HIIT Training

Updated: Aug 14, 2020

What it is, the benefits and how to HIIT

multiple people performing exercises in a circuit

If you’ve never heard of it before HIIT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. Really the name gives the game away. For a specific duration of time – which could range from 10 minutes up to as much as 30 – taking minimal rest – the objective is to exercise as hard as physically possible.

From the first minute to the very last the HIIT trainer clings perilously to their lactate threshold. And when the time is up if they are not rolling on their back, wreathing in agony and overcome by exhaustion they’ve not hit it hard enough.

That’s HIIT in a nutshell: short bursts of high intensity activity interspersed with low intensity active recovery or short rest periods.

Is it good to train so hard?

Of course, when working at maximal levels a greater strain is placed on the cardiovascular system. This poses a significant risk factor to the under-trained, the elderly, people who have an underlying medical condition or a weak ticker. If you fell into any of those categories it wouldn’t be wise to dabble in HIIT – certainly not without consulting your doctor first.

However, we always have the option of moderating the intensity. This then arguable nullifies the HIIT element but we would do well to remember that intensity is relative. Each person’s physical capacity is unique and what might not be intense for one person could be very intense for another.

Assuming you have none of the aforementioned health conditions, HIIT can be very good for you very good indeed. The benefits of high intensity training are supported on an abundance of sports science research. If it is enhanced performance you are searching for studies have shown that, when cyclists and triathletes were put on HIIT programmes, their VO₂ max and power out-puts noticeably improved – in a mere three weeks (Etxeberria et al 2014).

Another study showed the performance enhancing power of HIIT. Two groups of ‘well-trained’ rowers were put on a ten week exercise programme. Half engaged in long slow distance training (LSD) and the other half supplemented with HIIT sessions. On conclusion of the ten weeks the HIIT rowers exhibited significant improvements in the 2000 metre ergo test – when compared against their LSD counterparts (Niamh et al 2017).

But what about HIIT and health?

A recent study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed HIIT to be a more effective exercise modality for ‘burning’ fat than the traditional continuous or ‘MOD’ (moderate-intensity continuous) training. This flies in the face of conventional wisdom which would have us believe that the best way to keep that belly at bay is to go on long slow runs. When in actual fact a short sharp high intense session can yield the same if not better results.

This leads us on nicely to another benefit of this increasingly popular method of training. Unlike LSD – long slow duration – a HIIT session can be done and dusted inside 15 to 20 minutes (not including the warm-up – and on that note it would be unprofessional of me if I passed up this opportunity to place additional and excessive emphasis on the importance of warming up prior to HIIT: it can be dangerous even for a trained individual to go from a resting state to one of high intensity without firstly elevating the heart rate and raising core temperature).