Should I do it?

High Intensity Interval Training is beneficial for just about everybody. As with all exercise you should be screened to ensure that your technique and the HIIT protocol you are using is appropriate for you. Given the high intensity of the training more care should be taken to ensure you have full function of any joints involved in the movement and you can maintain appropriate technique under duress. If you are healthy and have sufficient function of your joints then the answer is an emphatic ‘yes’. HIIT can provide benefits to males/females, old/young, experienced/inexperienced, highly trained/untrained individuals. In fact, some of the greatest benefits of HIIT is in it’s promotion of fat oxidation which is tremendous for training for weight loss and changes in body composition. It’s also fun, exciting and terrifically challenging.

How Do I Do It?

There are many different protocols for HIIT. My favourite in the gym is probably Tabata training which was developed by Izumi Tabata. You can read more about his research work here: http://www.ritsumei.ac.jp/eng/html/research/areas/feat-researchers/interview/izumi_t.html/. Essentially, the protocol was borne out of work with Olympic Speed Skaters in developing a training regimen that delivered the best results. The protocol is basically 8x20sec intervals with a 10second recovery between each set. This equals only 4 minutes of exercise outside of warm-up and cool down. Sounds pretty efficient, doesn’t it?

There are a number of other forms of HIIT with varying protocols but the principle is the same. The intervals are of a high intensity, taking your body well above it’s anaerobic threshold (the point at which you stop using oxygen to create energy).

Trainer’s Tips:

Here are my tips for those that haven’t tried HIIT or have tried it and it didn’t work for them:

  1. Start slowly: injury and overtraining are always the enemies. You should always train today for tomorrow. i.e. if you train too hard today you may not be able to exercise tomorrow and it is never worth that sacrifice. Injury prevention is also essential. If it doesn’t feel right to you then stop immediately and assess the injury.
  2. Amend the protocol but stick to it’s principles: It would be madness for an untrained individual to come in and perform a HIIT session in it’s entirety without sufficient conditioning. Do the Tabata Protocol with only 3 or 4 intervals instead of 8 as you build up to the full training load. Try adjusting the rest at the start of a block of training and decrease it as your fitness and conditioning improve.
  3. High Intensity Intervals are High Intensity Intervals:  If you are doing HIIT and are able to maintain an interval for 1 minute or more you are not doing HIIT. It is probably more likely that you are doing some form of Fartlek training (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fartlek) or conventional Interval training (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interval_training). HIIT is fast and powerful and should leave you breathless for minutes afterwards. I heard it explained beautifully by an American College Athletics Coach: he tells his athletes to imagine that they are getting paid $5 for every rep they perform during the interval. You can imagine the increase in speed and intensity this directive brings to their training (every rep and ever second is utilized to get 1 more rep in the time permitted). Even in Izumi Tabata’s original research I have heard that many of the athletes could not complete the full protocol as they became far too lactic due to the intensity of their approach to the session. They were either ill or could not stand to continue. Of course, we are not all Olympic Speed Skaters but I think you get my point.    
  4. Mix It Up: HIIT can be performed on cardio equipment, weights or body weight exercises. Enjoy the new form of training and the new benefits it will bring from your training. 
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