Most people equate a good workout with long, boring gym sessions that last at least an hour or more. We ask are longer workouts really better? You don’t need to spend hours in the gym to get in shape. In fact, 30-minute training can be as effective. Find out the benefits of HIIT and why less is more.
LONGER DOES NOT MEAN BETTER
Conventional aerobic exercise performed at a steady, moderate pace for long periods of time has been considered as the “gold standard” of a successful workout. No wonder you see individuals spending countless hours in the gym, pounding away at the treadmill for 60 minutes at an even speed. I used to be part of this. With the belief that long workouts are better, I’d force myself to stay on the elliptical for a whole hour. I absolutely hated it but did it anyway. I was convinced spending more time working out was the only way to get into a better shape. Not only can this be extremely boring, many of us simply do not have the time to spend hours sweating with weights and machines. Luckily, according to the latest research, we can get away with, and even get better results with shorter workouts.
HIIT or high-intensity interval training, which requires a fraction of the time compared to conventional cardio, has been shown to be more efficient and effective compared to longer, slower cardio exercises. In case you are not familiar with HIIT: the core premise involves maximum exertion followed by a quick rest period for a set of intervals. In other words, you mix short bursts of activity with even shorter rest periods.
There are different formulas for the work-to-rest ratio, but the most popular is 2:1. This means you work for 30 seconds at your maximum capacity. Then you rest for 15, repeating this for 5 to 10 sets. With HIIT, your goal is to push yourself 90 to 100 percent of your maximum capacity. Because you work as hard as humanly possible, these workouts are much shorter, rarely passing 30 minutes. You can do HIIT workout with almost every type of activity, including running, cycling and strength training. Ideally, you’d want to perform HIIT exercises three times a week. You do not need to do more than that. In fact, performing it more frequently can be counterproductive.
DON’T OVERDO IT
A study undertaken at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology asked volunteers to perform a total of 24 standard HIIT sessions over three or eight weeks. This means that volunteers exercised either three times per week or almost every day. At the end of the prescribed time, those who had completed three HIIT sessions per week had improved their endurance capacity by almost 11 percent. But those exercising daily displayed no such improvements and, in some, endurance declined.
It is therefore important that you allow your body to recover between sessions. To push yourself, instead of increasing the frequency, it is better to focus on intensity, and improving performance during those three weekly sessions.
Although HIIT workouts are draining, all that pain is worth for the health gains, and studies prove it.
A study, from scientists at Canada’s McMaster University, adds to the growing evidence for the benefits of short-term high-intensity interval training (HIT) as a time-efficient alternative to traditional types of moderate long-term exercise. Researchers found that three-minute intervals on a stationary bike – 30 seconds of intense pedaling followed by a brief rest, repeated five or six times – led to the same muscle-cell adaptations as a bike ride lasting much longer, an hour and a half to two hours. This shows that HIIT produces the same physical benefits as conventional long duration training, despite taking much less time.
Burns More Fat
Researchers also reported that HIIT worked better for fat burning than did conventional aerobics. Participants in this study were divided into two teams. One did 20 weeks of conventional aerobics while the other did 15 weeks of HIIT. The first group burned 48 percent more calories per session than the HIIT group. But those in the HIIT group burned 900 percent more fat over the 15 weeks than the first group.
Greater Afterburn Effect
As an added bonus, there’s also an afterburner effect known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). The more intense the exercise, the greater the afterburn effect. Compared to steady-paced workouts where you burn almost no calories after, with HIIT you increase your metabolism and burn more calories for up to 24 hours after training. Essentially, with interval workouts you have a higher afterburn effect, meaning you continue to burn calories after your workout is over for a longer period of time.
In addition to increased fat burning, HIIT also stimulates the production of your human growth hormone (HGH) by up to 450% during the 24 hours after you finished your workout. HGH is responsible for increased caloric burn and also slows down the aging process.
Further HIIT boosts your endurance. A study found that just one minute of high-intensity work can boost your endurance and your overall health, as seen through measures like improved blood pressure and higher counts of mitochondria, which help fuel your body and brain. This improved endurance can then be used for your moderate-intensity workouts. For example, one study found that after 8 weeks of doing HIIT workouts, participants could cycle twice as long as they could do before the study while maintaining the same pace.
With our busy schedules, trying to fit in an 80-minute workout is sometimes simply impossible and often we end up not doing any exercise at all. Now, “No time to exercise” is no longer an excuse. Everyone has an extra 10-20 minutes to squeeze a HIIT workout into their busy lives. Performing short, intense HIIT workouts make it more likely you will stick to your workout schedule and achieve the body you want.
I have witnessed many times people doing cardio for hours in the gym and then going straight to the shop across the street to “reward themselves”. I have to admit, I was also guilty of this. When you workout for long periods of time, it is common for your appetite to grow immensely. And this can put you in the “I deserve this” mode. This can lead to a weight loss plateau, or worse, even weight gain. That is not the case with HIIT. Although you work extremely hard, you only exercise for a short period of time thus you don’t get the same starving feeling.
HIIT workouts generally use only your body weight, since the focus is on getting your heart rate up and keeping it there. This means you can do them virtually anywhere and anytime as no special equipment is necessary.
Less is More
When you’re exercising for more than two hours straight, your body releases stress hormones and more specifically high amounts of cortisol. Cortisol inhibits weight loss, causing your body to react by storing fat and retaining water out of self-protection. The opposite of what is desired. Modifying your fitness routine to include more high-intensity exercise can prevent this.
MIX HIGHER AND LOWER INTENSITY TRAINING
The benefits of HIIT are very clear but this doesn’t mean you should stop your steady-state cardio altogether. You can blend both higher and lower-intensity training to reap benefits of both. Low- to moderate-intensity workouts help increase blood flow to damaged muscle tissues and will help you boost your recovery. Therefore it’s important that you find a place to fit a steady-state cardio in your fitness program. Further research shows that when these two types of training are utilized in conjunction with one another, our bodies are able to burn off stubborn fat more quickly and efficiently. So after you warm up, it is a good idea to start off with a HIIT session, lasting for about 10-20 minutes and then follow it up with steady state cardio session.
Also, it is important to remember the key role of enjoyment in exercise. To make fitness part of your lifestyle, personal preference and enjoyment have to be considered. The more you like and look forward to your session, the more likely you are to make it a routine. Don’t get stuck. If something doesn’t work for you, consider switching things up.
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