If you have had any interaction with the fitness world in the last few years, you may have heard the term HIIT thrown around. A lot of people talk about HIIT, but a surprising few can actually answer the question: what does HIIT stand for? In this article, I am going to not only explain what HIIT stands for, but I am also going to help you understand how it works, and why you should (or should not) use it.
HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. This is a form of exercise where you train with maximal effort for a very short duration of time before resting. Then you repeat the exercise again. For example, if you were a 100m sprinter you might perform short shuttle runs. Sprint for 60m at max intensity, then rest for 60 seconds. Then repeat that sprint again, and rest again.
There are different forms of HIIT, one of the most popular is Tabata. This type of training demonstrates HIIT perfectly. What you do is pick an exercise. Usually, it is a bodyweight exercise such as a burpee or push-up. But certain resistance exercises (i.e. kettlebell swings) can also work. You then perform the exercise at maximal intensity for 20 seconds. Yes, that’s right! Just 20 seconds. Then you rest for 10 seconds, before performing another 20 seconds of the exercise. This goes on for 8 intervals, a total of 4 minutes.
But Tabata is just one form of HIIT, you can create your own using similar methods. 30 seconds of work, with 20 seconds rest. 1 minute of work and 2 minutes of rest. You want to keep the ratio similar though. Very short intensity exercise with slightly longer rest. Your effort has to be all out.
That’s where many “HIIT Classes” fall short. They make the exercises too long in duration, and the intensity isn’t high enough. If you’re not working at 85-95% of your max, then it’s not HIIT and you’d be better off following traditional exercise programs.
In a previous article, I discussed the HIIT afterburn effect. The idea that performing HIIT leads to you burning more calories after a workout than you would burn during one. In the article, I pointed out that this point has been overstated quite a bit, and that all exercise provides a similar afterburn effect. However, it is still the case that performing HIIT will lead to a lot of calories being burned.
The benefits of HIIT resemble the benefits of most forms of training. Improved cardiovascular fitness, improved fat loss, minor strength gains for beginners. A study on children even found there to be cognitive benefits associated with HIIT.
The main benefits for the public are practical ones. HIIT can be performed indoors or outdoors, with or without equipment, and sessions can be very short in duration. Making them ideal (in theory) for people with hectic lives. HIIT workouts are particularly popular with subscribers to the laptop lifestyle dream. An intense, focused effort for a short period of time, gaining the same results as low-intensity exercises such as running, walking or jogging.
Personally, I am not a fan of HIIT. Don’t get me wrong, it certainly has its place, and there are many people who benefit from implementing it. However, there are many people who are prescribed HIIT who shouldn’t be anywhere near it!
By its very nature, HIIT is a hardcore, intense form of training that requires a certain baseline level of fitness and mobility. But often, HIIT is used by coaches or class instructors to teach people who have never exercised before. You could sign up to the gym today and join a HIIT class. There are two reasons why doing so would be a bad idea:
The same issue surrounds plyometrics, a really difficult training method that is often given to new gym-goers. Neither plyometrics of HIIT are bad, they’re just not for everyone. I’m tired of seeing this happen. Most people are not fit enough for this form of training. Hell, I’m not currently fit enough!
It is unfair to call HIIT a fad, it is an effective workout tool. But it is overused, and often taught by coaches who don’t understand the risk vs reward ratio. If you are an already fit person then, by all means, start incorporating HIIT into your workouts. But new gym-goers? I’d advise avoiding HIIT for now. At least you can now answer the question “what does HIIT stand for?”.