The most common problem in fitness is that people don’t have enough time to exercise. But it seems that there is a solution: Research has been building on the benefits of high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT. In fact, some research has shown that as little as 60 seconds of strenuous exertion provides the same benefits as 45 minutes of moderate exercise.
What is HIIT? In general, HIIT involves exercises at, or near maximum effort for spurts as short as 20 seconds, with brief rest periods in between. Exercise scientists and the fitness community have become intrigued by the idea of exercising exclusively with intervals, ditching long workouts altogether — and the research now supports this.
Scientists at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, recently performed a rigorous comparison of short, intense workouts against the more traditional workouts.
They began by recruiting 25 out-of-shape young men and randomly putting them into three groups. One group was asked to change nothing about their current nonexistent exercise routines. A second group began a more traditional workout routine, consisting of riding at a moderate pace on a stationary bicycle for 45 minutes. The final group was assigned to interval training, which entailed sprints on stationary bikes for 20 seconds followed by rest. The entire workout lasted 10 minutes, with only one minute of that time being strenuous.
By the end of the study, published in the journal PLOS One, the endurance group had ridden for 27 hours, while the interval group had ridden for six hours, with only 36 minutes of that time being strenuous. When they compared the gains in health and fitness between the second and third groups, the results were virtually identical.
In addition, federal guidelines released in 2008 say American adults should strive for 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. For more extensive health benefits, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends 300 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity or 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity. The activity should be performed in increments of at least 10 minutes at a time.
HIIT is very attractive as you can get the same benefits of the traditional moderate exercise routine in a fraction of the time, making them a boon for anyone who feels that he or she never has enough time to exercise.
So why aren’t more people doing HIIT? Well it’s not easy and the effort is so extreme that most find it unpleasant. A 2015 study in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine found that exercisers preferred workouts requiring lower-intensity, continuous effort than high-intensity intervals.
Now how do you best incorporate HIIT into your workout routine? For those who are self-motivated, there are a plethora of apps that will help you build and track your own routine. For the rest of you who are not quite as motivated, which is the vast majority, getting involved in group exercise or training is potentially a better solution because the workouts will be programmed for you and the motivation and accountability of working in a group or with a trainer will help you stay on track.