HIIT – is It Really So Amazing?
HIIT is a high-momentum fitness trend – born in 2013 from a seven- minute workout championed by American scientists – HIIT has certainly reached peak acceleration within the UK’s wellness community. Now available in many iterations, every studio and personal trainer offers their own interpretation of the fitness principle designed to deliver better results in return for maximum effort. Read: maximum discomfort.
Sometimes abbreviated as HIIT, sometimes as HICT (high-intensity circuit training), let’s highlight the second letter for a moment – intensity. On a scale of one to ten, HIIT training should put you at an eight or more during working intervals. What does an eight look like? Heart-pumping, breathless, sweaty, leg-shaking and curse- inducing are all fitting adjectives. If you’re comfortably holding a conversation, you’re not doing HIIT.
BENEFITS OF HIIT
But why inflict such torture on yourself? Well, the benefits of HIIT are indisputable. You will increase your fitness in less time, as this level of intensity shocks your body and stimulates EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). That means you’ll be burning calories both during and after your workout. HIIT also burns predominantly carbohydrates for fuel, and unlike aerobic endurance exercise it doesn’t resort to metabolising lean muscle for energy when carb supplies dwindle.
That last point is important. Building and maintaining lean muscle is really important for fat loss, because muscles naturally use up more energy and therefore someone with more lean muscle will have a faster metabolism – even when they do nothing at all.
LIMITATIONS OF HIIT
By working more intensely you can save time, burn more calories and preserve lean muscle. Sounds like a workout winner! But there are some common misconceptions about HIIT, so listen up and take note.
High-Intensity Exercise Is Not For Beginners
In fact, working at this intensity if you are inexperienced or overweight could be downright dangerous, as the heart may not be strong enough to cope with the sudden increase in demand. Like any muscle, the heart must be strengthened over time, so start by integrating medium-intensity intervals first or allowing for longer rest times between working intervals.
HIIT Does Not Burn More Fat
In fact, fat requires oxygen to be converted into energy, and HIIT training is almost entirely anaerobic. Many studios and trainers purport misleading claims about the fat-burning potential of HIIT. Anaerobic exercise does reduce muscle breakdown, which will increase fat metabolism at rest, but for best results you still need to include strength training in your regime to maximise the benefit.
Seven Minutes Will Not Cut It
Even if it is seven minutes of utter hell. In the study relating to the famed seven-minute workout, the scientists actually created a seven-minute circuit that they advised be repeated three times for best results. But a 21-minute workout wasn’t as catchy a headline! Like any form of exercise, the body will adapt to routine, so variety in both intensity and format are key to continued success with HIIT.
As with all exercise science, the best proof of something working is anecdotal evidence. From my own results and those of my clients, I am definitely an advocate of HIIT and know it to be as fabulously fun as it is fiercely challenging. So do give it a go. Just listen to your body, increase the intensity and duration of your intervals slowly and mix it with cardio and resistance training to get a full all overall exercise routine..