If you go to the gym, or hang out with people who do, you’ve probably heard of high intensity interval training, or HIIT. It’s the hottest workout in the country, so it’s about time for me to tell you what I think about it.
“HIIT”ing the Gym – The Benefits of HIIT
HIIT workouts are designed to push you to your maximum intensity, but only for short periods of time. For example, a standard, steady state cardio workout might involve jogging for an hour at a comfortable pace. A similar, HIIT workout might involve doing three sets of burpees, thirty seconds each, with ten seconds of active rest between sets, then doing three sets of sumo squats, then three sets of plank piles, and so on. Like with CrossFit, the idea here is short duration and maximum intensity. It’s important to point out that HIIT isn’t the same as CrossFit — while some CrossFit sessions may qualify as HIIT, most will not because they allow you to rest briefly between sets. In a true HIIT workout, you’re doing light exercise, like jogging, between sets. You’re never standing still.
When done properly, HIIT is an anaerobic exercise, meaning your body runs out of oxygen and starts using emergency glucose and glycogen supplies. Anaerobic exercise is the best type of training for burning fat without losing muscle, so HIIT is a great way to get rid of cellulite without losing your curves. Not only that, but HIIT also has some of the same benefits as traditional cardio. It will lower your resting heart rate, increase your lung capacity, and improve blood vessel health and blood flow.
Because HIIT sessions are so intense, they’re usually shorter than half an hour. This makes it a great workout regimen for someone with kids or a demanding work schedule. It’s also scalable to virtually any fitness regime. If you like HIIT but also like your current program, you can do one HIIT session a week and still get lots of benefits. If you like it better than anything else, you can do it multiple days a week.
If it Ain’t Broke, Don’t Fix it – The Benefits of Steady State
Steady state cardio has been around since before the invention of fire, and will probably still be around a thousand years from now. Steady state cardio focuses on pushing yourself to about 60% of maximum intensity, and maintaining that pace for a long period, usually 45 minutes to an hour. Marathon running is an example of an extreme steady state workout, where people run for 4 to 5 hours.
Steady state cardio is a true aerobic exercise, meaning that your metabolism is burning fat, but you’re at a low enough intensity level that the oxygen you’re breathing is enough to sustain your muscles. Because of this, it ends to have a shorter recovery period than high intensity anaerobic workouts.
Aerobic exercise is good for building heart health, improving circulation, lung capacity and weight loss. Because of short recovery periods, it’s also something you can do seven days a week if you want to.
HIIT vs Steady State Cardio
So, which one is better, HIIT or Steady State? It depends on you and your needs.
HIIT takes less time, and is easier to work into your schedule. On the other hand, because it’s an anaerobic exercise, it produces lactic acid in your muscles, which means a longer recovery period. You’ll need a lighter workout for off days, and steady state cardio can be great for this.
In terms of weight loss, it depends on your body shape and what you’re trying to achieve. HIIT will cause you to lose less weight overall, but will specifically burn fat. Steady state cardio will cause you to lose more weight, but a lot of that weight could be healthy muscle. HIIT also lowers your insulin resistance and blood glucose levels more than steady state, according to an NIH study. This means that you’ll see better results from HIIT on off days.
For overall cardiovascular health, both programs have their upsides. Both HIIT and steady state cardio will lower your resting heart rate and overall body weight, but steady state is slightly better at those things. On the other hand, while both programs will improve circulation and lung capacity, HIIT is slightly better in these areas.
HIIT or Miss?
There’s nothing wrong with steady state cardio. It burns fat, improves your cardiovascular health, and it’s something you can do on your first day at the gym, with no training. Since it’s less intense than most other workouts, you can even do it on off days.
That said, HIIT is an awesome way to put some extra punch in your workout. By working one, two, or three HIIT sessions into your weekly routine, you can continue to burn fat while building muscle, and still get the cardiovascular benefits of traditional cardio. So fill up that water bottle, throw on some comfortable clothes, and give it a try. You’ll be exhausted afterwards, but you’ll feel fantastic.
See you in the gym!