5 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT workouts are easy to do at home and get your heart pumping.
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HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, has gained popularity in recent years due to its health benefits and short duration time. People with busy lifestyles can get in and out of a HIIT studio in 30 minutes, yet achieve benefits that are equal to or greater than the benefits achieved during intense, longer-duration workouts.

What Is HIIT?

Interval training combines short, high-intensity bursts of speed or intensity (from 10 seconds to 3 minutes) interspersed with slow recovery phases. Additionally, the fast and slow intervals are alternated throughout the workout.

For example, a HIIT treadmill workout might involve doing a 10-minute warm-up followed by alternating 1 minute of running with 2 minutes of walking roughly five times, then ending with a 5-minute cool down.

Interval training can either be specific and structured, like the workout above, or it can be casual and unstructured. In the case of the later, one interval could involve 30 seconds of high-intensity effort followed by 2 minutes of low-intensity exercise and the next be 2 minutes of high-intensity effort followed by 3 minutes of recovery.

An added bonus is that HIIT can be performed practically anywhere. While many HIIT gyms are outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, you can do a hardcore HIIT routine at home or while traveling with nothing more than a jump rope and some ankle and wrist weights.

HIIT Benefits

Every type of training has its own advantages. What are the benefits of HIIT?

Increased Calorie Burn

When it comes to fat burning during exercise, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can burn more calories than longer aerobic workouts that require you to maintain the same intensity for the duration of the session. This makes it good for weight loss.

Does this mean that you should avoid steady-state workouts? Not at all. Longer, low-intensity sessions are good for building endurance. They're also good for active recovery days when you want a less intense workout. Mixing HIIT and steady-state sessions creates a well-rounded exercise program.

HIIT can also increase calorie burn by increasing your basal metabolic rate (BMR). Your BMR is the number of calories you burn just to survive. This includes calories burned to circulate the blood through your body, digest the food you eat, and to breath in and out.

Improved Cardiovascular Health

Research has connected HIIT with improvements in resting blood pressure and heart rate reserve. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) explains that high-intensity exercise helps improve cardiovascular health by taking you in and out of an anaerobic state.

An anaerobic state is the state during which your heart is pushed to 80% of its maximum heart rate (MHR,) or sometimes even higher. By contrast, during moderate-intensity exercise, you keep your heart rate between 50% and 70%.

By way of example, a 154-pound adult walking at a pace of 3 miles per hour burns roughly 235 calories in 60 minutes. That same person, running at 8 miles per hour for 20 minutes, will burn 320 calories. The same principles apply to HIIT.

Reduced Risk of Diabetes

Studies show that HIIT helps reduce a person's risk of diabetes, mainly by preventing blood sugar lows (hypoglycemia). These same studies report that it also helps prevent hypoglycemic episodes in people who have been diagnosed with diabetes.

Since the exercise sessions are short, this type of exercise is even more helpful to those with diabetes as longer sessions carry health risks, such as cardiac issues or by causing their blood sugar to drop or spike. HIIT enables them to enjoy the benefits of physical exercise without as much risk to their health and wellness.

Greater Muscle Strength and Endurance

Another HIIT benefit is that it helps you build muscle strength and endurance. Strong muscles makes it easier to carry heavy grocery bags and pick up growing children or grandchildren. Endurance helps when performing activities for longer periods of time, such as mowing the yard.

HIIT is even more effective when combined with a strength training routine. One study found that HIIT and strength training together provided increases in strength when doing a squat, press, and deadlift, while also increasing squat endurance.

Better Sports Performance

If you play sports, developing a HIIT workout routine may improve your game. One study found that doing HIIT two to three times per week for a total of six weeks is enough to start seeing improvements in athletic performance.

A different study noted that HIIT is better for improving endurance-based performance than long slow distance training. That makes HIIT beneficial to your endurance training program, better preparing you to run marathons, do triathlons, or engage in other long events.

Considerations

Despite its known benefits, HIIT is not for everyone. It is not recommended for:

  • Novice exercisers: This is due to the extreme physical demands it places on the body. If not properly conditioned, the rapid change in intensity and speed can lead to injuries in those who are not agile, flexible, or strong enough to keep the pace.
  • People with joint issues: Those with joint issues should be cautious when performing plyometric (jumping or explosive) exercises. Plyometrics are often included in HIIT workouts because they require quick bursts of energy. But these movements can be hard on the joints.
  • People who are pregnant: The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists states that short bouts (under 45 minutes) of high-intensity exercise are generally safe for women who regularly exercised prior to becoming pregnant whereas those who were more sedentary should start at a lower intensity (and with a doctor's approval).

To achieve the fitness level needed for HIIT training, you should embark on no less than 12 weeks of consistent, moderate-intensity exercise, including strength, cardio, and core/flexibility training. (Moderate intensity is broadly defined as maintaining 50% of 70% of your maximum heart rate during a workout.)

Even experienced athletes are placed under extreme physical stress during a HIIT class. Because of this, HIIT should be used sparingly, interspersing HIIT days with slower endurance training and recovery daily.

If used daily, HIIT can cause extreme joint and muscle inflammation, increasing rather than decreasing the risk of injury. Even if your HIIT session is short, you will need to take time to properly warm up, such as with squats, jumping jacks, or lunges.

HIIT Workout Routines

If you exercise regularly at a moderate intensity, now is the time to incorporate high-intensity workouts in your weekly routine. Before doing so, check with your doctor to ensure there are no health conditions that can place you in harm's way.

The type of HIIT program you choose depends on your ultimate goals. If you are training for mountaineering or backpacking, you'd be well served to incorporate HIIT with long steady days of hiking. If training for sports that require upper body strength, engage in exercises like pushups or power slams with a battle rope.

Long story short, HIIT workouts can be customized to achieve your short-term goals while providing you the overall toning and strength to benefit your body inside and out.

This is just one example of a good overall HIIT routine you can do at home in less than 25 minutes:

  • Alternating side lunges for 45 seconds
  • Burpees for 45 seconds
  • Butt kicks for 45 second (run in place, lifting your right heel to your right buttock and left foot to your left buttock as fast as you can)
  • Jump rope for 45 seconds
  • Jump squats for 45 seconds (squat, then jump up off the floor)
  • Jumping lunges for 45 seconds (jump into a lunge, alternating one leg forward and then the next)

Repeat the cycle twice, resting for a minute between sets. You can then follow with:

Repeat this cycle twice, resting for a minute between sets. You can then finish with:

  • Forearm plank for 30 seconds
  • Lateral plank walks for 45 seconds (place yourself in a plank position and walk your arms and legs back and forth, crab-like, across the length of your mat)
  • Plank jacks for 45 second (place yourself in a plank position and open and close your legs like a horizontal jumping jack)

Do this final set of exercises only once. Finish with gentle stretches or walking to cool down.

A Word From Verywell

There are many benefits of HIIT, ranging from burning more calories to reducing your risk of some diseases to improved sports performance. However, this type of high-intensity training isn't for everyone. Therefore, it's important to talk to your doctor before starting a HIIT routine.

If it is determined that HIIT is safe for you to do, it may feel difficult at first. However, as your body gains more muscle strength and endurance, it will start to feel easier. You can also start to play around with different interval lengths, such as a 10-20-30 HIIT session or 30-60-90 HIIT training.

The nice thing about HIIT is you can incorporate it into almost any type of exercise routine, and you can do it almost anywhere. It's a versatile form of training, providing a variety of HIIT benefits to those who do it.

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