What is HIIT and does it really work?
HIIT workout program (High Intensity Interval Training), is a training method that consists of short bursts of high intensity activities/intervals with short rests in between the intervals. To make it simple, its similar to doing circuit training but in strict timing and explosive manner.
Most probably you have seen people doing it in the gym or somewhere out in the park. Its easy to recognise: vigorous actions, heavy breathing and panting, lots of sweat and sometimes cursing! Yes….HIIT requires you to go all-out at every interval to maximise its effects on our body.
It all started with athletes and professional sportsmen many years ago to enhance their performance. But recent years, due to its great benefits, it became popular among the fitness community. It was one of the top fitness trends in 2017, accompanied by spinning, boxing and pilates.
High Intensity Interval Training hit the top position for fitness trends in 2018, according to a survey done by ACSM. It has become a great tool, mostly used by Personal Trainers and fitness people, to enhance their workout programs, making it more fun and challenging.
Recent years, many small boutique gyms start popping up in Singapore, specialising in compact and explosive 30min circuit training style classes.
“I think these days, short and fast paced training sessions will continue to grow as most working class people do not want to spend too much time in the gym.” says Clement Tan, Rehab Specialist from PT works.
“Mixing HIIT workouts with muay thai training is the ultimate combination!” says Muay Thai Coach Sean Lee, PT works.
So why is it so popular?
Simply because its time efficient, effective and easily adaptable by people from different fitness levels. It can be done anywhere. In the gym, at home, outdoor parks or any open space.
It doesn’t require any fancy fitness equipment or formula to carry out. Since it’s a compact workout, it makes it easy for coaches to combine with other exercise classes such as pilates, boxing, spinning and even barre.
However, due to its high intensity nature, its not for everyone. It is stressful to the body especially for our joints. Make sure you are in a good healthy shape before embarking into a HIIT routine. Always start with an intensity that you feel comfortable with and slowly progress to a higher level. Proper warm up and stretching to prevent injuries is a must.
Below is an example of a full body HIIT exercise plan:
6 intervals of various bodyweight exercises at all-out effort (you will need a chin up bar).
-Push ups (non-stop 30 sec)
rest 30 sec
-Jumping squats (non-stop 30 sec)
rest 30 sec
-chin ups (as many as u can, women can do rows)
rest 30 sec
-Burpees (non-stop 30 sec)
-Sit ups full range (30 sec)
rest 30 sec
-Stationary lunges (30 sec)
rest 30 sec
Repeat the whole sequence 2-3 times depending on your ability. Total time taken for each sequence is only 6min, making it a short but intense workout.
We recommend you to go all out with it, at least makes it hard (pain level of 8/10). You have to make it different from other types of training, unlike long distance running which involves more endurance with a steady pace.
Bear in mind, there is no right or wrong in how you formulate the exercises. For us, as personal trainers, we love to “play” around with various different exercises, mixing it up altogether. The trick is to have a balance of upper and lower body exercises in your HIIT. In this way, it acts as a full body workout. Get it? (GRIN on your face)
Is HIIT great for fat loss ?
The answer is yes. Big yes. It can be a very powerful fat loss tool.
But it has deeper meanings than that. Loads of research has been done by sports scientist, revealing its effects on fitness performance, weight loss and muscle gain. Let me explain further.
When you research online about Interval training, you’ll bump into the term VO2 max very often.
Definition of VO2 max: It is a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen our body can utilise during intensive exercise. Also known as maximal oxygen consumption.
These high maximum amount of oxygen is used to convert energy from your food into ready “fuel” called adenosine triphosphate (ATP). ATP are basically energy fuel for muscle contractions. That is why you breath harder and faster to get high volumes of oxygen into your lungs in order to regenerate enough ATP during HIIT.
The higher the number, means more oxygen uptake into the muscles. It makes you run faster and longer.
French sports physiologist Veronique Billat claimed that running at speed intervals near to VO2 max is the fastest way to reach your peak performance. Other scientists also concluded that training at such level can boost testosterone levels in men, resulting in lean muscle gain. Its an additional push on top of your regular weights training.
To make a HIIT workout more effective, you need to reach at least 80-90% of your VO2max. That is usually around 90% of all out effort.
Think of sprinting instead of jogging.
These when combined with a well-balanced, calories deficit eating plan, will gives you a leaner body.
Tired of long hours of cardio? Do high intensity circuit training instead!
Most of us are tired from doing longs hours of cardio. It gets boring after a while and we will reach a plateau. We need to constantly do different things on our body to stimulate growth and improvements.
Yes , these high intensity workouts burn high amounts of calories within a short period of time.
“Studies have shown that shorter intense cardio workouts results in greater fat loss (higher calories burn) over time than those which are longer and lower in intensity.”
Let me further explain why.
When we exercise, we utilise both carbs and fats as energy sources. The proportions vary with exercise intensity. As intensity increases, our body relies on glycogen (carbs) more than fat for instant fuel. But that doesn’t mean that the fats in your body is not used. You still utilise fats, but lesser compared to carbohydrates.
Whereas, low intensity steady-pace cardio relies on fat sources as main fuel and some glycogen (carbs).
Now, you compare both. For the same amount of exercise time, the higher intensity workouts burn higher amounts of total calories, coming from both fats and carbs.
Doing long hours of aerobic exercises are no longer the only way to lose fat and stay slim. Because just by doing light cardio work, you need to spend a lot of time just to burn the same amount of calories from doing HIIT.
Brisk walking on the treadmill for 45min burns 300 calories, 150 coming from fat stores.
HIIT for 30min burns 450 calories, 200 coming from fat stores.
Do the math and see the differences. Which one is more efficient?
Results are obvious. Even till now, people still think that doing long hours of low intensity steady-state cardio burns tons of fats. Do you want to spend such amount of time just to burn that little? (I know i will get thrashed by hardcore cardio fanatics!) Chill chill.
Its all about training efficiency. For those who loves running, try doing HIIT using sprinting as the exercise.
– Start with a warm up of 5min slow jog.
– Do a 30 sec fast sprint
- Follow by 30 walk (active recovery)
- Repeat as many times as you want (usually 8-10 sets)
- End with a 3 min cool down.
Does HIIT helps to build muscle fast?
Yes, to a certain extent. If you are talking about just doing HIIT alone, then muscle growth is slower. You need to combine it with strength training to maximise muscle hypertrophy.
Adding it to your existing training program definitely helps to boost growth hormones and testosterone level. It acts as an additional “juice” on top of your routine.
However, in some bodybuilder’s mindset, cardiovascular and resistance training doesn’t goes well together. For example, doing cardio endurance training can hinder strength and muscle growth. Sticking to just weight lifting alone gives the best results.
But there are too many studies and reviews that oppose this idea. Unless you are doing too much cardio (long distance running etc), high intensity endurance workouts will not affect muscle gain. Instead, it helps to accelerate it, due to its anaerobic nature.
How to create an effective HIIT exercise routine?
Its actually quite simple. Below are the few factors to consider when building one.
- Types of exercises. It can be using bodyweight, equipments, running cycling, rowing skipping.
- Duration of each work interval (20-60sec) depending on your fitness level and what you want to achieve.
- Duration of rest in between interval (lesser, more or the same as work interval). Try to start with 1:1 work-rest interval first.
- Try to keep the total duration of the workout short and sweet (best 20-30min hard)
- Adjust your training intensity by monitoring your heart rate or by rate of perceived exertion (level 1-10, from easy to very hard).
- Increase the number of intervals as you get fitter. Do not over train.
- Keep it simple and do at least twice a week to see improvements.
3 ways to make your high intensity training more challenging.
- Increase the work interval length
- Decrease length of rest time.
- Push harder, all out effort.
However, it can be stressful on our body, especially our joints. Don’t overdo it and make sure you have proper warm ups and cool downs.
Other great benefits of HIIT.
Studies have shown many fitness related benefits but sports physiologists are still studying on the exact mechanisms behind the health benefits.
- Appetite suppression after training. Prevents over eating.
- Improve insulin sensitivity in our body, reducing blood sugar.
- Increase metabolism rate.
- Fat metabolism continues even after training for up to 12 hours.
- Significant increase in testosterone levels in men.
- Increase in growth hormones which helps in muscle hypertrophy.
- Reduce high blood pressure.
- Reduce resting heart rate.
- Strengthens heart muscle.
- Reloads muscle glycogen.
- Improves fitness level in a fast way.
- Helps you breaks your sweat easy, profusely.
- Boosts mental endurance, makes you tougher.
- Time saving and fun, more likely to stick to it.
- Keeps you alert, higher brain stimulation.
- Release high amounts of endorphins, helps in reducing depression.
Let’s get started…..
You get more bang for bucks by doing HIIT. Be it fitness conditioning, performance, weight loss or muscle gain.
Why not step out of your comfort zone, make your workout regime more efficient, so that you can spend more time with your family and loved ones.
About the author Sean Lee (Bachelor Degree in Sports Science, fitness enthusiast)