High intensity interval training: Hype or hearsay?

Image via Thinkstock
Image via Thinkstock

HIIT training is best for weight loss, speed training, and time-crunched workouts

By Jamal Al-Bayaa, Staff Writer

Sprint for 20 seconds at a 100 per cent exertion level, then rest for 40 seconds before doing it again. By the five-minute mark, participants are already sweaty, and huffing and puffing like they’re getting ready to blow a house down. If anyone is brave enough to follow this regimen for 20 minutes, they’ll definitely “feel the burn.” Or pass out. It’s really just a matter of which one comes first.

Sound crazy to you? It sounds crazy to a lot of people, but recent science and trends have been crowding around the idea that HIIT training, as it’s called, is the most effective type of cardio you could be doing if you’re training for speed, power, weight loss, and heart health. That’s pretty much all of the general reasons to do cardio in the first place, unless you have very specific requirements or ambitions.

The secret to HIIT’s effectiveness at reaching those specific milestones is that it’s not really cardio at all, and yet it’s still cardio. Specifically, HIIT training trains anaerobics more than aerobics. Muscles more than lungs. It’s not quite cardio and not quite a barbell: let’s just suffice to call it bardio, and recognize it as an efficient fusion that will simultaneously gas you and give you strength and power. The tradeoff for the physical prowess acquired by sprints may be scoffed at by some, but they do exist.

First, HIIT does not include long-distance endurance in the list of traits it effectively improves. As a partially anaerobic exercise, it isn’t well suited to large amounts of volume over a long period of time. Although sprinting for endurance is ineffective, adding 60 second sprints into otherwise singularly paced long-distance runs has been found to increase endurance levels in runners considerably.

Second, the tradeoff for physical abilities may actually be mental regeneration. Steady state cardio (running on the treadmill for upwards of 20 minutes) was found to be exponentially more effective than HIIT at regenerating cells in the brain, suggesting that long distance running is more stress relieving and cognitively beneficial, which is something major for students to consider if planning a fitness routine.

Lastly, HIIT training poses a greater risk of injury to all who participate in it, but especially non-athletes (as compared to athletes of a similar demographic). Especially, UBC researches have shown that knee injury is much more common among these non-athlete groups. Take that with a grain of salt though—these study participants were engaged in little to no exercise, and then asked to immediately jump into an exercise regimen made for a highly conditioned athlete/fitness enthusiast. HIIT training doesn’t hurt people, pushing past limits without considering how much a body can comfortably handle hurts people.

With all that being said, HIIT training is a great way to spice up a workout, especially for athletes. For non-athletes, the principles can be applied in a more gentle way to build up fitness levels. Start this training for all the benefits, and then stick with it for my favourite reason of all: it’s actually fun!