It looks like 2014 is going to see a continuing rise in the trend for shorter, more efficient workouts. So what is high intensity interval training - HIIT for short - and could it turn your fitness regime around?
HIIT is, as the name suggests, all about doing more for your fitness in less time. It's a phenomenon that reflects our intense, busy modern lives and the tendency to try to pack more and more into our waking hours: Fitting a week's worth of exercise into just a single hour. For those of us who have grown up on the 30-minutes-five-times-a-week guidelines trotted out by the government as the minimum amount needed for an active healthy life, it sounds too good to be true. But there is sound research behind it and more and more people are turning to this highly efficient approach to exercise.
What is HIIT?
HIIT is an approach to exercise that involves training in very short, intense bursts, with short periods of rest or gentler exercise in between. It's a technique that offers a highly efficient cardio workout and rapidly increases your metabolism, which means that it's a great way of improving your stamina and losing weight.
One of the great beauties of HIIT is its flexibility. You can apply this principle to pretty much any form of exercise – running, cycling, rowing or weight training – and see results. If you're time poor, impatient for results or just a bit bored and stuck in a rut with your usual routine, it's certainly worth a go.
There's just one drawback: it's hard work. Really, really hard work. The intense bursts are, well, intense. The idea is that you push yourself to the absolute maximum. This is not an approach to exercise that allows you to comfortably sustain a conversation as you work out. It's about giving it your all.
Benefits of HIIT
HIIT has the potential to improve your athletic endurance and strength, whilst also maximising fat loss. A number of processes are at work here:
Okay, I'm convinced. How do I get started?
First of all, a slight health warning: If you are very unfit or suffer from high blood pressure or other cardiovascular problems, HIIT may be too intense an approach for you. It's worth consulting your doctor if you are in any doubt.
But if your fitness and health are about average, there's no reason not to give HIIT a try. The easiest way of getting started is probably by looking out for HIIT training sessions at your nearest gym. Many now offer classes that guide you through workouts along HIIT principles. There's also the possibility of booking in with a personal trainer to get you started. Either of these options means that you'll be getting invaluable guidance regarding what level to start at, how hard to train, and how to determine the exercise to resting ratio that's optimal for you.
If you'd rather go it alone, there are a number of things to consider:
Remember, it doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing approach: You don't have to switch entirely to HIIT from your usual fitness regime. It can complement your regular workout, perhaps especially on days when you're short of time. Given its speed and efficiency and the great claims being made for its effectiveness, there's really no reason not to give it a go!
I find HIIT a great add-on to my usual training. I do long-distance cycle races and I thought there were no shortcuts, but after three months of using a HIIT approach I find my stamina has actually improved - I'm a convert!
I see what you're saying, Tanith, but as one of those people sucked in by the 24/7 culture, I'm so glad there's a quicker way to look after my fitness.
I don't know... Isn't this just buying into the 24/7 culture of wanting to cram more and more into our day? If getting fit is important, shouldn't we be willing to spend the time that it takes, rather than rushing things? I've been doing yoga for years and even there this urge to do more and more is creeping in, with power yoga and so on. Ugh.
I agree with Clare - it's great that I can do a 20 min workout in my lunch break and feel absolutely shattered and fully worked out for it. It's not for every day but it's great once or twice a week.
I've tried this out and find the shorter workout times very appealing and you feel the burn after a exercising in this way. May not be for everyone but I say give it a try