Hello again fellow fitness seeker, and welcome back to another brain bubbling injection of fitness know how. On the agenda today we have HIIT training; an effective form of cardio that blasts away unwanted fat, increases strength and stamina, and improves your overall fitness quickly and efficiently. So before I get neck deep in this topic, for those of you who are maybe new or a beginner in the fitness world, I should clarify what HIIT actually stands for.And the answer is….. Drum roll please…

High Intensity Interval Training! So what exactly is ‘High Intensity Interval Training’? Well from the name itself you can probably predict that it is… maybe… high intensity training? Done in intervals?Bingo! You got it in one. That’s exactly what it is. HIIT is a superb cardio method that absolutely obliterates fat, increases your V02 max; strengthens the heart, increases muscle strength and more! And all in 20 minutes!

I must be mad I hear you say! Well no! It’s all completely true, and I will explain exactly why and how. Please note that HIIT is very strenuous on your body, and if over done, can cause you injury. Please take care when performing this type of workout.

So in basic form, what exactly is HIIT?

HIIT training is an amazing cardio technique that is used to increase overall fitness and burn a ton of fat at the same time. Some of you out there may have already heard of interval training before? For those of you who do not know what interval training is, basically it is a cut down cardio session by where you alter the way in which you perform said cardio. With basic interval training you have to speeds, slow and moderate; and you toss back and forth between the two. This can be vaguely compared to something like a hill profile on a cycle machine, by where you are chopping and changing between a slow steady intensity and a harder, sometimes faster intensity.

Whilst HIIT is extremely similar to this, it is much more “hardcore”. Think of HIIT as interval training on Red Bull. Instead of a nice steady pace and a moderately difficult pace, HIIT hits you where it hurts with a very slow, restful intensity, followed immediately by kick-ass maximum effort!! Rather than comparing HIIT to the hill profile of a cycle machine, it’s more suited to be compared to an athlete’s sprint training!! Full pelt, all guns blazing, raw intense power for a period of time, followed by well, not a lot of effort at all really! But don’t get me wrong, those periods of doing not a lot at all will be painful periods indeed!

What are the benefits of HIIT?

There are a many benefits that come with High Intensity Interval Training, and I could go on page after page explaining all of them, but instead I will focus on the main ones.

1. Fat Burning

The first huge benefit to HIIT is the EPOC (Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption) effect it has on you.  This is commonly referred to as “after burn”, and for a good reason. As you franticly peddle, row, or run as fast as you can in intervals, you start to develop what’s known as an ‘oxygen debt’. In basic form, what this means is that your body needs to increase the amount of oxygen it utilises, to recover from the strenuous exercise you have just put it through. Your body needs to replenish hormone balances, heal cell damage and top up fuel stores to a normal level. And an increase of oxygen helps your body to carry out the functions necessary to achieve this.

What this also does is ramp your metabolism up for a long duration. As a direct result of exercising, your body responds by breaking down fat stores and freeing fatty acids. When you are then post HIIT and your body’s EPOC is heightened, you intake larger amounts of oxygen which oxidise the fatty acids into your blood. This effect will stay heightened for a long period of time; I’m talking 6 hours plus (depending on the intensity of your training), which means whilst your lazing about after your hard workout, you can actually burn 5 times more fat than normal, and for hours on end!

2. Muscle Building

Another benefit of HIIT is the anabolic effect it can have on your body. Believe it or not, if you are following a high calorie (healthy) diet where by you are consuming more fuel than you need to sustain, HIIT can actually aid in the development of new muscle. This is due to the micro tearing of muscle caused by the high intensity you are putting your muscles through. And if you are gaining muscle, you are increasing your resting metabolism, which means you will start to burn more calories than usual when you are resting, therefore enabling you to add a little muscle with very little fat gain.

3. Workout Time

Another area, in which HIIT excels, is the complete time it takes you to do the workout. You can complete a HIIT session in roughly 20 minutes, that’s all! Much better that spending 60 minutes on a treadmill. Even better still, you will actually burn more calories as a result of your HIIT when compared to your 60 minute run.

No one I know wants to be doing 60 minutes of cardio a day, 5 days a week, and why should they? With HIIT training, you only have to perform the workout 3 times a week… tops!

4. VO2max (Fitness!!!!)

One final benefit I will shortly discuss is HIIT’s ability to increase your VO2max. For those of you who do not know, VO2max is your body’s ability to uptake and utilise oxygen.

When you perform HIIT you are putting your body through periods where your body requires maximum oxygen input, and therefore your start almost “gasping” for air; even after you have performed the sprint. Each time you perform a HIIT workout, you are likely increasing your highest “intensity setting”, so to speak. Like all exercise performed regularly enough, your body will adapt to the strain, and the exercise will become easier over time. You then step the pace up slightly, and your body once again adapts to the change.

Well your VO2max (maximum oxygen uptake) adapts in this way also. As you push yourself every week, performing high intensity exercise, you start to adapt and enhance your VO2max. This will have a knock on effect and can actually help to increase your endurance at a lower pace workout.

Obviously there are limitations on your VO2 max, as everyone has an absolute maximum VO2 max, but most people will find that HIIT will have a positive effect on their VO2max, which in turn will benefit their endurance.

Something to ponder! Whilst steady state cardio can be great, have a think about this…

Your body has two main types of muscle fibre, slow twitch and fast twitch. Slow twitch fibres are responsible for the real endurance stuff, i.e. long distance running, cycling etc. They contract at a slower rate compared to fast twitch fibres; which enables them to last for a longer duration. Fast twitch fibres on the other hand, contract as their name suggests, fast! These fibres are used more in things like weight training, sports such as football, and HIIT.

A typical marathon runner’s exercise plan will consist of hours upon hours of steady state cardio. What’s actually happening here is they are training their slow twitch muscle fibres. Now when you think of the appearance of a marathon runner, 99% of the time you will think of a slim, toned body.

Now think about a sprinters training plan. They are constantly focused on producing the utmost amount of speed and power in very short bursts (HIIT). Now what they are actually doing is training their fast twitch muscle fibres. And if you picture a sprinters physique, 99% of the time you will see a strong, muscular toned body.

This difference in appearance occurs due to the physical characteristics of each muscle fibre group. Slow twitch fibres have a narrow diameter and are long in appearance, so they have a wide range of contraction. Fast twitch fibres on the other hand, are shorter and have a larger diameter, allowing for explosive, powerful movements. This is why you see the difference in appearance between the two athletes mentioned above. When performing HIIT, you are actually training BOTH fibre types; fast twitch on the sprint and slow twitch on the recovery. Whilst you will be mainly targeting your fast twitch fibres, mixing high intensity and low intensity ensures you get a good balance of muscle fibre training.


So, all in all, looking at the benefits of HIIT, we can say that HIIT can:

  1. Burn a ton more fat due to the EPOC effect and added lean mass
  2. Increase muscle building and retaining ability.
  3. Increase your VO2max and general endurance.
  4. Train both types of muscle fibre in one session.

What are the best exercises to perform HIIT with?

This is something that a lot of people get worried and confused about. “What exercise should I be using for HIIT?”

Well the answer is simple, ANYTHING! Well ok, not technically true, but to an extent. The type of exercise you should be using for HIIT, are any that can raise your heart rate to near maximum, but still be performed at low intensity.

Typical popular examples are the stationary cycle, rowing machine, running (either machine or outdoors), the cross trainer and so on. Personally, my favourite to perform HIIT on is either running, or the cross trainer simply because you target a wider variety of muscles as a pose to using, say, the cycle, which will only target your legs.

How to perform HIIT workouts

Again, this is relatively simple, and easy to follow.  The main thing you need to consider when performing HIIT is the duration of your workout, and the duration of the intervals you will perform. For a beginner who has never used HIIT before, I would suggest using a 1:2 ratio of low intensity cardio vs high intensity cardio. What this means, is that for any amount of time you perform a sprint, you will immediately follow it with double the time period spent on low intensity. Also, if you are just starting out, I would recommend that you perform these intervals for no longer than 15 minutes in one go; you don’t want to over train. It is also wise to include a 5 minute warm up and warm down, simply because if you dive right into a sprint, you’re going to get injured.

An example of a beginner routing is as follows:

–          5 minute warm up

–          30 second high intensity, 60 second low intensity, repeated 6 times (9minutes)

–          5 minute warm down

Eventually, when you progress past a routine such as the above, you can try mixing the routine up a bit by either changing the ratio to something like 1:1, or changing the interval times to something like 45 seconds High, 90 seconds Low.

How many times a week should I perform HIIT?

Because of the fierce intensity of these workouts, I would advise that you do not perform them more than 3 times a week. If you do, you will start to over train your body and the result will be a bigger loss in muscle mass compared to fat loss. I would also suggest that you leave at least 1 day between these routine, so that your body has sufficient time to recover and repair.

So there you have it, a simple, yet hopefully comprehensive insight to the world of High Intensity Interval Training and the benefits it can have on your body. If you stick to a routine like the one discussed you can expect to see changes after just a short couple of weeks (assuming your diet is fairly good). Please remember that these workouts are extremely hard on the body, and performing them too often will result in injury.

Written by Alex Lawrence member of the Activhealth Fitness Centre


~ by admin on January 1, 2017.

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