Why HIIT might work for you

Physiotherapist at Bupa UK
31 March 2016
A smiling female runner resting against a tree

The popularity of HIIT, or high intensity interval training, is on the up. Once only used by sporting professionals, the recent rise of the ‘everyday athlete’ means ordinary people are bringing such methods into their own workout routines. And they’re reaping the benefits!

Here’s a quick overview of HIIT and why it’s worth a try.

What is HIIT?

HIIT refers to any type of exercise involving short bouts of maximal or near maximal sprints, followed by periods of recovery.

Why try HIIT?

One of the main reasons people give for not exercising enough is lack of time. Because HIIT involves short bursts of exercise, if done effectively, it can be highly time efficient. Perfect for those with busy lifestyles, who work long hours or who have children taking up much of their time.

In fact, studies have shown that just a few minutes of high-intensity exercise a week can provide similar health benefits to much longer periods of lower-intensity aerobic exercise, such as jogging. Specific benefits of HIIT include:

  • weight loss
  • improving your fitness levels and exercise performance
  • lowering your blood pressure
  • improving your insulin sensitivity
  • lowering your cholesterol levels
  • reducing your risk of developing chronic diseases, depression and cancer

How do I do HIIT?

HIIT can be performed in all types of exercise, including cycling, running, bodyweight exercises and group classes. This means most people will be able to slot it into their usual workouts.

A typical programme can involve as little as three 30-second sprints on an exercise bike, with three minutes of rest in between (sprint interval training). Or, at the other end of the spectrum, four minutes at a high intensity on a cross trainer, followed by four minutes at a low intensity. It's up to you!

The high intensity work rate should be more than 80 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate, or exercising ‘hard’ to ‘very hard’. The intensity of the recovery interval should be less than 50 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate. This should feel comfortable, in order to help you recover and prepare for your next work interval.

It’s important that the sprints are maximal or near maximal effort in order to drain your muscle energy stores (in the form of glycogen). This stimulates your body to respond better to insulin levels and replenish this lost glycogen from your blood sugar. For people with type 2 diabetes, this increase in insulin sensitivity can help manage their condition.

How often can I do HIIT?

HIIT workouts are very tiring and it’s important that you leave enough time between sessions to allow for effective recovery. Start with one session per week initially, then twice a week after a month or so. Generally, HIIT shouldn’t be performed more than three times a week.

People doing press-ups with weights at the gym

Who can do HIIT?

HIIT can be adapted to suit all ages and fitness levels. Generally, HIIT is very safe when done correctly. However, bouts of intensive exercise can cause short-term spikes in blood pressure. For those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol or heart disease, it’s a good idea to have a check-up with your GP before starting any new exercise method or programme. This also applies if you haven’t exercised in a while.

When starting HIIT, it’s a good idea not to overexert yourself during the sprint bouts to begin with. Build the intensity of the sprints up over the course of a few weeks. Also, if you aren’t used to strenuous exercise, a group HIIT class is a great way of improving your confidence and motivation to get fitter.

Give it a go!

In summary, HIIT is a fantastic, time-efficient way to exercise. It helps build, or maintain, effective cardiovascular fitness levels, as well as having many other health benefits. HIIT is a relatively new craze – but it’s certainly one that’s worth getting involved in!

Do you know how healthy you truly are? Bupa health assessments give you a clear overview of your health. You’ll receive a personalised lifestyle action plan with health goals to reach for a healthier, happier you.

Tony Donegan
Physiotherapist at Bupa UK

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