You may not know this, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a get-fit-quick scheme that works brilliantly well at burning fat. It might be the answer you are looking for if you need to shake up your fitness routine and lose weight, but you don’t have any more time to devote to it.
And guess what – you’re never too old to start. Studies have shown that HIIT changes muscles at the cellular level, boosting the energy producing capacity in the exercisers’ cells. You could almost say it makes your body younger.
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Serious athletes have long known about the benefits of this type of exercise. It is seen as the ultimate cardiovascular workout. If you’re not already on-board with HIIT, read on to get seriously motivated to start.
What is interval training?
Interval training is a type of physical training that involves a series of high intensity exercise workouts interspersed with rest or relief periods. More simply put, you run, cycle or row fast for a bit, then slow down for a bit.
The length of both the sprint and recovery periods can vary from as little as 6 seconds to a few minutes. This can be tailored to meet your level of fitness and goals. High-intensity periods are typically at or close to anaerobic exercise, while the recovery periods involve activity of lower intensity.
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Coaches around the world favor this type of training as it is one of the most effective and quickest ways to improve speed and endurance. The technique is particularly employed by runners but athletes in other disciplines use it, too.
What are the benefits of interval training?
The stop-start pattern of this type of workout trains your body to recover quickly and adapt between high-intensity bursts. Varying the intensity of effort exercises the heart muscle, providing a cardiovascular workout, improving aerobic and anaerobic capacity and permitting the person to exercise for longer and more intense levels.
There is also scientific evidence to back up just how crazy-efficient high intensity workouts really are. Studies have found that HIIT boosts your endurance, as seen through measures such as improved blood pressure and higher counts of mitochondria. It is also great for your heart, contributing to the flexibility and elasticity of arteries and veins.
And let’s not forget the additional bonus of helping torch fat – quickly. Plus you’ll keep burning calories for hours after your workout. This is confirmed in a report published in The Journal of Obesity, which found that high-intensity intermittent exercise induces far greater fat loss than steady exercise.
This is because muscle carbohydrate reserves, glycogen, are seriously depleted with bursts of high intensity activity. Carbohydrates are used as the main source for fuel. Once the glycogen reserves have been exhausted replacement is necessary through the fuel source fat.
The report cites a 15 week study where a group of women participated in three 20-minute high intensity workout sessions per week (an 8-second sprint followed by 12 seconds of low intensity cycling). At the same time, another group of women carried out an aerobic cycling protocol that consisted of steady state cycling for 40 min. Results showed that women in the high intensity group lost significantly much more subcutaneous fat (2.5 kg) than those in the steady state aerobic exercise program.
There are many other studies we could cite showing the link between interval training and fat loss.
How to get started
Anyone can add interval training to their fitness routine. You need not worry – it’s not rocket science.
Training involves sets of race pace speed of 200m, 400m or 800m, with recovery sets equal to or less than that distance. You could even find objects at regularly spaced distance, such as telephone poles, and use them to judge your intervals. Or simply count your steps. As your fitness level increases, increase the speed of your walk or run.
A more structured option is to go by the clock. Time the high intensity bursts to around 10-60 seconds in length. Make sure you work at max effort. The low intensity recovery period should last between 1 and 4 times the duration of the quick burst.
Interval training is very demanding. If you have any heart problems or circulation issues, or are very much out of shape – it is best to opt out. Also, you should not be doing this every day. Your body will be working hard, so needs time to recover.
Also, ease your way in. Start off by doing it once a week and then build up. Just by practicing interval training once a week, you will be able to take advantage of a number of benefits, from more effective oxygen intake to a slower heart rate.
The added benefit of doing this type of exercise is that you can get the same, if not greater, results in half the time of low-intensity longer duration workout sessions. Simply put, you get more bang for your buck. Plus, because its shorter in duration you are less likely to become bored and more likely to stick to the workout.
Sports watches and fitness trackers that help with interval training
With the help of running watches and activity trackers, it is now easier than ever to integrate interval training into your fitness routine. You can check out our selection of GPS running watches to get you started. The integrated GPS means they track the distance for you, and many of them have the added benefit of the latest crop of heart-rate sensing tech, meaning you can get a precise picture of the intensity of your workout.
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For those who don’t want to fork out for a fully fledged running watch, some run-of-the mill activity trackers have started to include this functionality as part of their feature-set.
For example, the Fitbit Charge and Inspire range come with a built-in interval timer that takes the work out of setting up and following an interval workout. You can even tweak the settings to create a tailored session. Charge 4 comes with a built-in GPS which makes this all the more easier.
For instance, if you want to complete a 20-minute workout made up of 1-minute intervals, the work period would be 1 minute, the rest period would be 1 minute, and the total number of rounds, or times you want to repeat those intervals, would be 10. You can program your Fitbit to track these intervals by customizing the “Interval Workout” setting via the smartphone app or the Fitbit.com dashboard.
Once you activate the workout the tracker will guide you throughout the session. It will vibrate and tell you to “move” or “rest” depending on which interval you’re on.
If you are looking for a more beefed up Fitbit, you can always opt for one of the Versas or Sense. All of these are well suited for interval training and there’s even a workout dedicated to this. If you don’t see it on your watch customize the exercise app to show only the workouts that interest you. Add interval training if you use it, and ditch swimming if you don’t.
Another possible option is Moov HR Burn. This is a heart rate chest strap that guides you to get the most out of your workouts. Simply follow the voice coaching which will keep you in the correct heart rate zone for high-intensity interval programs. Other heart rate chest straps you can use for interval training include, but are not limited to, Wahoo TickrX and MyZone.
And lets not forget the Apple Watch. WatchOS has coaching, monthly challenges and a mode for HIIT. You need not buy the latest device, earlier generations of the Apple Watch will do the job just fine.
Now that you are armed with basic information, there are no more excuses. Next time you’re out on a run, do a sprint – for just 30 seconds. Even one burst of high intensity activity during a steady run can boost your endurance and overall health.
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