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Six Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training

High-Intensity Interval Training

High-intensity interval training is one of the most popular forms of training there is at the moment. It has been used as an alternative to traditional endurance training known as LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State). So why are HIIT workouts so popular? And how does this benefit you?

Before jumping into that though we need to take a quick look at what HIIT training is, and how to perform it. HIIT always involves short intervals of very intense exercise (lasting 30-60 seconds) followed by active rest periods. For example, performing a 30-second treadmill sprint then lowering your speed to a fast walk for 1 minute before returning to the sprint. These sessions can last anywhere between 5 minutes to an hour (depending on a range of factors).

tabata training

HIIT has many different variations, one of the most famous variations is TABATA training. In this form of training a person would perform a certain exercise (body weight squats for example) for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds, and repeat 8 times (for a total of 4 minutes).

Another variation is to perform 3 bouts of intense maximum effort cycling for 20 seconds with 3 minutes of active rest (pedalling slowly). The benefit of this approach is that you only have to exercise for 10 minutes, and only 1 minute 30 seconds of that exercise is difficult.

So now that you know why interval training is so popular, let's look at the benefits of doing it.

1. High-Intensity Interval Training Improves Endurance Performance

Endurance Performance

Amazingly, short bursts of high-intensity exercise can improve your endurance performance as much as low-intensity steady state training. A study by Gillen et al (2014) found that just 3 minutes of HIIT per week increased peak oxygen uptake by 12%. Increasing the amount of oxygen uptake will improve your endurance performance by letting you train at maximum effort for a longer period of time. Another study found that sprint training improved muscle oxidative capacity (how much oxygen your muscles can store) as much as traditional endurance training.

2. Low Volume HIIT Produces Aerobic Performance Improvements

Aerobic Performance Improvements

HIIT still improves aerobic performance even with a low training volume (meaning fewer exercises performed for a shorter period of time). Keeping your training volume down is beneficial for a number of reasons; it can prevent chronic injury, and is easier to accomplish so your motivation will be higher. This point also leads into our next point.

3. HIIT Will Save You Time

body composition results

How much time do you spend in the gym running on a treadmill per week? 3 hours? Seven? What if you could produce similar cardio and body composition results with just 30 minutes of training per week? That's what some of these HIIT protocols are promising. The training variation we mentioned at the beginning of this article involved only 10 minutes of exercise per week. You will never be able to make the excuse that you "Just don't have the time" again!

4. HIIT Can Help with Fat Loss

Fat Loss

This is probably the main reason people love HIIT, fat-loss. 90% of treadmill runners are doing it because they want to lose weight, and HIIT has been proven to do this (by improving the body's ability to oxidise fats). A study on overweight women in China found that HIIT was more effective than low-intensity continuous training at reducing fat. So if you are spending hour after hour on cardio, Science is telling you to stop!

Instead, why not follow the same protocol that was used in the study? Perform 4 minutes of running at a high intensity, then 3 minutes of walking and 7 minutes of rest. Repeat for 4 sets. What's interesting is that you will be burning calories even whilst resting, because ...

5. HIIT Burns Calories Even After You've Finished

Burns Calories

Excess Post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is where after a workout your body tries to re-fill its oxygen stores. Doing this costs energy - which means more calories burned! Studies have shown that HIIT increases EPOC even more than regular training. Again, burning more calories leads to more fat loss.

One thing you should make sure though is that you stay active after exercise because slumping down in a chair for 4 hours afterwards would negate a lot of the benefits. It would do this by lowering your daily NEAT (Non-Exercise Activity Thermogenesis). NEAT is all the calories you burn during the day performing actions like fidgeting, standing, walking, climbing stairs, cleaning, brushing your teeth, etc.

6. HIIT Can Help Your Heart Stay Healthy

Heart Stay Healthy

A study on obese men found that high-intensity interval training "reduced several known cardiovascular risk factors". These risk factors are body fat percentage, Body Mass Index (BMI), V02 Max (which we discussed in point 1), and HDL (cholesterol). Lowering these factors is crucial for those who wish to avoid suffering from the cardiovascular disease in the future.

interval training

So there you have it, six benefits of high-intensity interval training. It improves your endurance performance, it is low volume (preventing injuries and boredom), it saves time, it can help with fat loss, it burns calories for several hours after you have finished exercising, and it can lower your chances of getting cardiovascular disease. All of that for under 30 minutes of exercise. Sounds like a bargain to us!

Bonus Tid-bit!

Bodyweight Squat

BONUS: Here is a quick TABATA program that you can follow next time you are in the gym, all you will need is a mat and a stopwatch (though a dedicated TABATA app on your phone would be much better).

1. Exercise: Bodyweight Squat

20 seconds exercise, 10 seconds rest repeat 8 times

2. Exercise: Burpees

20 seconds exercise, 10 seconds rest repeat 8 times

3. Exercise: Press Ups

20 seconds exercise, 10 seconds rest repeat 8 times

4. Exercise: Lunges

20 seconds exercise, 10 seconds rest repeat 8 times

5. Exercise: Squat Jumps

20 seconds exercise, 10 seconds rest repeat 8 times

Total exercise time 20 minutes (plus rest periods of 2-3 minutes)

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