What is HIIT?

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardio training concept that emphasizes alternating short bursts of extremely high-intensity activity with either a roughly equal rest period, or a slightly extended period of lower-intensity activity.

It’s contrasted with LISS (Low Intensity Steady-State), which is “standard” cardio — long sessions of 30 to 60 minutes on a bike, treadmill, or elliptical machine at a resistance level that your body can handle fairly easily.

So why HIIT? What are the benefits?

If you’re looking to burn fat, you can get the same (or better) results you’d get from extended cardio sessions in a much shorter timeframe. HIIT is all about putting the body in “fight or flight” mode and triggering a long-term anabolic state that keeps the metabolism going to fat reserves for energy long after the workout is over.

The Science Behind HIIT

HIIT theory stems from a 1996 study conducted in Houston, in which participants doing shorter but much more intense cycle workouts burned more calories during a subsequent 24-hour recovery period than those doing a more standard steady-state workout. The explanation for this is pretty simple: the HIIT workout was much harder on the body, putting the metabolism in a sustained state of elevation to repair itself.[1]

Findings like these are very interesting to people who hate running on treadmills, of course. But they’re also very interesting to anyone looking to build muscle, such as bodybuilders who want to incorporate cardio for their health but sometimes have to give the extended sessions short shrift as they might cost them muscle mass.

The groundbreaking Tabata study

High Intensity Interval Training

Effect of the endurance training (ET, experiment 1) and the intermittent
training (IT, experiment 2) on the maximal oxygen uptake; significant increase
from the pretraining value[2]

So interest in this training method developed, and more studies followed. Another 1996 study by Izumi Tabata on Olympic speedskaters confirmed that gains from a relatively short HIIT program could be equal or greater to those of a longer steady-state program.[2]

More recently, Professor Jamie Timmons has become one of the leading proponents of HIIT, conducting a number of group studies as well as training BBC broadcaster (and diabetic) Michael Mosley on the BBC documentary series “Horizon.” Timmons’ studies consistently show improvements in insulin sensitivity, muscle oxidative capacity, and reduction of total body fat in HIIT groups, particularly those that have been sedentary for an extended period of time.[3,4]

How to do HIIT

There are actually a number of popular methods, and it’s really going to boil down to what works best for you in your current state of fitness and what equipment you have available.

The Little Method (Gibala Method)

High Intensity Interval Training on Glucose Levels

High Intensity Interval Training on Glucose Levels

A popular method for beginners and those just getting back into the gym is the Gibala method, developed by Professor Martin Gibala and his team of researchers at Canada’s McMaster University. His method is sometimes called the “Little Method” and has you do 8 to 12 cycles of 60 seconds of very intense exercise followed by 75 seconds of rest.

Too tough? He’s also developed a gentler version intended for those who have been almost completely sedentary for a long period of time, in which 10 cycles are done at a slightly lower intensity (about 80% of max heart rate versus 95% for the standard cycles).

The Tabata Method

Tabata sprints are very popular, and are based upon the Tabata study discussed above.  Teach session consists of just twenty seconds of maximum effort, followed by ten seconds of rest.  You repeat that eight times, which makes for a total of four minutes.

It sounds easy due to the short amount of total time, but it’s far from simple.  However, this makes for a more supplementary exercise than the main exercise itself.  Tabata sprints are quick and worth doing after your workout if you feel you haven’t had a good enough session and need a bit more effort.

The Machine Method

A great method optimized specifically for fat burning is the Machine method, a routine of professional bodybuilder Marc “The Machine” Lobliner. It’s geared for elliptical machines and is best done immediately after your resistance training. The pattern is basically 15 seconds of sprinting, then 45 seconds of lighter cardio, for 10 cycles in total. The sprint should be done at high resistance, the highest at which you’re capable of completing a 15-second sprint. The resistance goes down to a lighter level during the “easy” part of the cycle.

Adapting to your sport


High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) builds better bodies. Which would you rather have? (Image courtesy MMA Forge)

If you’re an athlete, you should apply HIIT to your sport.  For instance, soccer players should be used to sprinting the majority length of the field.  Baseball players can make sprints that are 180 and 270 feet long, simulating doubles and triples.  In the case of shorter sprints, adjustments for shorter rest periods should be made.

Sprint swimmers, on the other hand, are quite used to HIIT: Sets of 50 freestyle sprints (which will last between ~20 and ~35 seconds depending on your speed) at a comfortable interval are all it takes for those of you in the water.  This lends well to the Tabata method, as do the running sprints mentioned above.

With the scientific research shown above, it’s not surprising to see that sprint swimmers and runners have far more aesthetic and attractive physiques than their long-distance counterparts.

So why not HIIT?

Because it’s hard. It’s a hell of a lot harder than climbing on a bike and pedaling at a low intensity for 45 minutes while you catch up on your shows. If you’re working out in a gym, there might also be a sense of embarrassment and inhibition at going all-out doing sprints, but that has mostly diminished in most quality gyms that are privy to these methods.

HIIT can be considered a test of where your commitment to shaping your body is really at. And it’s OK if you’re not quite ready for something like this yet. Everyone goes through that at some point, and the only failure is quitting exercise completely.

The Pyroxamine Edge

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