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HIIT is great for people who have little time or desire for long bouts of cardio exercise. High intensity interval training (HIIT) allows exercisers to train less and get even better results than an hour long cardio session. Physiologically, HIIT provides the same benefits and health gains as steady state cardio. However, steady state cardio still has its place and should never be totally eliminated from your workout regimen in favour of HIIT.

What is HIIT?

High intensity interval training involves alternating between short bursts of intense activity and periods of lower intensity, also known as recovery. The goal of HIIT is to drastically increase the heart rate in intervals over a 15 to 20 minute period of time.

There is no standard formula for HIIT, so every person can perform HIIT according to their level of physical fitness. For example, someone who is unable to run can get in an HIIT workout on an elliptical trainer, bicycle or from swimming.

Benefits of HIIT

HIIT provides several of the physiological and health benefits of a standard cardio workout, and in some instances, HIIT surpasses the benefits of steady state cardio. HIIT is an extremely efficient way to get in a good cardio workout for people who are short on time. An individual can make more progress during a 15-minute HIIT training session than an hour-long run on the treadmill.

HIIT is superior to steady state cardio in regards to burning fat, losing weight and build muscle. HIIT increases your metabolism for up to 24 hours after a workout. Unlike steady state cardio, where the metabolism boost and subsequent fat burning pretty much ends with your workout, your body will continue burning fat for up to 24 hours after an HIIT session.

For people who want to build or preserve muscle, HIIT may be the better choice for your cardio training. Steady state cardio workouts that last too long, longer than 45 minutes, or that are performed too often cancels out muscle gains. Extended and frequent periods of cardio depletes the surplus of calories needed for building muscle mass.

HIIT boosts the body’s lactate threshold and resistance to fatigue in slow-twitch muscle fibres. Whereas the energy, or lactate, in your muscles start to break down after a certain period of time during steady state cardio, this energy never breaks down during HIIT. This allows the body to draw energy solely from fat reserves during HIIT and preserve the energy in your muscles.

Drawbacks of HIIT

With any intense form of exercise, there are always drawbacks. Starting HIIT or any intense form of exercise increases the amount of stress to your muscles and connective tissue, which also increases your risk of injury. As a beginner, it is important to tailor HIIT to your specific abilities and needs.

A significant portion of HIITs magic resides in the rest period after each workout. In order for HIIT to be effective, you must allow your body to recover from each HIIT session. Whether you are new or experienced to interval training, you should never perform HIIT more than two times a week. Anything beyond this frequency is harmful to your health.

In spite of HIITs numerous benefits, it is not safe to rely on for all of your cardio or fitness needs. Performing HIIT for several weeks or months without breaks or cycling weeks on or off can actually lead to health problems. Mixing HIIT, steady state cardio and resistance training is the safest way to avoid injury, over-training and compromising your health.  If you’re current routine just consists of steady state cardio – maybe it’s time to give HIIT a shot to see how it works for you!


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