While the fitness industry is constantly evolving and growing - all the time introducing new gadgets, classes or approaches to getting fit and losing weight - some basic principles of health and fitness always apply to whatever the new idea is. In the past few years, HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training, has taken the spotlight for efficient and effective workouts across the board, and for good reason! HIIT training shows proven results in almost all people who incorporate some form of it into their workouts. But even though you may have heard the term or seen it online, what is HIIT really? Why does it work? And how do you get started? We think it's for everyone, but read on to see what makes it so great for getting fit and losing weight.
What is HIIT?
HIIT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. It is an approach to cardiovascular exercise that incorporates brief bursts of powerful anaerobic exercise followed by shorter periods of less intense recovery exercise (for the record, anaerobic exercises involve movements that are generally 2 minutes or less in length that promote muscle building related to speed and greater performance in short duration, as opposed to aerobic exercises that require more oxygen and build endurance through longer training periods). Recovery can be a slower or modified motion, or complete rest. HIIT workouts tend to be shorter - around 30 minutes or so- but don't think that makes it easy. These workouts are designed to make you out of breath and exhaust your muscles and energy in a minimal period of time. The key is the short recovery time. Even though you reduce intensity during recovery, the idea is to gt back into the high-intensity activity sooner than you necessarily want to.
Why does it work?
Without getting too scientific, HIIT basically forces your muscles into turbo charge mode without the support of oxygen in a way that cardiovascular exercise does not and cannot demand. These HIIT exercise periods are only two minutes or so because you literally can't keep them up for more than that! Because of this anaerobic quality of the exercises, your body starts to target fat calories for energy consumption. This leads to increased fat oxidation (usage), improved cardiovascular performance (other side, same coin), and an increased calorie burn that continues after the workout as your muscles work to repair and rejuvenate.
How do I get started?
So what does HIIT look like? Anything, really! Any activity or motion can be turned into a HIIT activity - you just amp up the intensity for a set period of time, then follow it with a brief recovery before repeating. Many HIIT sessions are based on aerobic exercises like running, cycling and rowing, but the beauty is that you can mix and match different exercises to the same results, which leaves open an infinite variety of workouts to choose from! One widely used HIIT session structure is known as Tabata, and was developed by the head coach of the Japanese Speed Skating Team circa 1996. A Tabata workout consists of 20 seconds of intense energy expenditure followed by 10 seconds of recovery, and then performed 8 times for a total workout time of four minutes. The original workout was only 14 minutes long: 5 minute warm up, one 4 minute Tabata cycle & a five minute cool down. All you need is a stopwatch to keep yourself on track. If music motivates you, you can easily find Tabata-timed music that does the stop watch counting for you.
Many personal trainers and fitness instructors find great success incorporating HIIT or peppering their workouts and classes with two or three Tabata cycles. You can create your own 30 minute workout by stringing together three sets of Tabata exercises separated by 2 minutes of rest in between cycles, and always including a warm up and cool down. For inspiration, check out one of our CAC Workouts of the Week featuring HIIT training, or check out some amazing Chicago Athletic Club classes like Burn, Tread & Shred or Water Workout HIIT (that's right, HIIT in the pool!).
Now that you know what HIIT is, it's time to get started. Get out there and HIIT it!