HIIT Training, or high-intensity interval training, has taken the fitness world by storm. Ask most fitness trainers what the biggest fitness trend of 2014 was and they’ll enthusiastically tell you HIIT. Why has high intensity interval training struck such a responsive chord with trainers and fitness buffs? It’s a real time saver for one. Research shows HIIT training offers similar or superior benefits to steady-state cardio in half the time.
The Health and Fitness Benefits of HIIT
High-intensity interval training training improves aerobic capacity, just as steady-state cardio does and possibly more, but it also fine tunes your anaerobic energy system. It’s also a belly fat scorcher. Several studies show high-intensity exercise is superior to steady-state aerobic exercise for melting away stubborn visceral abdominal fat, the type of fat that’s strongly linked with health problems like cardiovascular disease and type 2-diabetes. Plus, HIIT training keeps your body in fat burning mode for hours after a workout is over due to the prolonged “after-burn effect.” Plus, it does all of this with a minimum of muscle loss, unlike long periods of cardio that can put your hard-earned muscle tissue in jeopardy.
You have to love the time-saving benefits of HIIT training and the fact that it’s a workout that can be adapted to almost any form of exercise you do by alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of recovery. With the many benefits of high-intensity interval training, some people think they get “more of a good thing,” when they tackle high-intensity interval training every day. Eating vegetables at every meal is a healthy habit – the more the better, right? So why can’t the same be said for high-intensity training?
Why Daily HIIT Workouts Aren’t a Good Thing
If you’re doing high-intensity training right, daily HIIT training will quickly lead to fatigue, soreness and other signs of “over-reaching.” During active intervals of HIIT training, you’re pushing your body to near maximum effort. Such efforts are exhausting to your body and necessitate a greater degree of recovery time compared to an equal amount of steady-state cardio. Your body doesn’t recover swiftly from exercise of such high intensity.
During the recovery period after a high-intensity workout, your metabolic rate stays revved up for hours, and some experts say days. That’s because your body has to work hard to return your body to equilibrium. During this time, muscles resynthesize phosphocreatine, the fuel source they use at the start of intense exercise. Plus, your body temperature has to come down, your heart and breathing rate has to drop and stress hormone levels have to fall. In addition, you have to breathe harder to repay the oxygen debt you incurred. That’s a lot of extra work your body has to do. Imagine if you asked it to do that every day.
The reality is you don’t NEED to do HIIT training every day, assuming you’re really ramping up the intensity during the active intervals. One of the things that make high-intensity interval training so appealing is the fact you don’t have to do it every day or for long periods of time. It’s the most time expedient way to work out. Plus, you can do a HIIT workout without equipment using bodyweight movements – comes in handy when you’re traveling!
How often should you do a high-intensity interval training routine? Two to three times a week works best for most people. Doing a daily high-intensity interval workout won’t give your muscles adequate time to recover or your body time to completely return to homeostasis. If you feel you can do a HIIT routine every day, ask yourself if you’re really working hard enough when you’re engaged in an interval routine.
A common mistake people make with high-intensity interval training is not working out at a high enough intensity during the active intervals. True HIIT training isn’t moderate-intensity cardio separated by rest intervals. If you do it this way, you won’t get the same degree of post-exercise after-burn or improvements in your anaerobic energy system. Think of it as interval “bursts” or “blasts” of activity.
Think about it. You wouldn’t work the same body parts two days in a row with heavy resistance training – the same applies to HIIT training. Your muscles and your entire body need to recover. Plus, you don’t want to burn out psychologically either.
Vary the Exercises You Do During Your HIIT Routine
You can adapt HIIT training to a variety of different exercises. You’ll reduce your risk for overuse injuries by varying the type of exercises you do during your HIIT training sessions. Plus, adding variety to a routine helps you stay motivated. Love HIIT training for the versatility it offers. Don’t forget to do a five minute warm-up to warm up cold muscles before starting a high-intensity interval training routine. An effective warm-up will help you avoid injury.
The Bottom Line
High-intensity interval training offers tons of benefits and advantages, but it’s not an everyday workout. Stick to doing it two or three times a week and spend other days doing resistance training or recovery forms of exercise like yoga. The beauty of HIIT training is you don’t HAVE to do it every day.
Med Sci Sports Exerc 2007;39:665-71.
Poloquin Group. “Is Aerobic or Anaerobic Training Best for Getting Rid of Belly Fat?”
On Fitness. March/April 2015. “HIIT Every Day Not Okay: Here’s Why”
Medcape Family Medicine. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition”
Nutrition, Metabolism and Cardiovascular Disease. November 2013Volume 23, Issue 11, Pages 1037-1042.
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