HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. It sounds painful, and it can be, but don’t let that put you off! The key principle behind this exercise technique is work harder but for less time. Why? Because the benefits are greater and last longer.
Amongst other reasons, it’s perfect for people who only have a short lunch break and don’t have time to get to the gym and attempt a complete workout. Also perfect for anyone looking to improve their cardiovascular fitness, maintain a high metabolism throughout the day and obliterate calories in a short space of time.
The most widely followed and recognised name behind HIIT training is Tabata. Introduced to us by Dr. Izumi Tabata of Tokyo. Tabata training traditionally consists of periods of exercise lasting just four minutes each. Now this may sound like it’s not long enough to provide any real benefit, particularly because we have been indoctrinated with the idea that steady cardio, for 40-60 minutes, is the optimum workout method. However, thorough scientific research has proven time and again that high-intensity interval training equals a greater training effect. Through various experiments, Dr. Tabata concluded that the crucial element to the Tabata Protocol was the short rest periods in between bursts of intensive activity.
Put simply, the basis of Tabata is to commit to maximum effort for a short space of time. Rest periods between blasts of effort are kept brief, and the pattern is repeated. The idea is to work at 170% of maximal oxygen consumption, or VO2, (where 100% represents using oxygen from your lungs, and anything beyond that capacity represents anaerobic respiration). This in turn generates a prolonged training effect, with your metabolic rate remaining higher for up to 24 hours post-exercise and more calories burnt over your recovery period.
In terms of a unique selling point, you can squeeze in a Tabata workout before work or during your lunch break without any great disruption to your day, and as a result you benefit from a more effective workout than going for a 40-60 minute jog for example. There are, of course, varying benefits of taking the dog for a walk, jogging round the park or spending an hour in the gym, but for ‘value for money’, ‘results for your time’ and ‘prolonged training effect for your efforts’, Tabata cannot be beaten. HIIT is not sport-specific, which means you can integrate this technique into your training, regardless of your reasons for training. There are various articles online which state that Tabata is not useful for long distance running and marathon training. The truth is that improvement of cardiovascular performance can only benefit a marathon runner, and every athlete (regardless of ability) relies on anaerobic respiration in some capacity. If you are in training for a long distance run, you can include Tabata in your regime for a well-rounded training plan.
HIIT is not for everyone. As with any intensive exercise, if you are pregnant, injured, have cardiovascular health problems or generally lead an unhealthy life, then high intensity training is ill-advised. It is important to remember to warm up and stretch efficiently before commencing HIIT training and always focus on your form. Even though you are pushing hard with every fibre of your body, pay attention to performing each exercise accurately and precisely- don’t get lazy when it comes to form, or the likelihood of injury will increase. The most important point to stress here is that health should be your highest priority over fitness. Too many fitness professionals are scared to lose clients by pushing the foundation of good health before fitness. If you do not lead a healthy life with a balanced, nutritional diet, then you can become prone to injury and your post-exercise recovery time will suffer. So remember to eat well and get stuck in!