HIIT (high-intensity interval training) is one of the hottest trends in the fitness industry right now. This type of training involves repeated bouts of high-intensity effort (work) followed by mixed periods of rest intervals. The work intervals usually range from four to 120 seconds at a time and are typically performed at 80-95 percent of a person’s estimated maximal heart rate.
There are numerous benefits to HIIT.
Several studies show that it’s an amazing way to burn a maximum amount of calories in a short period of time; lose abdominal and body fat while maintaining muscle mass; lower cholesterol and improve blood pressure; and bolster anaerobic and aerobic fitness. The amount of calories you burn during the post-exercise period, or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), leads to a greater caloric burn when compared with steady-state cardiovascular training. It also is a convenient way to train–not only will it save you time, but it’s also flexible enough to be modified and performed in numerous ways and environments.
After reading some of these benefits, I bet that many of you would choose HIIT over the more traditional steady-state way of training. You can also find numerous Internet blogs and articles dismissing steady-state cardio, labeling it “ineffective,” a “waste of time” and a “thing of the past.”
Does this mean we should completely abandon steady-state cardio and just perform HIIT instead? Maybe upon further review, you’ll find that a combination of the two types of cardio can serve you best. What many people do not know is that this type of cardio comes at a price. The intensity can leave you extremely tired and sore, so much so that your workouts with weights can suffer. And when you’re not able to lift an efficient amount of weight or commit enough time (sets/reps) per exercise, your muscles will not grow and be sculpted into the shape you were looking for. HIIT does not entirely change your physique and will not appropriately work on areas like maximal strength and muscle hypertrophy (enlargement), so you’ll have to space out your intense cardio sessions to avoid interfering with your resistance training. And unfortunately, not everyone is suited for intense cardio sessions, especially those who have led a primarily sedentary lifestyle or who are at risk for a heart attack. Joints can take a beating as well from exercises such as plyometrics and sprinting and will require time to heal and repair so you can avoid prolonged injury.
Steady-state cardio has been performed for years; with plenty of scientific research to back it up, you can rest assure that it is invaluable to your health. Increasing your time spent on lower-intensity cardio activities can assist your ability to tolerate a higher workload while lifting weights, and you won’t have to take as much time off between sessions thanks to the lighter load or impact on your joints and muscle fibers. And you will still burn plenty of calories!
So what’s the verdict: to HIIT or not to HIIT? As a NASM-CPT, I’d always suggest assessing whether my client is ready for intense cardio sessions and then teaching him or her about a variety of training methods to ensure a well-balanced program. The body adjusts quickly and will hit a plateau if we perform the same activities, so I have found great success with mixing high-intensity and steady-state cardio throughout the week. Both methods can complement each other and help to improve overall health. Balance just might be the key!