How are those New Year fitness resolutions going now that we’re firmly in the so-called “dead” of winter? Whether you gave up or are still going strong, you can supercharge (or re-start) your exercise commitment by trying High-Intensity Interval Training (aka HIIT).
If you haven’t experienced HIIT, don’t let the name intimidate you. There’s no actual hitting involved and it can give you a challenging, full-body workout in the time it normally takes to grab lunch. You don’t need to be in great shape or fancy equipment to try it: HIIT is actually one of the simplest workout formats—and when you see how effective and efficient it is, it might become your new favorite way to exercise.
What is HITT
HIIT typically involves short bursts (as few as 20-45 seconds) of your highest effort level in a specific activity, such as biking, running, etc., with brief rest periods (as little as 5-15 seconds) in between. Many group classes or training sessions are just 30-45 minutes. The idea is to maximize your effort in a short span of time, with frequent muscle group changes, and a short recovery period in between. Find classes by an internet search for “HIIT classes near me.” Many gyms offer popular workouts that combine cardio and strength training. HIIT can incorporate almost any type of movement, including jumping jacks, push-ups, high-knee kicks, box jumps, squats, and lunges.
Why Is It Effective?
Interval training is hardly a new concept in the fitness world. Runners have long touted the benefits of interval workouts — repeated bursts of running at full speed, followed by recovery periods of jogging or walking — to improve their speed and endurance.
HIIT training has been shown to improve cardiovascular health, blood pressure, insulin sensitivity, and reduce body fat while increasing muscle mass, according to the American College of Sports Medicine.
When strength training is incorporated into a HIIT workout, there are added benefits to bone health, flexibility, and injury prevention. The American Heart Association recommends strength training at least 2 times per week, pointing to its benefits in building and maintaining bone density, improving energy, and building muscle.
You’ve heard the saying, “use it or lose it.” That applies to your muscles quite literally. As we age, our bone density also starts to deteriorate. By doing weight-bearing exercises (in a HIIT workout or another format), you can build or maintain the strength you need to do everyday things that you love. HIIT makes strength training time-efficient and, dare I say, even fun.
How Do I Get Started?
If you haven’t done much cardio, have been sedentary, or are over age 40, you should speak with your healthcare professional about starting HIIT, or any other intensive exercise regime, to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could put you at risk. Depending on your fitness level and background, it may be helpful to find an expert in HIIT. A licensed trainer at your local gym can be a great place to start.
There are gyms that specialize in HIIT — such as Cross Fit and Orange Theory Fitness— but most gyms have trainers that can offer some ideas on how to incorporate HIIT into your existing exercise routines. There are also group classes designed to provide a HIIT-style workout that can be great for beginners. Don’t be afraid to ask questions, and keep in mind that most places will let you try a class or two free of charge, to see if it’s right for you. Start slow, with no more than one HIIT workout a week and always modify the intensity to your base level of what feels challenging.
I’m Not a Part of a Gym, How Do I DIY?
If you have previous experience with interval training and have a base level of fitness, you may consider trying HIIT at home. There are many streaming services that provide HIIT workout options. Some helpful online resources include the Daily Burn and Fitness Blender Youtube,
It is called “high intensity” for a reason, so you might want to limit HIIT workouts to 1 or max times a week, as it is high stress on the body and recovery time is needed. Stress can be good within limits, so talk with your health care professional about your exercise goals, and consider mixing in a low-intensity activity like walking, swimming, or yoga throughout your week.
Some people exercise with the goal of losing weight, but working out and incorporating more movement into your day can be just as beneficial for your heart health, mental health, and overall well-being. Sometimes we all need a change in routine. So if winter has you feeling stuck or sluggish, consider trying out a HIIT class or workout. It may be just the boost you need.
*Not to be construed as medical advice. Speak with your healthcare professional to rule out any underlying medical conditions that could put you at risk before beginning a new exercise regime.
Dana Merrill has a bachelor’s degree in nutrition and dietetics. She is passionate about holistic wellness, eating fruit, and writing.