You’ve heard of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), but what about low volume HIIT? Low volume high-intensity interval training is HIIT training where the total training volume is low. Most people work out for at least 30 minutes and it’s common for moderate-intensity workouts to last even longer, an hour or so. But with low volume HIIT training, a workout might is as short as 10 minutes. The kicker is you’ll work super-hard during that 10 minutes with intervals of intense exercise followed by recovery intervals, a.k.a. HIIT style.
Exercise guidelines recommend that people who want cardiovascular benefits do at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise weekly or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise. But it’s not uncommon for people to say they don’t have time to do that. Are they relegated to not getting the heart health benefits that exercise offers? Not according to a new study. This study shows that low volume HIIT training offers measurable heart health benefits too.
What the Study Showed
In this study, researchers defined low volume HIIT training as high-intensity interval exercise lasting less than 15 minutes total. Who can’t find 15 minutes over the course of a day to improve the health of their heart? The study shows exercise sessions this short, assuming you work out at a high intensity, have benefits for heart health. As the researchers point out, low volume HIIT may have even more benefits for heart and blood vessel health than longer periods of continuous, moderate-intensity.
Although the researchers aren’t clear as to how low volume HIIT improves cardiovascular health, a theory is that it improves the function of tiny energy powerhouses called mitochondria that exist in each of your cells. These are the organelles that produce ATP that fuels muscle contractions and all functions within the human body. Increasing the efficiency of mitochondria improves exercise endurance and may have benefits for aging too. Plus, low volume HIIT enhances insulin sensitivity, also beneficial for heart health.
Low volume HIIT also improves how the left lower chamber of the heart, the ventricle performs. The left ventricle must be powerful since it pumps blood from the lungs to all parts of the body. High-intensity interval training also improves endothelial function, the way blood vessels behave in response to stress. Better endothelial function helps with blood pressure control and lowers the risk of abnormal clots forming in the vessels.
Metabolic Health Benefits of Low Volume HIIT
In further support of low volume HIIT training, a small study of 81 subjects found that low volume HIIT training (a total of 51 minutes per week) was as effective for reducing symptoms of metabolic syndrome as moderate-intensity continuous training where the participants did a total of 150 minutes of exercise per week.
Metabolic syndrome is a constellation of health problems, including:
- Blood pressure over 130/85
- Waist size over 40 inches (male) or 35 inches (female)
- Elevated HDL-cholesterol
- Fasting triglycerides over 150 mg/dl
- Fasting blood glucose over 100 mg/dl
As you might expect, these abnormalities increase the risk of future health problems, including cardiovascular disease, and type 2 diabetes. So, improving these parameters should lower the risk of serious health issues. It’s encouraging that only 51 minutes of high-intensity exercise was as effective as 150 minutes of continuous exercise each week. So, even time-strapped people can get the cardiovascular and metabolic benefits of exercise through high-intensity training.
Benefits for Fat Loss Too
Studies also show that high-intensity interval training may be more effective than continuous moderate-intensity exercise for fat loss in both men and women. In fact, research shows that high-intensity interval training enhances mitochondrial function and fat oxidation, all of which can help you get leaner.
The study found that three times weekly HIIT sessions lasting 20 minutes long outperformed 30-minute sessions of steady-state exercise in terms of fat loss over 15 weeks. The group who did the HIIT training lost more total body fat as well as more ab and leg fat. Plus, their insulin sensitivity improved more than the steady-state group.
So, HIIT training works well for fat loss, even better than steady-state exercise and it’s a timesaver!
Get the Most Out of Low Volume HIIT Training
To get the full health benefits of HIIT training, keep the active intervals intense. You won’t get the full benefits if you shorten the time interval and exercise at a moderate pace. It’s called high intensity training. Make sure it’s intense.
Don’t forget about the warm-up and cooldown either. Never jump into high-intensity exercise without warming up your muscles first. Likewise, don’t stop abruptly and plop down in a chair. Do a cooldown do your heart rate drops gradually to baseline.
The Bottom Line
Low volume HIIT is a time expedient way to train whether your goal is to improve heart health, metabolic health, or lose body fat. The time savings with this kind of training are considerable too. Exercising as little as 51 minutes per week HIIT stye can have some of the same benefits as 150 minutes of continuous moderate-intensity training. So, if you’re strapped for time, it doesn’t take long to boost your heart with HIIT training.
- Angelo Sabag, Johnathan P. Little, Nathan A. Johnson. Low‐volume high‐intensity interval training for cardiometabolic health. The Journal of Physiology, 2021; DOI: 10.1113/JP281210.
- Ramos JS, Dalleck LC, Borrani F, Beetham KS, Wallen MP, Mallard AR, Clark B, Gomersall S, Keating SE, Fassett RG, Coombes JS. Low Volume High-Intensity Interval Training Is Sufficient to Ameliorate the Severity of Metabolic Syndrome. Metab Syndr Relat Disord. 2017 Sep;15(7):319-328. doi: 10.1089/met.2017.0042. Epub 2017 Jun 22. PMID: 28846513.
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