Interval training has been utilized by athletic training programs for years, often due to the speed and bursts of movement required by team and individual sports, from basketball players to sprinters.
Until recently, many people weren't familiar with the concept - but with the popularization of the 7-Minute Workout and other high-intensity workouts that follow specific timing, you can't open a fitness magazine without reading about the latest routine that promises muscle-building, fat-burning results in a period of time that is barely enough time to walk from your desk to your car.
While some may sound too good to be true - when done correctly, high-intensity interval training is a proven workout, with health benefits that are backed by research.
What You Should Know Before You Get Started
High-intensity interval training isn't just for athletes - but if you're new to exercise programs, or are thinking about substantially increasing your activity level, first answer these quick questions:
- Has your doctor ever said that you have a heart condition or that you should participate in physical activity only as recommended by a doctor?
- Do you feel pain in your chest during physical activity?
- In the past month, have you had chest pain when you were not doing physical activity?
- Do you lose your balance from dizziness? Do you ever lose consciousness?
- Do you have a bone or joint problem that could be made worse by a change in your physical activity?
- Is your doctor currently prescribing drugs for your blood pressure or a heart condition?
- Do you know of any reason you should not participate in physical activity?
Answer "yes" to one or more? Over 40 and recently inactive? Concerned about your health in general? If you fit any of these three categories, you should consult a physician before starting your new fitness program. If you're not sure where to begin - consult a trained fitness professional who can help determine the right program for you.
Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training
One of the main benefits of HIIT is adaptability - unlike many more specialized workouts, it can easily be modified for all fitness levels, as well as special conditions including diabetes and overweight populations. And, HIIT programs can be built around many exercise modes, from biking, to swimming, to group exercise classes.
Fitness-wise, because of their vigorous nature, HIIT workouts burn more calories after a session is over than other traditional workouts. Studies have shown that HIIT workouts also improve:
- aerobic and anaerobic fitness
- blood pressure
- cardiovascular health
- insulin sensitivity
- cholesterol profiles
- abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass.
Developing an HIIT Exercise Program
Four factors are considered in developing an HIIT Exercise Program: the duration, frequency, and intensity of the workout intervals, and the length of recovery intervals. High-intensity workouts are generally considered to be 80% or more of your maximum intensity - enough to make carrying on a conversation difficult. Recovery intervals are generally at 40-50% of maximum intensity - low enough to feel comfortable.
Duration and frequency can vary based on the workout itself. For example, a 1:1 ratio workout would match 4-minutes of workout interval with a 4-minute recovery interval. Other workouts may involve 30 seconds of maximum-level intensity, followed by 4 to 4.5 minutes of recovery - repeating this cycle 3 to 5 times. There is even a well-researched workout made up of 8 second work and 12 second rest intervals for 20 minutes!
Is High-Intensity Interval Training Safe?
To reduce your risk of injury, it's important to establish exercise form, muscle strength, and range of motion before starting an HIIT program. And - the intensity of the workout should be modified to an individual's own preferred challenging level. Don't focus on keeping up with others - find the personal level of training that's optimal for you or your client instead.
Since you'll be pushing your body to its maximum level, build a warm-up and cool down into your training by using a moderate activity level to prepare your muscles and cardiovascular system for high-intensity activity.
Because HIIT workouts are more intense than steady-state workouts, a longer recovery period is often needed. Start with one HIIT workout per week, adding a second when you are ready for an additional challenge.
Interested in learning more about personal training? Check out ACSM's Certified Personal Trainer certification, and sign up for our free certification resource guide.