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HIIT workout routines have surged in recent years. With workout possibilities ranging from doing sprints at the track to intervals on a cardio machine to a boot camp style program, HIIT workout routines have become a sort of “go to” for many trainees.
With the ability to burn fat, get a lot of work done quickly, and drastically improve cardio, it’s no wonder why this has become such a popular fitness trend.
Simply put, HIIT workout routines are programs based around the concept of high intensity interval training (HIIT). What this means is that you engage in an activity as hard and fast as you can for a brief stint, rest, then repeat for a given number of intervals. The goal is to work as hard as humanly possible during your “on” period, while just maintaining motion or resting completely during your “off” period.
Intervals can range in length from 20-60 seconds “on” and 20-60 seconds “off” and can be performed for a total of as little 4 minutes and as much as 60-90 minutes. Activities used can vary greatly. The original uses and studies (discussed below) for this style of training were strictly cardio-based – cycling, running, etc. However, many have incorporated calisthenics, functional movements, and even gym exercises into the mix.
HIIT workout routines would never have even become a “thing” had it not been for the original Tabata study back in the 1990s. Conducted by Dr. Izumi Tabata at the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Japan, cardio tests were conducted with Olympic-level speed skaters.
What Dr. Tabata found was that if said skaters worked on a cycle ergometer at their maximum capability (170% of VO2 max) for repeated short periods of time alternated with similarly short rest periods, that they could not only achieve substantial anaerobic benefits, but improve their aerobic conditioning, too. This was basically a way of getting the proverbial “best of both worlds”. In fact, it’s where the now popular “Tabata protocol” of 4 rounds of 20 seconds on/20 seconds off originated.
Back in the day, many trainees only engaged in slow cardio to lose weight. The goal of this was to stay in the “fat burning zone” as long as possible, as this was how you’d burn the most amount of calories. And the greater number of calories burned, the better chance you had to lose fat.
However, it would later be found that HIIT workout routines had enormous fat loss benefits in addition to their cardio superiority. By forcing the body to work at such an intense rate, it would trigger what’s known as EPOC – Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption. The basic idea is that you work so hard that it “revs up” your metabolism such that it stays that way for as long as 36 hours after your workout is over.
HIIT workout routines became quickly popular because with the old way, you literally had to be working out in order to burn calories. The more weight you wanted to lose, the more calories you had to burn, and the more cardio you’d have to endure. But with this style of interval workout, you could train for as little as 15-20 minutes, and your body would continue to burn extra calories (and in turn, fat) for as long as an additional 1.5 days.
Before you hop on the interval training bandwagon, realize that there is a distinct, yet crucially important fact you must be mindful of. Intensity (how hard you work) and volume (how long you work) have an inverse relationship for effectiveness to remain high. Meaning you if you work slow/easy, you have to work long. And if you work short, you have to work hard.
Think of it like this – you can jog a marathon or you can sprint 100m. However, you can’t sprint a marathon (so that’s out). But if you jog 100m, you’re not really accomplishing much. This is the problem many people inadvertently create for themselves.
They see the short time period for interval training and think that’s the proverbial “secret sauce”. They work a little bit harder than they do for slow cardio, but not much. So continuing the metaphor, maybe they don’t jog the 100m, but they run it at a moderate pace. Thing is that they need to be sprinting the 100m as fast as they possibly can…think being chased by a rabid dog sort of effort.
If not, they end up doing only a small amount of work at a fairly low effort level. Then instead of interval training being a sort of “best of both worlds”, it ends up being much more akin to the “worst of both worlds”.
When done effectively, HIIT workout routines are radically effective. They can get you much more (and better) cardio and fat loss results in a lot less time. However, they do have to be done correctly, or else you’re going to end up seeing little to no effects.