Fitness Articles

High Intensity Interval Training

Take Your Fitness and Fat Loss to the Next Level

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If I told you that there was a way to burn more calories, lose more fat, and improve your cardiovascular fitness level while spending less time doing cardio, you’d probably reach for your phone to report me to the consumer fraud hotline, right?

Well, this is one of those rare times when your natural it’s-too-good-to-be-true reaction could be mistaken. If you want to take your fitness and fat loss to the next level—without spending more time in the gym—then high intensity interval training (also known as HIIT) could be exactly what you're looking for.

Before getting into the details, notice that I didn’t say HIIT would be easier, just that it would take less of your time. In fact, the HIIT approach to cardio exercise is very physically demanding and isn’t for everyone. If you have any cardiovascular problems or other health concerns that limit your ability to exercise at very intense levels, or if you are relatively new to aerobic exercise or not already in good shape, HIIT is not for you—at least for now. If you have any doubts or concerns about whether it might be safe for you, check in with your medical professional before trying HIIT.

What It Is and How It Works
HIIT is a specialized form of interval training that involves short intervals of maximum intensity exercise separated by longer intervals of low to moderate intensity exercise. Because it involves briefly pushing yourself beyond the upper end of your aerobic exercise zone, it offers you several advantages that traditional steady-state exercise (where you keep your heart rate within your aerobic zone) can’t provide:
  • HIIT trains and conditions both your anaerobic and aerobic energy systems. You train your anaerobic system with brief, all-out efforts, like when you have to push to make it up a hill, sprint the last few hundred yards of a distance race, or run and hide from your spouse when they won't stop nagging you about the dishes.
  • HIIT increases the amount of calories you burn during your exercise session and afterward because it increases the length of time it takes your body to recover from each exercise session.
  • HIIT causes metabolic adaptations that enable you to use more fat as fuel under a variety of conditions. This will improve your athletic endurance as well as your fat-burning potential.
  • HIIT appears to limit muscle loss that can occur with weight loss, in comparison to traditional steady-state cardio exercise of longer duration.
  • To get the benefits HIIT, you need to push yourself past the upper end of your aerobic zone and allow your body to replenish your anaerobic energy system during the recovery intervals.
The key element of HIIT that makes it different from other forms of interval training is that the high intensity intervals involve maximum effort, not simply a higher heart rate. There are many different approaches to HIIT, each involving different numbers of high and low intensity intervals, different levels of intensity during the low intensity intervals, different lengths of time for each interval, and different numbers of training sessions per week. If you want to use HIIT to improve performance for a particular sport or activity, you’ll need to tailor your training program to the specific needs and demands of your activity.
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About The Author

Dean Anderson Dean Anderson
Dean Anderson has master's degrees in human services (behavioral psychology/stress management) and liberal studies. His interest in healthy living began at the age of 50 when he confronted his own morbid obesity and health issues. He joined SparkPeople and lost 150 pounds and regained his health. Dean has earned a personal training certification from ACE and received training as a lifestyle and weight management consultant. See all of Dean's articles.

Member Comments

  • I just started with Hitt a week ago, now I got another routine. - 9/10/2014 5:19:46 PM
  • JRFITPRO
    They just brought in a new sprinting machine at my gym that kicks ass...itís called the HiTrainer. The 3 minute interval protocols are beyond what I've ever done. After 2 weeks of doing it 3 times a week I already feel a big difference. Check out their website to see some videos www.hitrainer.com - 8/12/2014 4:15:58 PM
  • Good Article. - 6/10/2014 2:35:22 AM
  • MARYO125
    HIIT really does WONDERS. I got turned onto this type of workout about two years ago and I feel toner than ever. I use 'HIIT Mix' a coached HIIT music-based workout on my iPod by a company called Motion Traxx. Fitness trainer Jessica Smith talks you through the entire workout, letting you know when to start, stop, keep the pace, and how much longer till the next interval. Itís absolutely amazing and has made HIIT one of my go-to workouts! I recommend to everybody I know: http://motiontrax
    x.com/mixes/h
    iit-mix/. - 2/26/2014 12:49:11 PM
  • PEACENCARROTS
    Good article. I like trying HIIT workouts. They are great. Makes you feel like you accomplished something in a little bit of time. - 2/11/2014 9:08:08 AM
  • MCSCRAPM
    thanks for this article Dean. I am going to try this! - 8/21/2013 1:52:38 PM
  • This is the natural way for martial arts to be practiced, so I'd say as a form of exercise it goes back several centuries at least. I've done this type of workout since my early 20s, and now at 59 I'm very healthy and in good shape; genetics has something to do with that I'm sure but so does my method of exercise. I've always listened to my body as the saying goes when doing this kind of exercise: I just do the movements as fast and hard as I can until I get so tired I have to stop, then rest until I'm ready to do it again. If you do martial art movements right you get a full body workout: there is a good variety of movement, and all of it involves the whole body, especially the midsection. - 8/7/2013 12:58:38 PM
  • Love the article. Thank you LJOHNES - 8/6/2013 10:23:13 AM
  • WANDAC2013
    "run and hide after saying the wrong thing to your spouse"...kinda scary thing to joke about considering the prevalence of domestic abuse. I get it that Dean didn't mean it in an abusive situation, but as a survivor it hit me wrong. I'm sure a better, equally "funny" example could have been found. - 8/5/2013 12:23:35 PM
  • AZYOURLILY:

    I think you can do it just by tracking time spent and distance/reps. For instance, if you're running/walking it will take you less time to go 1 mile doing HIIT than it would just walking. I think :P
    Hope that works!
    - 7/30/2013 2:48:55 PM
  • BEACHYDREAMN
    Does anyone know how to track this on the fitness tracker, in terms of calories etc? - 7/3/2013 11:49:25 AM
  • PESKIGIRL
    HIIT is the best thing! :) - 6/14/2013 8:47:41 PM
  • "run and hide from your spouse after saying the wrong thing" ... HAHA! - 6/14/2013 9:37:59 AM
  • WRAVENESS
    I was in the best shape of my life when I did HIIT. And to me, it's easier to stick to...not because it's less intense, but because it's short! You can do HIIT on any machine and it's pretty easy. Just start out, for example, on level 4 on an eliptical for a few minutes, then crank it up to level 13 for 2 minutes, then back down. IOn a treadmill I would walk fast for 3 minutes then run as fast as I can for 2 minutes then repeat. IT's that simple. I did it about 3 times a week for 12 - 30 minutes each day. I'm naturally muscular so when I did this training, my muslce cuts began to show through immensely after a couple of months. I highly recommend this type of training and can't wait to move into my new house (which will give me the room for equipment) to start this up again! - 6/14/2013 9:09:53 AM
  • CAROLINEHEARN
    Does anybody know how important it is to return to 70% MHR between intervals? I ask because I've been doing the Jillian Michaels workouts on DVD and my heart rate, though it goes up and down, doesn't ever return to 70% between harder intervals. Should I press pause to get more benefit from HIIT workouts, or do I get more benefit from just staying high and sometimes going higher? Thanks for any advice! - 6/14/2013 3:35:58 AM
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