The rise of HIIT training

By PCYC Lang Park Fitness Professional, Leigh Kable

“Time is of the essence” someone once said, back in the days when everyone had a weekend, and no one worked from home or had a mobile. Since this phrase was coined, it seems like the one commodity the average person lacks is time: we are all seeking to cram more in faster.

Hence the rise in popularity of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), popularised more than a decade ago and reduced in time with each new interpretation. Although interval training has been done for 100 years by athletes, it has been through many versions of differing intervals in line with contemporary research.

In 1996, Dr Izumi Tabata, as part of a research program to improve the Japanese speed skating team’s performance, invented the ‘Tabata Protocol’ based around 20 seconds of intense exercise and 10 seconds of rest, that is still incredibly popular. In 2013 the much-publicised 7-minute workout was introduced and in 2016 it was the 1-minute workout. It is now widely accepted that interval training delivers the fastest results for the least amount of time, and currently the American College of Sports Medicine state that HIIT is the third top fitness trend of 2019.

HIIT is sold as an efficient and effective way of training that delivers fast results. The key premise is that we work harder over a shorter amount of training time and the work/rest intervals are manipulated to allow us to work at a higher intensity. HIIT was initially used for improving cardiovascular fitness, increasing the uptake of V02 max which is the heart’s ability to pump as much oxidised blood with each stroke as possible. The effort required is 80% or above of that individual’s heart rate max, easy to check with personal heart rate monitors.

It is this hard effort that necessitates the need for a limited recovery interval. Indeed, the effort should take you into an anaerobic training zone – ie. you have reached your limit where the body can no longer use available oxygen or get rid of carbon dioxide and other metabolic wastes. This trains the body to recover faster and work more efficiently, thus increasing fitness levels.

The best way of doing your HIIT training is either under the eye of a trainer who will keep track of the work/rest interval and get the best effort out of you, or if you prefer to train alone, you can use a timer to pre-set your work/rest ratios. HIIT can also be done on a spin bike, rowing machine, or boxing bag. It’s all about the percentage of your effort.

HIIT can be a useful addition to your training for the above reasons, but not suited to everyone. If you like a good hard workout, are motivated to push yourself and have a good basic fitness level and exercise history, then it might be a welcome change from your normal routine. However, HIIT is not a great place to start on day one of your new gym membership, if you are injured or pregnant, or not already used to exercise!

A balanced workout week might feature one or two HIIT sessions amongst other forms of training such as weights or steady state endurance training. HIIT is not the best choice for weight loss or muscle growth but the benefits it delivers to V02 max gains are well documented, as well as maximising our most precious commodity, time.

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