The mere fact that you are reading this means that you know that physical activity is vital for your well-being. This also means that you are not fully satisfied with your current exercise regime or, worse, have no such regime at all. Welcome to the world of HIIT – High Intensity Training. It allows you achieving the same or better results allocating significantly less time for your workout. “Significantly” may mean an hour versus three hours a week you would spend on your traditional cardio exercise. No additional equipment or food supplements required. Interested? Keep reading!
Studies showed that HIIT improved:
– average resting metabolic rate (the amount of energy spent at rest; the higher the rate the more pounds are shed),
– mitochondrial biogenesis that slows down aging process,
Moreover, high intensity training provides better resting metabolic rate and mitochondrial biogenesis, i.e. helps lose weight gain and slow down aging, than standard low-intensity training like running or biking for one third of the time spent.
This is my pure speculation so feel free to jump to the next subchapter.
Our ancestors did not gruel oneself by long marathons. They needed to be fast when it was necessary to run from predators that were not long-distance runners either. There was no way a cave dweller could catch a gaze running after it for hours – the gaze would be faster anyway. Therefore, long low-intensity training (that actually is middle-intensity workload if compared with picking berries or wild-honey farming) is something our ancestors did not need and were not engaged in.
Okay, what exactly is high intensity training?
It is an exercise strategy involving alternating between very intense bouts of exercise (“intense periods”) and low intensity exercise (“rest periods”). An example of high intensity training would be sprinting for 30 seconds alternating with 60-second walk repeated six times.
They vast number of different techniques of HIIT boils down to different answers to three key questions:
– how intensive should be the intense period?
– how long should be the intense period?
– how long should be the rest period?
A number of sessions for amateurs somehow does not divide experts who usually recommend about three per week.
The number of bout/rest cycles varies from five to twelve.
One intense period is usually set at 60 seconds, and the recommended rest periods are between 60 and 120 seconds.
Combining these times, an acceptable option to start with would be six 60-second intense periods alternating with 2-minute rest periods, which gives in total 18 minutes from the beginning to the end.
The intensity of intense period is measured in percentage of maximum heart rate, and it seems a consensus that it should be between 95% and 99%. The maximum heart rate is usually calculated by subtracting your age from 220. An example: I am 42 yeas old, so my maximum heart rate is 178 beat per minute (220 minus 42), which means that during the intense periods I should keep my heart rate between 169 (95% of 178) and 176 (99% of 178) beats per minute.
When you only start your high intensity training, you should pay very close attention to your heart rate during intense periods. Unless your physician, who I recommend you talk to before you start your program, tells you otherwise, I suggest you start with 85% maximum heart rate and gradually, within six to eight weeks, depending on how you will feel, raise it to 95%.
Then, make sure you are not making your life too easy. If you check out HIIT article in Wikipedia, you fill find the chapter called “Critisim” which refers to one study that found no advantage of HIIT over conventional aerobic training. That study was published in 2008 by the researchers of the University of Birmingham. I am not surprised why it did not find HIIT superior. Volunteers in that study would raise their heart rate up to only about 79% of maximum level. They did six five-minutes bouts, which made the whole program much less intensive than it is recommended based on accumulated body of knowledge.
In order to check where your heart is, I suggest you use a heart monitor equipped with an alarm warning you as soon as the rate is outside the preset range. This one would perfectly fit the task.
The most appropriate exercises for HIIT could be running or biking on an exercise bicycle. An even better variant is stepping that also make your legs looking better. If you can walk on stairs in a multistory building, that will work perfect. If you have no stairs to run up (I strongly discourage you to walk down during the session), you can use stepper. Cheap aerobic steppers do not seem to work for this since they fail to create necessary workload. I use a bit more expensive device, Xiser Portable Stepper doing a much better job than I expected of such small and outwardly simple thing. You can see a nice demonstration of how it works below.
During the rest period do not stand still, lie, or sit; keep moving.