By Genevieve van der Vyver, personal trainer, outdoor coach and founder of FabFitSlay
Could HIIT be the miracle cure or quick fix you’ve been waiting for all these years to achieve that dream physique?
You may be tempted to dismiss it as yet another fitness fad, but don’t! HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, has been around for years, because it actually works! Based on the overwhelming evidence, I’m stumped as to why more people aren’t doing it.
A popular form of HIIT is known as the Tabata Protocol. Dr Izumi Tabata conducted an experiment (you can read more about here) where he got a few willing folk to train at a maximum intensity for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of recovery in an interval structure they repeated eight times. That’s a total of 4 minutes, if you’re wondering.
Before you pooh-pooh the idea and say, how can a 4 minute workout do any good? I would like to pose a challenge. Find your nearest hill (preferably with a decent incline) or hit the treadmill. Set it to your maximum flat-out sprint speed… you need to warm up a little before you do that, though. Now sprint at 100% maximum pace for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds and repeat 8 times, as per the protocol. Tell me if you can keep up that maximum speed to the very end without feeling completely exhausted?
Having said that, weirdly, after you’ve picked up your lungs and heart off the floor, you should feel pretty good about yourself.
That happy feeling is called an “endorphin rush”. It’s the body’s chemical response to extreme pain, stress or exertion. Soon you will become addicted to that endorphin rush and you’ll become fanatical about Dr Tabata.
Is there perhaps another point to it all, besides a satisfied rush at the end? Indeed. Want to get fit faster? Want to get stronger? Need to lose the beer belly or muffin top? Well, well, well… you’ve stumbled onto the best form of exercise to achieve all of the above!
Obviously, Tabata is incredibly intense, so it may be wise to start with something that doesn’t involve a possible trip to the nearest emergency room for a busted lung. Luckily there are many different forms of HIIT to choose from!
You can structure these sessions to include differing work and recovery intervals. You can also incorporate different training modalities, be it cardio or resistance training with a few simple tweaks. HIIT is also extremely effective for bodyweight workouts.
When you train in this way, you’ll accelerate your fitness and weight loss results, swim a soup of those endorphins and, most importantly, you’re going to have fun (eventually!)
To put a figure on how much of a benefit you’ll get, let’s go back to Dr Tabata’s little experiment. The willing participants performed these workouts for 6 weeks. The control group, in comparison, did steady-state cardio for an hour, 5 days a week – that’s 60 minutes versus just 4, for those not keeping score!
After 6 weeks, the results were in. The 4-minute interval training group had improved their anaerobic capacity by 28% over the control group! The control group had not shown any significant improvement in the same amount of time.
And don’t think it’s only effective for cardio workouts. One study demonstrated that using HIIT in resistance workouts resulted in better muscular gains and improved exercise performance. And more muscle = increased metabolism = increased fat burning. And don’t forget that muscle definition creates a toned and beautiful physique. How much or how little you carry is entirely up to you.
Where’s the weight loss?
While their fitness gains were tremendous, I know you’re thinking, “yeah, it’s great to be fit but I also want to fit into those size 34 pants again.”
Here’s the good news… HIIT is the most effective way to activate the EPOC ‘afterburn’ effect. This metabolic response to intense training causes your body to continue burning body fat for up to 48 hours after your workout.
EPOC stands for Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption. In simple terms, it’s the natural physiological process required to return your body back to a state of balance (homeostasis) once it has gone into oxygen debt.
During EPOC, the body uses oxygen to restore muscle glycogen and rebuild muscle proteins damaged during exercise. This process requires energy and, therefore, burns calories.
The science stuff
According to the exercise science, a tough workout with short recovery intervals increases the demand on the anaerobic energy pathway during exercise, which yields a greater EPOC effect during the post-exercise recovery period. Voila!
The magic of this way of training is that you can efficiently exercise for a shorter period of time – as long as you really, really, really make an effort during that time. When you do, you will get fitter, stronger and burn more fat.
Here’s the science to prove that HIIT can help if you’re struggling with weight loss or insulin resistance. HIIT was scientifically proven to improve glucose and fatty acid oxidation.
Fast workout, quick results
HIIT really is a magical cure. Due to its ability to improve fitness gains in a short period of time, and its excellent association with functional training, it serves as a superb cross-training discipline that will enhance your performance in any other sport.
I have personally trained with numerous athletes who swear by the positive impact that HIIT has had on their race times and on their overall level of endurance or strength in disciplines that range from mountain biking, triathlon and swimming. All that’s required of you is to commit to a few HIIT sessions every week!
Remember that HIIT can do all this for you, around 30% faster than any other workout:
- Increase fitness
- Accelerate weight loss
- Improve muscle definition
- Improve insulin sensitivity
- Make you fit, happy and fabulous!
Now go slay!
Author: Pedro van Gaalen
When he’s not writing about sport or health and fitness, Pedro is probably out training for his next marathon or ultra-marathon. He’s worked as a fitness professional and as a marketing and comms expert. He now combines his passions in his role as managing editor at Fitness magazine.