High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is the number one way to get fit in time for your vacation… and it takes just seven minutes!
Planning a getaway soon? Chances are, you’ll want to look your best in your breezy summer dresses and swimsuits. But with your flight drawing nearer soon, you may find yourself lacking time to hit the gym if you’ve not been consistent with working out.
Since the number one reason people don’t exercise is lack of time, the idea of fast workouts is super appealing. Known as high-intensity interval training (HIIT), these fast workouts involve short bursts of very hard exercise interspersed with rest periods. This means working at least an effort of eight out of 10.
This extreme effort has very powerful effects on the body. “The four major benefits are increased aerobic fitness, decreased insulin resistance, decreased visceral fat (the type that collects around your middle) and increased muscle mass in the legs and trunk,” says Professor Stephen Boutcher from the University of New South Wales. “HIIT produces these effects because it creates a greater stimulus in the body than normal aerobic exercise; for example, generating higher levels of fat release and fat-burning hormones.” Sounds great, doesn’t it – but what do you need to know if you’re going to try it?
It’s Short, But Not That Short
There are workouts out there that see you just exercising hard for two minutes a session, but that doesn’t mean that’s all you’re doing. The key word in this workout style is interval – that means you alternate a few short sessions of very hard exercise with longer, slower recovery periods so the workouts still take 10 to 30 minutes after you warm-up and cool-down.
Exactly how long you work out for depends on what ‘protocol’ you use. There are lots of different HIIT workouts to choose from – doing intervals on an exercise bike or rowing machine are good options, or you could alternate between gentle jogging and sprinting.
The main thing is to get your heart rate up during the ‘hard work’ phase. Here are three shown to give results.
60 sets of alternating eight seconds of fast cycling, and 12 secs of slow.
Total exercise time: 20 mins
Four sets of 30 secs hard work, with four x four-min recovery periods between.
Total exercise time: 18 mins
THE SHORT BURST
Three sets of 20 secs with a two-min recovery time between them.
Total exercise time: 7 mins
The Perfect Timing Isn’t Yet Known
“There’s no evidence right now for any of the variations being superior,” says Professor David Bishop from Victoria University. “But the maximum intensity element is key.” So it doesn’t matter if you do eight seconds or 30 seconds, as long as you can keep working as hard as possible during your fast bursts – longer isn’t better if you can’t keep it up.
Choose Your Workout Carefully
Since HIIT became popular there has been a rise in injuries when people try to use it with unsuitable moves or machines. Most studies on HIIT use exercise bikes that allow you to speed up and slow down safely. Rowing machines can work, but treadmills can be risky as you have to jump on and off at high speed.
HIIT classes can also be tricky. “You should pick movements that are easy to do quickly and where little can go wrong if you do them at speed,” says Jack Zuvelek from The Body Consultants gym. “Squats, push-ups, sprints, ball slams where you pick up and slam down a weighted ball or rope slams with battle ropes are all good.”
You Have To Work Hard
“People think that just because they are puffing they are doing HIIT – that’s not the case,” says Jack. Remember, you need to achieve at least eight out of 10 for effort each interval. There’s no cheating, or you won’t get results. It can help to join a group session as we tend to push ourselves harder with others.
It Should Feel Like Fun
That was the overwhelming feeling from a trial Professor Boutcher recently conducted. “We just finished working with 40 women in their mid-50s, asking them to cycle at 120 revolutions per minute for 20 minutes, eight seconds fast; 12 seconds slow, three times a week. They found the sprinting to be enjoyable and vigorous,” he says. However, 30-second intervals can be hard to sustain. Try visualising something positive like muscles building or fat actually burning away – you’ll feel less discomfort when you connect a positive outcome to it.
Make Sure You’re Ready
“Generally, you should be able to exercise at 65 to 75 per cent of your maximum heart rate for at least 30 minutes before you try HIIT,” says personal trainer Ali Cavill. “You should also get a doctor’s clearance, especially if you have heart disease, high blood pressure, arthritis or any other health problems.”
Hint: It Doesn’t Work For Everything
HIIT training may not be the best choice if you’ve got a lot of weight to lose. A University of Sydney study found cycling moderately for 45 minutes three times a week produced greater fat loss in overweight women than HIIT. Also, depending on the moves you use, you might not build much upper body muscle. “My clients get the best results combining two HIIT sessions a week with two strength training ones,” says trainer Jack Zuvelek from The Body Consultants gym.