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High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, may be a new idea to you. You may think the surge in popularity is a result from a recent invention or innovation, but the concepts behind HIIT have actually been around for more than 100 years. We’re going to take a look at how HIIT is different from the more traditional variations of aerobic activity, the benefits you might enjoy from this type of training, and determine if it is the right course of physical exercise for you.

What is it?

High Intensity Interval Training is the combination of short periods of intense activity and short periods of rest, creating a cycle of burst then recover movement. The Health and Fitness Association traces one of the earliest uses of this kind of training to 1912, when an Olympic distance runner from Finland, Hannes Kolehmainen, used the technique during his training regimen. A typical HIIT cycle might include 45 seconds of sprinting, followed by 60 seconds of walking, repeated for a total exercise time of thirty minutes. This can be compared to a steadier, more traditional cardio workout that prescribes 60 minutes of continual exercise at a more moderate pace. HIIT can often save time when compared to traditional forms of workout, but are there better benefits?

The Answer is Yes.

. According to a study completed in New South Wales, Australia, the benefits of aerobic exercise are both achieved and improved upon with HIIT. This study found patients who were prescribed an HIIT program responded with better compliance, better results, and that the protocol is appropriate for those who are currently healthy and those looking to get fit. It was noted that some exercise participants who want to start an HIIT regimen should receive instruction in the technique; HIIT can pose challenges and should be understood completely before beginning.

Why is this better?

Every treadmill in every gym in the country shows a “fat burning” zone at around 60% of your maximum heart rate. We’ve been told for years that our bodies burn the most fat at that level of exertion. Turns out, that’s not exactly true. While working at that exertion level will optimize the ratio of fat to glycogen your body burns for energy, intense periods of peak exertion actually demand your body burn more energy, providing a greater total fat burn than more moderate exercise. So, you can burn more of that fat in potentially less time.

US News and World Report shared evidence that this kind of training can also improve maximum aerobic capacity. Not only are you burning more fat, you’re also getting your lungs in better shape. The rest/activity cycle lets you push your cardiovascular system, which answers by getting stronger.

Pro Tip: Your aerobic capacity is also known as V02Max, which is a quantifiable number that rates your body’s ability to consume oxygen and convert it to energy. If you’d like to know your VO2Max number, it will involve being hooked up to a machine that will measure the oxygen and carbon dioxide in your inhalations and exhalations while you perform increasingly difficult exercise. You essentially run on an inclined treadmill while breathing into a mask, and should you so desire, HIIT will help you do it better.

There is a final benefit to HIIT we haven’t discussed, although it plays a factor in the overall fat loss most proponents achieve. Some call it the after burn effect. The more clinical name is Excessive Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption or EPOC. It’s not a measure of how much fat you burn while you exercise, it’s the additional fat and calories your body continues to burn long after you’re done. AskMen credits the chemical processes your body undergoes during recovery for this effect. One of these is the need to replenish muscle glycogen used during exercise. If you’ve ever continued to sweat long after you’ve finished a workout, you likely have some idea what this effect is all about.

For anyone who’s considering HIIT, we’d suggest you talk to your doctor or exercise trainer, then jump on it! The benefits of this type of training are so fantastic that we can’t imagine why anyone wouldn’t want to give it a shot. You spend less time exercising, burn more fat, build muscle, and improve your cardiovascular health. It’s been studied, tested and confirmed by scientists from Australia all the way up to Canada. And while it does take a little instruction to get started, once you kick it off, you’ll find yourself looking and feeling better, spending less time getting that way, and improving your overall health. Pity it took a century to catch on.

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About the Author:

Gary Hamilton is president and founder of InteliChart, a health information technology company connecting healthcare organizations, providers, patients, and their communities through integrated solutions. Connect with InteliChart on Twitter and Facebook.

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