When you're busy with studying and a full-time job, it might seem difficult to fit any exercise into your hectic schedule. And it's hard to stay motivated when it's freezing cold and dark outside like it is at the moment.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, can be a great solution to these problems. This often-misunderstood training style involves short periods of pushing yourself as hard as you can, followed by a rest period.
This can be as simple as running for 60 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of rest. Some people like to find a hill and sprint to the top of it, then rest by walking slowly back down.
A common misconception is that HIIT means running for a bit, then jogging for a bit, and repeating. It's more sprinting as hard as you can for a set period of time, then stopping for a total rest. You should be pushing yourself so hard that you can’t sustain it for more than the time period given.
A popular form of high-intensity interval training is Tabata. This was created by Professor Izumi Tabata in 1996 after experimenting in a study with Olympic speed skaters. This involved exercising a 2:1 work:rest ratio, with participants exercising at an extreme level for 20 seconds, followed by a 10 second rest period. This is repeated for 8 cycles, or 4 minute in total. Pretty short, right? A typical Tabata routine could look like:
- Push ups
- Box jumps
Each of these is performed for the 4 minutes with a minute of rest in between, which means the whole routine takes 20 minutes to complete. You’re performing at such an extreme level, you'll feel it even after such a short time. Not bad for fitting into your busy lifestyle!
HIIT training also improves your ability to do all other aerobic exercises. This 2006 study found that people who did 8 weeks of HIIT could bicycle twice as long as they could before they started, but at the same pace. So if you're not making progress in your favourite aerobic exercise, doing a high-intensity interval version could break you through your plateau.
Another advantage is that it can be done with little to no equipment, depending on the programme you follow. This can make it much easier to fit into your life than going to the gym. You don't even have to leave the house if you don't want to - as long as you have space to swing your arms you're good to go. There are plenty of potential programmes out there, and there's one that'll be right for you and your needs.
One of the reasons that HIIT is so popular is the "afterburn effect." This refers to the idea that you continue to burn more calories after your workout has ended. Some studies suggest that you burn up to 225 extra calories on top of calories burnt during your exercise due to this effect. However, other studies found this to be just 69 calories, so your mileage may vary!
Another reason that HIIT is so popular is to do with muscle building. Regular aerobic exercise is often shown to lower testosterone. This is bad for anyone who wants to build muscle. On the other hand, interval training is often shown to increase it. This makes it the ideal complement to weightlifting programmes.
Something that might be a plus to you and a minus to others is just how challenging HIIT is. During high-intensity interval training, you have to really push yourself hard. It can be daunting if you're not in the right mood, but the benefits (and the time savings!) are fantastic.
Ultimately, you should always look at how your body responds to an exercise programme. This might work incredibly well for you, or you might have something that you think works better. Come tell us about it on our Facebook group!