has recently been promoting "Fast Exercise" as an alternative to traditional exercise. The basic premise is that instead of long hours of exercise, many of the health benefits can be gained from just 3 minutes of exercise per week. Here is the Doctor himself giving it a try.
But don't be fooled by the headline figure of 3 minutes! Before you swap your existing regime for an exercise bike, consider the other benefits that you will get from a longer sports or exercise session, such as:
1. Endurance. While HIIT can be beneficial for endurance training, it needs to be part of a longer session for endurance benefits.
2. Balance and coordination. The complex movements and direction changes that most sports and exercise involve offer greater improvement to balance than could be achieved on a stationary bike.
3. Muscular strength and bone density. These improve through impact and weight bearing.
4. Flexibility. Generalised exercise programmes will encourage the development of range of movement in joints.
5. Social interaction. Being part of a team or group can help with mental wellbeing.
6. Motivation. If you are motivated to get on your bike and thrash out a sprint at full effort, then good for you. Most of us, however, will work harder and more often with the encouragement of a professional instructor or as part of a team.
7. Variety. The body quickly adapts to the demands placed on it, and begins to plateau. Varying your exercise will help you to continue to improve your fitness level.
8. Enjoyment. HIIT training is gruelling. The feeling after completion can be elating, but exercising at a moderate intensity can allow you to enjoy the activity while you are doing it - so go and run, dance, ski, play football or tennis - whatever it is that makes you happy!
Fitness and Pilates instructor with a passion for science.