The 1970s are long gone, so why are you still running for hours and hours every day? Though many endurance athletes rely on high-volume training for their sports, they are mentally taxing and can cause prolonged stress on bones and joints. In contrast, the popularity of shorter, more intense workouts has increased dramatically with the rise of training programs like Crossfit and P90X. What sets these training methodologies apart is their focus on fast and fierce bouts of effort with intermittent rest periods. Broadly, this pattern is called High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, and everyone from weekend warriors to professionals can reap the benefits.

How Does It Work?

In order for a workout to be considered high intensity, it needs to force your body to 90% of your VO2 max. VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can take in to convert to energy; in other words, an impressive VO2 max translates to high fitness and endurance levels. After a good warm-up, you can reach the 90% threshold in just a few seconds: try cycling at maximal effort for 30 seconds, followed by 4 minutes of spinning at a comfortable pace. Repeat this for 6 intervals, and you’ll feel the burn after just half an hour on the bike.

The Benefits of HIIT

The advantages of HIIT are well documented, and like the exercises, the benefits come fast. As little as six sessions over two weeks caused demonstrable improvements in individuals’ VO2 maxes, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. Unlike strength training, HIIT improves cardiovascular health, so the workouts are a great alternative for individuals who don’t have the time for endurance training. Studies have also found that glucose metabolism and rates of fat burning are elevated following High Intensity Interval Training.

Safety Tips for Beginners

As with any new workout plan, safety is the first priority. Consider talking to a trainer at your local fitness center about HIIT, or starting with a group workout. Many organized programs like pilates or group spinning classes follow HIIT methodology and can be great places to train in a fun and controlled setting. Here are some other tips for getting started:

  • Warm Up: At least 5 minutes of easy exercise can prevent injury.
  • Stay Hydrated: You’ll be amazed at how much you sweat in such a short time!
  • Adjust for Your Fitness Level: Consider fewer or shorter intervals when you’re taking your first shot at HIIT.
  • Cool Down: Walking or cycling comfortably after a workout will help loosen up your tired muscles.

So do you think HIIT is for you? Give it a try for a few weeks and let us know how it goes!