How You Can Benefit from High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

Group performing high-intensity interval training in a cycling spin class.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a popular way to burn fat quickly. You can use HIIT at your gym or training center to increase your endurance. If you’re an athlete, HIIT can also improve your performance in sports where intensity varies constantly, for example, boxing, mixed martial arts, soccer, basketball, wrestling, etc. In these sports, you must be able to repeat short bursts of maximal effort with low-intensity recovery periods.

You can apply HIIT to all different types of fitness training, such as cardio (bike, stair stepper, treadmill, etc.) or weightlifting. When you apply HIIT to weightlifting, you can focus on individual weight training exercises such as squatting.

3 Research-Based Benefits of HIIT

There is definitely enough evidence today that HIIT is superior to steady-state exercise if you want to lose fat and increase your endurance.

1. HIIT Increases Your Endurance

Several HIIT studies show that you can get a very intense workout by performing high-intensity cardio intervals with very short rests. This maximally stresses both your aerobic and anaerobic systems. Intervals with longer rest periods don’t stress both your anaerobic and aerobic energy systems as much. So, with HIIT, you can do more work before you become fatigued. Longer rests between the HIIT intervals are more effective for anaerobic recovery training, since your body can learn to buffer the acidosis and mobilize the anaerobic enzymes during the rest period.

2. HIIT Increases Your Fat Loss

Without question, HIIT is one of the most effective means available for you to rapidly lose body fat and improve your cardiovascular conditioning. Not only do you burn many more calories while you’re performing HIIT, but you also stimulate your metabolism to a far greater degree than you do with low- to moderate-intensity training, which most people still believe is best for fat loss. (1,2,3,4,5,6)

3. HIIT Raises Your Metabolic Rate

HIIT burns a larger number of total calories than low-intensity exercise. The more calories you burn, the more fat you’ll lose. While engaging in HIIT, the majority of the calories you burn will come after you’ve finished your workout. HIIT works because it increases your body’s metabolic rate. A faster metabolism helps you burn more calories throughout the day. (1)

HIIT vs Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS) Cardio

In this video, Thomas DeLauer gives a good perspective on how to use HIIT to improve your fitness, and when you should do traditional cardio.

Cardio Exercise: HIIT vs. LISS- Which Form is Most Effective- Thomas DeLauer

Signs that You can Benefit from HIIT

You can benefit from HIIT if you want to:

  • minimize your fat gain during a bulking phase
  • burn more calories
  • speed up your basal metabolic rate (BMR)
  • increase your aerobic endurance
  • improve your anaerobic endurance
  • break a performance plateau (for example, at the gym)

What to Know Before You Start HIIT

You can use HIIT with a few different goals in mind. You can design your HIIT program to focus on fat loss, strength building, improving aerobic and anaerobic endurance, or even a combination of each. Of course, if your focus it to use HIIT to lose fat, then you must also stick to a diet that will help you preserve muscle and lose fat.

You can perform HIIT on almost any cardiovascular machine (including the treadmill, stair machine, stationary bike, elliptical trainer, etc.). You can also use HIIT with almost any type of cardiovascular exercise (such as cycling, running, swimming, etc.).

7 General HIIT Guidelines

  • Get medically cleared. HIIT is not for beginner exercisers or people with cardiovascular problems or risk factors. Before starting any HIIT program, you should get clearance from your physician.
  • Start gradually. Because HIIT is physically demanding, it’s essential that you gradually build up your training program so you don’t overtrain or hurt yourself. Before starting any HIIT program, you should be able to exercise for at least 20-30 minutes at 70-85% of your estimated maximum heart rate without exhausting yourself or encountering any problems.
  • Warm up and cool down. Always warm up and cool down for at least five minutes before and after each HIIT session. This will reduce your risk for injuries.
  • Feel the burn. Work as hard as you can during the high-intensity intervals of the HIIT routine, until you feel a burning sensation in your muscles. The burn is from lactic acid and indicates that you have entered the anaerobic zone. This phase of the HIIT routine is important for building endurance and burning fat.
  • Keep the high-intensity portion limited to 1 to 3 minutes. Tests show that elite athletes can only sustain maximum intensity exercise for three to five minutes before they have to slow down and recover, so don’t expect to work longer than that. If you try, you are sure to overtrain and diminish optimal results.
  • Timing IS everything. Full recovery takes about four minutes for everyone, but you can shorten the recovery intervals if your high-intensity intervals are also shorter and don’t completely exhaust your anaerobic energy system. If your heart rate doesn’t drop back down to about 70% of your max during recovery intervals, then you may need to shorten your work intervals and lengthen your recovery intervals.
  • Stop if you feel pain. If you experience any chest pain or breathing difficulties during your HIIT workout, cool down immediately. Don’t just stop, because blood can pool in your extremities and make you feel faint or lightheaded.

Drawbacks to Your HIIT Workout

Like with any workout approach, there are positives and negatives involved. HIIT is intense, hence the name “High-Intensity” Interval Training. Because HIIT is an advanced technique, it is possible that using the technique too often and without adequate rest and recovery time could result in overtraining.

HIIT can Increase Your Risk of Injury

There are several reasons that HIIT can increase your risk of injury. You will have a higher risk of becoming injured if you are injury prone and/or overweight. Because the workout pace is very intense, one wrong move could cause serious harm to your muscles, tendons, or bones.

HIIT can Decrease Your Strength Development

When using HIIT for weight training, because it is so intense, you will likely encounter muscle failure much sooner than with lower-intensity exercise. While HIIT builds endurance and stimulates different muscle fibers and muscle hypertrophy, it does result in a sacrifice in strength. Additionally, if you use HIIT too often and your body does not get adequate rest to fully repair, you will tire out and your future strength training sessions will suffer.

Specific HIIT Routines

For specific examples of how to use HIIT to burn fat and quickly increase your endurance click here.

What exercises do you prefer to do as HIIT (i.e. cycling, running, rowing or something else)?

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How You Can Benefit from High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

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