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HIIT me with your best shot

Role of intensity and duration in endurance training

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By Dr. Kaycee Reyes

You’ve probably heard it from friends at your local gym—doing HIIT, or a High-Intensity Interval Training workout, gets you fitter in a shorter amount of time. But what do the experts say about HIIT, and does it work for everyone?

Big bursts of exercise, followed with a brief period of rest, then repeat. That ‘s perhaps the simplest way to explain what endurance training, or what you may know as High Intensity Interval Training. Some coaches and trainers swear by such training, saying that it will help you lose weight faster, get your cardio into your workout faster—in short, it seems like a more efficient way to reach your fitness goals.

But with all the other workouts that you might already have heard off as “essential” to a fitter, healthier you—cardio and strength, to be specific—would you have the time to do all three, or can you just choose to do either of the workouts?


 

What about weekend warriors, or those who don’t have Olympic dreams and simply want to live long, healthy lives? How will we benefit from HIIT?


 

A Big HIIT
First off, HIIT is much like cardio, because it gets your heart rate up and healthy. The difference is in the way they get to the goal. Cardio activities, such as walking, running, dancing—anything that gets your heart going—are usually done at a steady pace, for a substantial amount of time. It does help build endurance and stamina, but in a slow, steady manner.

HIIT gets your heart rate up much faster than traditional cardio exercises. Those bursts of movements and exercises get you pumping right away.

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Interval training isn’t anything new. In fact, athletes all over the world have been doing interval training for at least six decades, with the term “interval training” purportedly coined by Waldemer Gerschler, a German coach who was inspired by the work of Hans Reindell in the 1930s. Reindell was a physiologist who stated that when alternating hard work and recovery, you’re able to positively stimulate the heart, and this effect is beneficial to an athlete’s training.

But how athletes train—which is five to eight times per week, and with a dedicated coach or team and a huge goal to be the best in their sport—is vastly different from non-athletes. What about weekend warriors, or those who don’t have Olympic dreams and simply want to live long, healthy lives? How will we benefit from HIIT?

Recent studies and investigations done in the early 2000 have stated that when “untrained” or “moderately trained” individuals underwent HIIT two to three times a week for a period of two to eight weeks, there was a substantial improvement with their “cardiovascular performance,” meaning, it was good for their heart.

The 80 – 20 Rule
A quick YouTube search will bring about thousands of videos featuring different kinds of HIIT workouts, but they all basically follow the 80-20 rule. According to studies, 80 percent of the training session is done at high intensity, while 20 percent is for recovery. So whether it lasts for 20 minutes or 60 minutes, as long as it follows the 80-20 rule, it will be effective. A study states “Interval training can be performed effectively with numerous combinations of work duration, rest duration, and intensity. We have found that when subjects self-select running speed based on a standard prescription, four-min work duration and two-min recovery duration combine to give the highest physiological response and maintained speed.” (Stephen Seiler and Espen Tønnessen, 2009).

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Research has also shown that when non-athletes train 45 to 60 minutes a day, three to five days a week, it’s too much to handle, making workouts less “intense” as they should be because the body simply isn’t ready for it. Experts agree that around two HIIT sessions per week will give good results without going overboard or stressing the body out.

For first timers, HIIT can be overwhelming for the body to handle all in one go, especially with all the movements that might even cause bodily injury, if you overexert yourself. As with any workout, be truthful with what you can handle, and increase the exercises and duration little by little. Once the body has gotten used to the workouts, avoid the eventual plateau by increasing the duration of your HIIT workout, while still following the 80-20 rule.

One and only?
HIIT isn’t a magic pill that will solve all your fitness problems. Strength training is still essential to your weekly routine. If you’re new to the idea of HIIT, introduce it to your system by doing it once a week, and still doing your usual cardio and strength exercises. Once you’ve gotten the hang of it, increase the duration and intensity of your HIIT, and when you know your body is ready to take it, do HIIT twice a week. You’ll instantly feel the difference!

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