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If heart disease is the leading cause of deaths worldwide, physical inactivity isn’t too far behind, coming in at No. 4 on that dreaded list. According to a study published in the US National Library of Medicine in 2012, a third of the world’s population does not get enough exercise to stay healthy. This despite the fact that the global fitness industry is worth approximately $100 billion.

There have been movements worldwide encouraging people to take up some kind of physical activity as well as the introduction or arrival of several different forms of exercise that have lured more people into leading active lifestyles. The age-old favourites have been walking or running long distance, bodybuilding or even playing a particular sport, but an increasing number of people have taken to mixing low and high-intensity exercises for a more rounded workout.

  1. What is HIIT?
  2. Benefits of HIIT
  3. Equipment required for HIIT
  4. How to do it?
  5. Precautions before doing HIIT

Although a familiar term, High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT is more than what the name suggests. While most people associate high-intensity training to exercising without taking breaks, there is a proverbial method in its madness.

Contrary to popular belief, HIIT is not just one style of a workout, but a collection of intense exercises done over short bursts of time, interspersed with short breaks, or intervals. It is unlike bodybuilding, where you train a muscle group steadily building up intensity or long-distance running where you store your reserves of energy.

In essence, HIIT is cardiovascular exercise done with an energetic twist, enabling you to burn the same amount of calories you would have otherwise burnt over a much longer workout.

A study published in the International Journal of Obesity found HIIT to be extremely effective among its target group of young women, who reported significant reduction in fat overall as well as the stomach and legs, and a reduction in insulin resistance as compared to solid state exercises like running and weight training.

Along with finishing a workout in a significantly lesser amount of time, here are a few benefits of doing HIIT:

  • Along with finishing your workout faster, HIIT also burns 30% more calories, besides allowing for more rest periods as compared to running or cycling.
  • Higher metabolism rates are reported among people doing HIIT, continuing to burn calories until well after you have completed a workout, and much more than running or weightlifting.
  • HIIT boosts fat loss due to the intensity in the exercise, and targets fat loss from the stomach region as well as the fat stored around internal organs.
  • The high-intensity nature of the exercise also stabilises heart rate and blood pressure by boosting oxygen consumption in various muscles in the body.
  • Despite the cardiovascular nature of the routine, HIIT retains muscle mass for those worried about losing their muscles during a weight-loss programme.
  • The various kinds of HIIT workouts mean you don’t need any expensive equipment or a spacious gym to carry out the exercises. They can be done anywhere.
  • Builds aerobic capacity to be able to carry out high-endurance tasks.

Majority of HIIT exercises do not require the use of external or additional equipment, but certain targeted workouts can be done with the use of weights, treadmills, elliptical trainers or even bicycles.

It is, however, recommended to not rush into the more intense workouts in HIIT, and rather build endurance and stamina before jumping to more complex exercise routines.

The basic principle of HIIT remains working hard in short bursts followed by small dozes of rest in between. Rather than building intensity through the work out, you’re expected to go all out during every set or routine of exercise. But remember to do a full round of stretching or warm-up exercises before moving into more intense work.

  • There are multiple exercises that can be incorporated in a HIIT workout. If you’re already used to exercising in the gym or in a park, you can add intervals to your routine and increase the intensity of your exercise. 
  • If you run on a treadmill, for instance, instead of running at a constant pace for 30 minutes, you can increase your speed to the maximum for a burst of 20-40 seconds, and twice that duration for your rest period. As you get more comfortable with the workout, you can increase the workout duration and decrease the interval periods.
  • If you are comfortable doing bodyweight exercises like push-ups and squats, you can increase the intensity of those exercises and add interval periods to boost your strength and stamina at the same time. Those who are used to working out with weights can still turn their routines into exciting HIIT workouts that won’t need more than 20-30 minutes.
  • There have been various methods of interval training introduced by different schools of thought, like Peter Coe’s regimen that saw his son Sebastian Coe win an Olympic gold medal through his methods, while Japanese professor Izumi Tabata introduced his own version of HIIT which was performed on Olympic speedskaters.
  • Tabata training, as it has come to be known since, involves training for short bursts with half the time of rest and repeated several times to achieve the desired results, and is widely employed by physical trainers and practitioners worldwide.

While the benefits of doing HIIT are many, there are a few precautions one should keep in the back of their mind:

  • Do not jump into a severely intense programme. Instead, gradually increase your intensity and build it up.
  • As mentioned above, whether it is running, bodyweight exercises or exercising with weights, take up the workout that you’re most comfortable with and enjoy.
  • Hydration and nutrition are important factors for the best results. No active lifestyle is complete without these.
  • HIIT is not required to be performed every day of the week. Instead, you can do it thrice a week, and mix it up with your regular exercise days.
  • Because it is an intense workout, do check with a doctor if you have any kind of a prior physical condition.

Whether you already lead an active lifestyle or want to be indoctrinated into it, HIIT is a great way to achieve those results, provided you’re not going into it considering it to be a shortcut. Exercises are done with individual strengths and limitations, and HIIT too should be treated as such to avoid or risk injury.

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