HIIT (or High Intensity Interval Training) is a term used to refer to any exercise that consists of bouts of all-out effort, punctuated by short rests.
Ask a room full of people what sort of cardiovascular training you should be doing, and you will invariably start an argument. The two approaches have each garnered such a passionate following that it’s very difficult to decide which is better. However, by understanding each better (advantages, disadvantages, etc.) and by taking into account your personal preferences and needs, you will be able to make an informed decision as to how you should be getting your sweat on.
What the heck is HIIT?
HIIT (or High Intensity Interval Training) is a term used to refer to any exercise that consists of bouts of all-out effort, punctuated by short rests. The most common form of HIIT is Tabata training, where you alternate 20 seconds of intense, all-out effort with 10 seconds of rest. An example would be sprinting for 20 seconds and then walking for 10.
And how do I know if my cardio is steady state?
Steady state cardio simply means any cardio performed at a moderate level of intensity, usually for a prolonged period of time. For example, an hour long jog that has your heart rate up and has you breathing heavily, but still allows you to comfortably carry on a conversation.
Summed up below are each of their benefits and disadvantages:
Benefits of steady state cardio
- You burn more calories during exercise as this form of cardio is performed for a longer length of time
- Two words: runners high. Research has found that the feeling of elation often experienced by runners at around the 2 hour mark is a result of an increase in the levels of endorphins
- Increased rate of recovery. Low to moderate intensity workouts will help to increase blood flow to damaged muscles and will boost your recovery-and also help to avoid over stressing your body
- It will improve your aerobic fitness and endurance. It is also highly functional and will help you with ordinary activities, such as prowling malls all day and going on hikes.
- It puts less stress on your body
- It enhances your body’s ability to use fat as an energy source (more on that in our blog post How To Get the Most Out of Your Cardio)
- If you enjoy it, you’ll probably stick with it. Chances are that, if you’re one of the lucky ones that falls in love with running (or swimming, or cycling, or anything really), you’ll keep at it!
And the downsides?
- It’s time consuming. Steady state cardio needs to be performed for a considerable amount of time before you’ll reap the benefits. You won’t get away with 20 minutes of moderate intensity cardio 3 times a week
- The length of your exercise sessions may increase your risk of repetitive strain injuries, or overuse injuries (This can be circumvented by cross training-alternating your preferred exercise with other exercise requiring a different movement pattern)
- It can get boring. Because of the required length of steady state sessions, many people lose focus and start counting the people walking past their treadmill. If you don’t enjoy doing the same thing for an extended period of time, steady state cardio may not be for you.
Benefits of HIIT training
- It’s a time saver. You can get a workout done in a fraction of the time you would require to do a steady state cardio session due to the high energy demand of HIIT training
- It’s effective. A recent study presented at the American College of Sports Medicine annual meeting shows that just 2 weeks of HIIT training improves your aerobic capacity as much as 6-8 weeks of moderate intensity training
- You’ll be burning calories long after you wipe off the sweat. Due to the effect that intense exertion has on your body’s repair cycle, you will be burning calories for 24 hours after your session
- You don’t need equipment. You can design a super effective HIIT workout using just your body weight (think burpees, star jumps, tuck jumps, etc.). This also means that if the weather isn’t playing along, all you need is some space in your lounge.
- Your metabolism will improve. When done correctly, HIIT stimulates the production of your human growth hormone (HGH) by up to 450% in the 24 hours following your session. This not only increases your metabolism, it also keeps you looking and feeling younger as it slows the ageing process
- You definitely won’t be bored. Because of its demanding, explosive and time effective nature, HIIT requires all your focus and you won’t have a chance to get bored!
That sounds too good to be true. What could go wrong?
- Not everyone likes to push themselves to the point of exertion that HIIT requires. If you aren’t a fan of sweating heavily and gasping for breath, HIIT may not be for you. Because of its short duration it requires you to push yourself physically, or you risk having an ineffective session
- Your form may slack. Due to the nature and pace of HIIT training, many people aren’t aware that they may be doing an exercise wrong and risk injuring themselves
- It’s not safe for everyone. If you have any pre-existing conditions that may contra-indicate intense exercise, it is strongly advised that you consult a doctor first.
- Burn out. The demands placed on your body during a HIIT session are not to be underestimated, and you can get too much of a good thing. Over-training is real people! (Keep an eye on our blog for more information on how to handle over-training)
In a nutshell, both steady state cardio and HIIT training (or a combination of the two) have their place in a training programme. It ultimately comes down to your disposable time, personal preferences and what you hope to achieve with your training.
by Chanel Serfontein