HIIT Me Baby One More Time: What is HIIT cardio?
Okay enough of the Britney references. Here’s a question that was emailed to me a few days ago.
What is HIIT cardio and what does it entail?
HIIT cardio is a form of torture derived from the prisons of Abkhazia. Not really. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. In a nutshell, it is a series of intense bursts of activity followed by short rest or recovery periods. And example would be a 10 minute walk/run. A minute of walking alternating with a minute of running or sprinting.
I don’t know about you but I don’t necessarily exercise because I don’t have anything better to do. While I enjoy exercise it’s not at the top of my list of “super fun”. So when I do it, I want to get the most bang for my buck. Which is why I like high intensity interval training. I can continually challenge myself, burn more fat all while spending less of my precious time working out. To challenge myself I can increase intensity by making the high intensity intervals harder by increasing speed or resistance (depending on the machine). Or I can shorten the recovery or rest intervals.
Our bodies are extremely adaptive. For example, if you are running 2 miles a day after a few weeks your body will adapt. In other words, running that same two miles will become easier and easier requiring less work of your body. If you are happy with your level of fitness and want to maintain you current fitness level then keep at it. But if you want to continue to improve or burn more calories to burn more fat you will either have to run farther or faster. It won’t take long for your body to adapt to your new speed or distance so you will have to once again run farther or faster. Thanks but no thanks. If you’re crazy and you decide you want to try to go faster every time you will at some point you reach an intensity that will take you out your aerobic zone (aerobic means with oxygen) and move into the anaerobic zone (anaerobic). Aerobic exercise uses oxygen to make energy and anaerobic uses your bodies own chemistry without oxygen to produce energy. Jogging is aerobic and sprinting is anaerobic. So instead of working up to the anaerobic zone you can just start there using HIIT cardio.
High intensity interval training can be adapted to any fitness level. A beginner might walk 2 minutes and jog 30 seconds. As you improve you can gradually shorten the rest periods and lengthen the high intensity intervals. Or go faster during the intervals. As you can see it’s super easy to customize a workout for your own level of fitness.
How hard should you push yourself on the high intensity intervals depends on your current fitness level. I use the category-ratio scale of perceived exertion or a scale of 1-10 with 1 being extremely easy to 10 being my hardest. At 1 it feels like the effort I put forth petting my cat and 10 feels like I am climbing the Eiffel Tower with greasy hands. So when performing HIIT cardio, an average healthy person will want to alternate between periods of exercise being done in the 8-10 (preferable 9-10) range with rest periods in the 2-5 range. If you have any sort of cardiovascular or respiratory disorder please be smart and talk to your doctor first. The key to finding your 10 is to really listen to your body. A 10 for one person may be a 4 for another. Make sense? I know when I can push a little harder and I know when I’ve reached my limit. I’m not out to prove anything to anybody except myself. Play with the intensities to add variety. I may do a minute at a 4, a minute at a 8, a minute at a 9, then 30 seconds at a 10, and finally recover for two minutes at a 2 before starting over.
Another benefit of HIIT cardio worth mentioning is EPOC (excess post-exercise consumption). What this means is that the fat burning doesn’t stop after you stop exercising. HIIT cardio has shown to keep your metabolism raised after you stop exercising for longer periods of time than traditional (slow and steady) aerobic exercise. Ummm…I’ll take it.
Personally, I think the beauty of HIIT cardio lies in being able to really push myself. It helps because I break my workouts into 30 sec – 2 minutes intervals. Like mini-mini-goals. I’ve found it much easier to push through a minute at a 9 or a 10 then to stay at a 4 for 40 minutes. The time goes by fast and the reaching new levels of intensity is very satisfying.
Does this mean you should give up all traditional cardio? Not if you like it. While I prefer HIIT cardio and have found it to be more effective for fast lost and time management I’m not all hardcore. I think the best exercise is exercise you want to do and will do. If you love your step aerobics class then keep going. You many want to play with making that an interval training session by varying your intensity throughout the class. There are benefits to steady cardio as well such as improving the bodies ability to use and consume oxygen and lowering the bodies resting heart rate. Personally, I really enjoy the mental relaxation of a long power walk or a long jog. So I do try to incorporate some steady state cardio each month. But my overall preference is HIIT.
Thanks for reading and have a wonderful weekend.
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