8 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (or HIIT)
While you might have heard the word HIIT (pronounced like "hit" a baseball) thrown around in the gym or through your favorite workout app, it's ok if you're still asking yourself but "what does HIIT stand for?"
The answer: High-intensity interval training (or HIIT — p.s. many people say "HIIT training" but that's actually adding an unnecessary second "training" to the acronym). Okay cool, but what is a HIIT workout specifically? It's essentially any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and fixed periods of moderate activity or even complete rest.
For example, a good starter HIIT workout is running as fast as you can for 1 minute and then walking for 2 minutes. Repeat that 3-minute interval five times for a 15-minute, fat-burning workout. It sounds too simple to be effective, but science suggests the workout style is worthwhile. Read on for just some of the amazing advantages you'll get from doing high-intensity interval training.
The Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training
HIIT is the ideal workout for a busy schedule — whether you want to squeeze in a HIIT training workout during your lunch break or to get in shape for a fast-approaching event. Research shows you can achieve more progress in a mere 15 minutes of interval training (done three times a week) than the person jogging on the treadmill for an hour. And according to a 2011 study presented at an American College of Sports Medicine Annual Meeting, just two weeks of high-intensity intervals can improve your aerobic capacity just as much as six to eight weeks of endurance training.
Even if you only have four minutes to spare, you can fit in an effective HIIT workout with the Tabata training method. Tabata is a style of HIIT that calls for 20 seconds of work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8-20 times total. Start with one of these unbelievably quick workouts to start seeing the benefits of HIIT.
Quick Tabata Workouts:
You'll burn more fat.
Not only do you burn more calories during a high-intensity interval training workout than steady-state cardio, but the effect of all that intense exertion kicks your body's repair cycle into hyperdrive. That means you burn more fat and calories in the 24 hours after a HIIT workout than you do after, say, a steady-pace run. So if you're looking to get out of a morning jog with your roommate, just tell them all about this benefit of HIIT. (Here's all the science on exactly how to build muscle and burn fat.)
It will help you build a healthier heart.
Most people aren't used to pushing into the anaerobic threshold (when your body needs to recruit energy stores already available without the assistance of oxygen). But HIIT training asks you to enter this anaerobic zone often as there is limited time for rest. The short bursts or sprints of work require your muscles to burn glucose (energy) anaerobically as there isn't enough time for oxygen to help produce additional ATP (adenosine triphosphate), which is your body's main energy source.
And high-intensity interval training helps your heart and body improve its anaerobic threshold (or the highest exercise intensity that you can sustain for a prolonged period without running out of ATP). One 2006 study found that after eight weeks of doing HIIT workouts, people could ride their bikes twice as long (while at the same pace) as they could before they started doing HIIT workouts.
There's no equipment necessary.
Running, biking, jump roping, and rowing all work great for HIIT, but you don't need any equipment to get it done. High knees, fast feet, or anything plyometric such as jump lunges works just as well to get your heart rate up fast and reap the benefits of high-intensity interval training. Here are a few no-equipment HIIT workouts to get you started.
No-Equipment HIIT Workouts
HIIT promotes weight loss without muscle loss.
When you're on a diet, it's hard to not lose muscle mass along with fat. While steady-state cardio seems to encourage muscle loss, studies show that both weight training and HIIT workouts allow dieters to preserve their hard-earned muscles while ensuring most of the weight lost comes from fat stores. (Related: Should You Do Cardio Before or After Lifting Weights?)
You can increase your metabolism.
In addition to increased fat burning and more muscle preservation, HIIT stimulates the production of your human growth hormone (HGH) by up to 450 percent during the 24 hours after you finish your workout. HGH is not only responsible for increased caloric burn, but it also slows down the aging process—one of the sneaky benefits of HIIT workouts. (More here: The #1 Anti-Aging Workout, According to Research)
You can do it anywhere.
Since it's such a broad concept — go at maximum effort for a short period of time followed by a recovery period and repeat — you can modify high-intensity interval training based on the time and space constraints you have and still get the benefits of HIIT. These workouts show off the adaptability of HIIT cardio.
Do-Anywhere HIIT Workouts
It's seriously challenging.
HIIT workouts are not the kind of thing you can do while reading a magazine or chatting with your friend — and that's part of the strategy. Because it's so short, you'll be working hard the whole time. The trade-off is this format offers seasoned exercisers a new challenge and new exercisers a quick way to see results — a benefit of high-intensity interval training that other workouts just don't offer. HIIT may have you sucking wind, but you definitely won't be bored.