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HIIT: Not only for athletes

Every decade has its trends, whether it is fashion, cars, or food; and the same applies to exercise. As for our day and time, the ongoing exercise craze is HIIT: High-Intensity Interval training. A workout style with incredible health benefits that researchers have been studying since 2004. And if you think HIIT is just for a specific segment of people, those training for an athletic event or trying to reach a weight loss target, then think again.

What is HIIT?

High-Intensity Interval Training is a form of exercise characterized by intermittent periods of heavy, all-out work (“high intensity”) coupled with low-intensity active recovery periods. In the fitness world, HIIT is considered as one of the most efficient methods for improving cardio fitness and metabolic function. If it sounds tough, that’s because it is. But HIIT isn’t just for top athletes anymore; research showed that HIIT has impressive effects on signs of general health and wellness. And while the idea alone of pushing yourself to your physical limit can seem tiring for some people, there’s a positive side to the deal: it requires very little of your time. According to a study published in 2014, performing a one minute HIIT workout three times a week for 18 weeks improved markers of heart health like VO2 max, insulin sensitivity as well as systolic blood pressure.

Bottom line: sparing a few minutes of your time can be an opportunity for you to improve your long-term health. So, how does HIIT exactly affect your physiology and overall health?  

HIIT benefits

Increases low folate
Increases low testosterone
Improves lipid biomarkers
Reduces liver enzymes

HIIT workouts to try

There are various styles of HIIT practiced all over the world. Tabata, named after the researcher that founded the method, is a type of HIIT where you perform repeated rounds of 20 seconds of work paired with 10 seconds of rest for eight rounds; a total of four minutes. The studies made by Tabata and his research group have concluded that these four minutes are as beneficial for heart health as an hour of steady-state exercise such as running. Other effective HIIT patterns include:

30-sec on, 10-sec off for 6 rounds Ascending intervals starting with 20-sec for five rounds up to 60-sec of work, with 10-sec rests in between
Descending intervals of the same nature, starting at 60-sec
Push-push pause: 30-sec of work with 10-sec of all-out effort, followed by a 10-sec break for 4 rounds
Gladiator-style: 90-sec of work paired with 45-sec breaks for 5 rounds

If you like to cross training, try:

Alternating 20-sec rounds of high knees and tuck jumps with breaks for 8 rounds
30 sec of squat jumps, 10-sec squat hold, 10-sec rest for 4 rounds
Punching a bag for 20, 30, 40, 50, and 60-sec with 10-sec rests in between

If you like to run, try:

Sprinting for 30-sec, jogging for 60 for 10 rounds
Sprinting up a hill and walking down for 8 rounds

If you like to swim, try:

Sprinting 1 length, active recovery 1 length for 4 laps
Sprinting 30-sec, resting 30-sec for 2 laps

If you like to bike, try:

Sprinting for 20-sec, resting for 10-sec for 2 miles
Sprinting the space between 3 telephone poles, resting for 5 lengths for 10 minutes

The Takeaway

If you’re intimidated by the intensity of HIIT, start with fewer rounds at 100% effort rather than doing all the rounds at a weaker effort. This will help adapt your body to the intensity and build strength. If you have a fitness target or a weight loss target that you’re trying to achieve, HIIT is definitely an option to consider; but this type of training isn’t only for people aiming to reach a goal. You can incorporate HIIT into your workout 1-3 times per week in order to build a strong body and improve your heart health.

Christelle Bedrossian
Beirut, Lebanon


Author Info

Dietitian Christelle Bedrossian