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H is for HIIT

Geparden“Gwen, have you heard of high intensity interval training?”

(I have no idea why her name is Gwen.)

Cheetahs do it naturally: short bursts of intense exertion interspersed with slower “recovery” periods. It’s a different approach to exercise than the way we traditionally think of cardio.

But what’s it all about, and why do people do it?

Typically, cardio workouts are moderately-paced, so that you can maintain a consistent level of effort throughout the workout. Those workouts are primarily about endurance and calorie burn.

A high intensity interval (HIIT) workout is much shorter (between 4 and 30 minutes) and is a combination of nearly all-out effort and brief recovery. While there is no exact formula for a HIIT workout there is plenty of science to back up proponents’ claims that HIIT training can be extremely beneficial. There is evidence that HIIT workouts increase resting metabolic rate while also lowering insulin resistance. Compared with slower, steady-paced cardio, HIIT workouts have a higher post-workout calorie burn. That is, you continue to burn calories at a higher rate – even after you leave the gym – than with a traditional cardio workout.

Maybe the best thing about them? HIIT workouts are extremely efficient, so you can be in and out in 30 minutes. I use HIIT workouts when I’m short on time, or as an intense add-on to a less-intense workout.

What does a HIIT workout look like? They’re cardio, so usually they’re done on a cardio machine (treadmill, elliptical, rowing machine, stationary bike) or outside as part of a run or on a track. I do ‘em in the pool, too!

They can be a set pattern (i.e. a “Tabata” HIIT workout is 20 seconds of all-out effort followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated for 8 cycles).

Or they can be something as simple as what I do on the elliptical with music blasting in my ears: go all out during the chorus of the song, then switch to a recovery pace during the verses. It’s not an exact science, and the beauty of intervals is you can make them up or change them to suit your needs.

When I was marathon training, I used intervals to train myself to run faster. The fast-paced intervals started out farther apart, with more recovery time in-between. As I progressed, I increased the interval time and decreased the amount of recovery. I was able to train myself to run much faster this way.

Two things worth noting, HIIT should not be the only kind of workout you do. HIIT is great at burning calories fast and increasing your speed, but it’s not an endurance tool. Second, some evidence shows that longer periods of moderately-paced exercise are more beneficial for those who are significantly overweight or obese.

Even though I have my cheetah moments (okay, mostly just in my mind), when I started my weight loss journey my fitness routine consisted of long walks. My walks were great a way to build endurance, burn fat and create a healthy habit of regular exercise.

And of course, that’s what this is all about!

Have you got a HIIT workout that you’ve tried and want to share? Tell me about it in the comments section below. I want to hear what works for you!

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