High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has numerous benefits. It’s no surprise that high-intensity training has ranked as one of the top fitness trends worldwide for the past five years. HIIT is an incredibly powerful tool that gives you back significantly more in health and fitness benefits than the effort required.
Unfortunately, either due to a dislike of exercise or a mental block, most people neglect the most valuable tool available: Intensity.
What does it mean to incorporate intensity into your training?
Intensity refers to the workload used during training.
The most effective way to incorporate high-intensity work loads into training is to use an interval format in which you perform heavy bouts of work interspersed with rest.
For weight training, intensity refers to the weight lifted during the exercise. It is expressed as a percentage of your 1 rep max (known as 1RM), which is the maximal amount you can lift for one repetition. For most purposes, higher intensity training (HIT) is anything over 80 percent of maximal.
When it comes to cardio exercise, training at a high-intensity means you are doing intervals in which you exert a near maximal effort for a set period of time alternated with rest.
Active rest is recommended because high-intensity efforts produce significant metabolic waste. Lactate and hydrogen ions make your muscles burn, and active recovery helps to remove those byproducts so that you can perform another high-intensity bout.
Ten Benefits Of HIIT Training
Over the past ten years, thousands of studies have revealed a slew of health and body composition benefits of HIIT. Not only is high-intensity training effective, but it’s fast and varied, yielding results in less time than and with more novelty (less boredom) than conventional modes of exercise. Check it out:
#1: Protect Your Metabolism Against Diabetes & Insulin Resistance
The surging rates of obesity, diabetes, and metabolic health problems have led science to explode with studies into the benefits of HIIT. Working muscle requires a massive amount of energy, while simultaneously sensitizing tissues to bind with insulin. Training with high-intensities is especially effective because it taps into both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, requiring the body to burn both fat (during rest periods) and carbs (during work bouts).
As you get stronger and lean tissue grows larger, insulin receptor sites also increase, and your metabolism improves. This is a game changer for many people who suffer from metabolic inflexibility due to the combination of sedentary lifestyles and diets high in refined foods.
#2: Raise Metabolic Rate For Easier Weight Management & Fat Loss
The number one reason for the surge in popularity of HIIT over the past decade is due to its benefit as a fat loss tool. There are several ways HIIT promotes weight management: First, the intense work bouts put the body in oxygen debt, which raises energy expenditure during the post-workout recovery period so that people burn more calories.
Second, HIIT builds lean mass, increasing your body’s resting metabolic rate so that you burn more calories over the course of the day.
Finally, HIIT raises levels of fat burning hormones like growth hormone, while helping to reset metabolic health with greater insulin sensitivity and metabolic flexibility.
As helpful as HIIT can be for weight management, it will have little effect if you don’t pay careful attention to what and how much you are eating. Its impossible to out-train a bad diet, no matter how intense your workouts are.
#3: Improve Muscle Mass & Bone Strength
If getting toned or putting on muscle are a goal, HIIT is the way to go because it stimulates protein synthesis. Weight training with high intensities is especially effective, targeting parts of the muscle that remain untapped unless you stimulate them with heavy loads. Interval workouts that use resistance, such as a resisted bike, hill or stair sprints, or pushing a weight sled are other ways to maximize muscle and lean tissue benefits.
#4: Increase Mood, Self-Confidence & Well Being
Overcoming physical challenges is a fantastic way to build self-confidence and it also pays off by raising mood and sense of well-being by improving brain chemistry.
High-intensity efforts raise body temperature, which has a mood boosting effect. HIIT also triggers release of feel-good, endorphins that convey a sense of euphoria and overall well-being. The body’s stress response is enhanced, allowing for the adrenal glands that release cortisol to become more responsive when your fight-or-flight system is revved up.
#5: Increase Strength & Coordination
An important principle of exercise science is that muscles have motor units that are recruited sequentially, depending on the degree of overload they experience.
If you only train low intensities, lifting light weights or doing slow cardio, you never tap into the higher threshold parts of the muscle. Over time, your strength and coordination deteriorate.
HIIT is the perfect solution, overloading those harder to reach motor units and maintain your ability to move quickly.
#6: Improve Blood Pressure & Heart Function
It was previously believed that low-intensity aerobic exercise was necessary to protect the heart. More recent research shows HIIT is often more effective.
For example, one study in overweight women showed increased stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped from the heart with each beat) and lower heart rate after 4 weeks of sprint cycle training compared to low-intensity exercise. A similar 2008 study showed greater flexibility of the blood vessels and less chronic inflammation that damages heart function.
#7: Improve Hormone Balance For Better Libido & Reproductive Health
HIIT benefits hormone release, raising testosterone for a powerful impact on libido and reproductive health. In addition, HIIT lowers inflammation that affects reproductive organs, improving the health of male sperm and the female egg. HIIT has also been shown to help balance female hormones, resulting in fewer symptoms of PMS and menopause.
#8: Protect The Brain
HIIT has powerful benefits for the brain. Higher training intensities lead to greater improvements in neuromuscular function, strengthening the connection between the brain and the muscle. HIIT raises levels of a protein called brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) that protects the brain from plaques and the related degeneration that leads to Alzheimer’s.
#9: Improve Athleticism & Work Capacity
While long training runs are necessary if you’re going to run a marathon, most of us don’t require that degree of endurance. You can get equal or greater endurance benefits from HIIT exercise that typically takes half the time of long, slow, steady state workouts. This is because repeated intervals at a high intensity lead to the following adaptions:
Stimulating mitochondria—the energy powerhouses that keep us invigorated and help slow the aging process.
Requiring the body to use energy more efficiently by tapping into body fat, thereby preserving energy stores in the muscle and prolonging work capacity.
Producing a more responsive central nervous system so that you feel more energized.
#10: Save Time While Building Mental Toughness
The beauty of HIIT is that best results come from a short total training time. You can’t keep up the level of effort necessary for much longer than 20 minutes even when active rest periods are included. Of course HIIT is physically challenging but this shouldn’t deter you. Studies show that people tend to enjoy HIIT as much or more than lower intensity workouts, likely due to the fact that they know their efforts will pay off.
Additionally, the fact that they are setting a challenge increases feelings of satisfaction and fulfillment. You accomplish something not many other people can do, while protecting your health and well-being for years to come.
How To Get Started:
Getting started with HIT takes some planning. Here are several articles to get you started.
There are five tips for designing successful HIIT workouts for fat loss.
This article covers how to design sprint workouts with HIIT, including a sample of popular workouts.