As I look around my gym, I see a sea of new faces. They are flushed and sweaty and determined, but many of them don’t really know how to exercise best for their bodies. They want to start the new year on a healthier note, but their best intentions will be forgotten if they find themselves hurt, burned out, or without the desired results.
One workout that has found favor among exercise pros is High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. This form of exercise varies widely among trainers and gym classes, but it is generally centered around a common concept: that the best way to burn calories and get your heart rate pumping is through short bursts of high-intensity movements, followed by short breaks. This might look like 40 seconds of jumping jacks followed by a 20-second break, 40 seconds of burpees, 20 seconds of break, and so on, for up to 30 minutes.
Interval training is not a new concept, but the addition of the super cool acronym, HIIT, has elevated it to greater status. Carrying a ton of benefits, HIIT is a great way to exercise a few days a week. Results can include weight loss, lowered blood pressure, increased oxygen flow, improved endurance, and decreased fat, all in about half the time of regular cardio exercise. In fact, its efficiency is one of its biggest selling points, defeating the excuse that you don’t have time to exercise. In 30 minutes, you’re done for the day, and that’s hard to beat in the world of fitness.
Another bonus is that HIIT can be performed with no equipment and in a relatively small space, making it inexpensive and perfect for at-home workouts. Simply go to YouTube and search for HIIT, and you can workout for weeks without repeating the same routine twice. If you rely on group motivation to get your exercise on, HIIT classes are available at just about every gym, with the added bonus of supervision and help with form.
As good a workout as it is, however, it is not a perfect one. Experts caution that anyone trying a HIIT class for the first time should take it slow and stop if they cannot catch their breath. Sometimes, it’s difficult to tell how far to push yourself, as the workout is designed to take you to your limit, hence the “high intensity” name. So be careful, especially when you are new to the workout.
Trainers and physical therapists remind us that this form of exercise can be hard on the joints, especially if you are working out at home without the benefit of someone checking your form. And because people know they are burning calories at a high rate, they tend to want to incorporate this workout into their routine several times a week, which the experts warn can be too much. Excessive HIIT can lead to burnout, a disruption in metabolism, an inability to sleep at night, and a depletion of glycogen stores.
For these reasons, The American Council on Exercise suggests incorporating HIIT into your overall workout routine one to two times a week. Another option is to do shorter HIIT sessions and then move on to another form of exercise. They also recommend doing HIIT in six-week spells to avoid stress injuries and to maximize the benefits. Round out your exercise routine with lower impact cardio, weight training, and flow exercises such as yoga or Pilates.
And remember that while exercise is optimal for good cardio health, eating a well-balanced diet is every bit as important. You will need good, quality energy to sustain you through your exercise routine.
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