What Does Recent Research Conclude?
Are you bored to death by the treadmill? Or are you daunted by doing a series of "Burpees" (explosive squat thrusts)? There is still unfortunately "debate" surrounding the "pros" and "cons" of "HIIT" verse steady-state "moderate cardio" workouts. Recent research has clarified some advantages that HIIT has over the conventional "Steady State Cardio" session.
In this article we discuss some new findings on the benefits of incorporating HIIT training into your weekly routine instead of Moderate Cardio.
Go Steady with the Cardio
The "steady-state moderate cardio" routine has been a fundamental of every beginner’s fitness regime for many years. Its touted benefits were to increase the aerobic fitness and assist helping shed some fat. Cardio is often paired up by trainers with strength training to gain some muscle without the cardio part being excessively exhausting by incorporating it either into a warm up routine before hitting the weights or after the weight lifting session to help address the cardiovascular system and help tip the body in favour of a small amount of fat loss progress as well as being able to potentially gain some muscle if desired through the weight training.
Cardio is pitched as being useful if you wish to improve your overall condition and endurance, as well as prepare the body for more intensive workouts as your body fitness improves and adapts. With Regular Cardio the argument goes, if you need to up your game, just add more minutes or include strength-training. The endurance aspect of it is important if your physical lifestyle you want to pursue requires more capacity over time. With regular cardio exercise you can just extend your training session to be longer to build more staying power conditioning. It is pitched as an ability to ramp up the level of exertion gradually over time with each session.
HIIT Things Up
HIIT has been somewhat poorly understood. It seems to the outsider to be a complete all out "slam yourself completely" session with interval breaks. While this is pretty close to where you end up ultimately, it is surprisingly easy to do and because you are only doing it for 30 seconds and to the best of your ability and you get a full 30 seconds break after each burst, your body copes with it much better than you might think and it is not as gruesome as it first might appear. You could actually start doing it with 70% of your maximum for the first week and then step up over a few to the "100%" after the first 4 weeks if you are new to training. But what has not been fully understood is the benefits are so huge given the short amount of time you give it and how fast your body will adapt.
Since the dawn of the HIIT era personal trainers have been very straight-forward: if you want to lose fat fast, HIIT works great. They didn’t even need the science behind the reason why HIIT is so effective in shedding kilos. And some people are still unaware of the fact that alongside the kilos you might end up shedding of body fat, you could potentially also lose hard-earned muscle as well, if your not careful in the way you do HIIT training (see later).
In order to be able to incorporate HIIT into your routine, your heart needs to be in reasonable shape (check with your Doctor first if you are in any doubt). Some people have suggested you’re ready for the big step (to maximum HIIT) when you can squat 1.5 times your own body-weight but this is an assumption that has since been debunked. With some forms people advocate as "being HIIT", it starts to be more about endurance and becomes more exhausting for the body. Shorter time periods e.g 30 seconds and shorter breaks (30 seconds) are better. The maximum burst length should not exceed 60 seconds. The good news is that HIIT training enables the heart to adapt fairly quickly so that you can improve the condition of the heart fairly quickly.
HIIT makes use of anaerobic burning of energy, which is the reason your muscles can feel sore after just a 30-second sprint (repeated). Your metabolism is boosted for hours, but as a consequence your body can need more time to recover from this workout when you first start to do it, than from a leisurely long duration cardio (HIIT is definitely not training you should do every day - you need 1 day off between sessions).
How to do HIIT training?
There are a number of variations that come under the umbrella of "HIIT'. Some people advocate longer sessions of 60 seconds with 60 seconds break x 3 times.
We prefer the shorter version which is for example a
30 second sprint and then 30 seconds rest and repeating this 4x in a row.
This is performed only 3x per week, spread through-out the week e.g. Monday, Wednesday and Friday or Saturday). It is important to ensure that the burst sessions are not too long (in our opinion the 60 seconds version is too long and is a little counter-productive because it is crossing more over into extended high-intensity cardio and will more likely eat away at your muscle especially if you are not giving your body a day off break between each burst day).
It doesn't need to be a sprint on foot. You can do a 30 seconds burst on a bicycle.
Tips for those starting out or still not in great shape:
When you are first trying this if you are not in great shape or you are intending to build up the condition of your heart, you can back off on how hard you go with the run in each 30 second burst. We don't mean to a point of just slow jogging but a fairly fast burst (a run). You may only be able to achieve an all out sprint on your first of 4, 30 second bursts and each successive session you are feeling you are going slower and slower. Do not despair! The whole process is about your body adapting to the whole new regime of training. It works because you are effectively pushing your body to work your muscles up to 250x the intensity of regular moderate jogging. It may be that it might take you 2-3 weeks of getting to an all out sprint at all on any of them. It is important to read your body and to take it from where it is and build up your intensity over time.
Other variations can include sprinting up stairs (my favourite). If you live in a city and take a metro, instead of hitting the escalator, go up the stairs and try accelerating as you go up the stairs. If you live in somewhere like Moscow where the stations in the Metro stations are very, very deep so the stairs are very long, you either have to sprint up these really quickly to get it under 30 seconds or you have to do it in halves. I was recently in Barcelona for a few days and relished the opportunity to take advantage of limited time and putting in my HIIT training while using their metro system stair cases. If you have to travel for work often and stay often in Hotels, then HIIT their stairs.
So what does Research actually conclude these days?
HIIT training has come under the spotlight of the UK Government because of growing evidence that it (3x per week, with 30 seconds burst 30 seconds rest, 4x in a row - yes just 6 minutes in total a week) can result in a better improvement in physical condition, cardiovascular health and getting into shape quicker than conventional cardio of say moderate jogging for half and hour 3x a week (which is the current recommendation of the UK Government). The UK Government has recently green lighted 5 million pounds to conduct research into the benefits of HIIT training over conventional moderate Cardio.
In the BBC series "Trust me I'm a Doctor" they regularly look at science, nutrition and and the body to establish what benefits can truly be measured from various protocols or diets. So what has gotten the UK Government Health Department so interested in HIIT method of training compared to its current recommended 30 minutes of regular cardio 3x a week?
In a study group of average people of various levels of fitness or lack thereof (not hardened trainers) were divided randomly into 4 groups and exercises performed over a 4 week period.
Group 1 did the conventional moderate cardio routine. Heart and Lung Efficiency Result: No change
Group 2 did HIIT training with specialized equipment (cycling machines) in a laboratory. Heart and Lung Efficiency Result: Improved by 17% in 1 month.
Group 3 did HIIT training at home with no specialized equipment - star jumps. Heart and Lung Efficiency Result: Improved by 12% in 1 month.
Group 4 did grip squeezing exercises. Heart and Lung Efficiency Result: No change but blood pressure did lower by 16%!
So why does HIIT work better?
One theory is that is helps the body produce mitochondria - tiny power plants in cells that turn glucose into energy. More mitochondria means more power. So HIIT can produce some really impressive results and if done correctly really can work. When you are exercising, your muscles are having to work 250x harder for the short burst duration forcing adaptation to occur quicker.
In summary the advantages of HIIT training are:
• You can do it almost anywhere;
• Your body can adapt very quickly. You can get great physical adaptation and cardiological benefits from such a limited input of time and in short period (1 month) and feel / noticeable improvements within just 1 week of doing it but conclusively better within just 4 weeks;
• You can get the session accomplished in a very short time (great for squeezing in a very time limited exercise session when you are extremely busy);
• If you are just starting out with trying HIIT sessions, don't be afraid to back off a little with the outright intensity until you feel confident your body can handle all out sprints or speed of recovery concerns. There is no shame in doing a build up over time. They key is that you start them and start to get to feel immediate benefits within the first 2 weeks of starting.
As much as "sprinting" is a key, part of its secret is in also giving the body that 30 seconds break to recover also! It is part of the reason I personally prefer it over Circuit Training. Circuit Training doesn't give you the "breather break". I am not knocking Circuit Training as it is a different form of training and adaptation. It is of course good in itself but it doesn't gives the same ramp up of improvement for the heart, leg muscle development and VO2 Max as HIIT does, because it is intensity over a more extended time frame and it is important to understand that they body can adapt faster if it is not total maxed out for too long a period. It doesn't get as stressed and it can recover more easily and faster ready to try and adapt again on the next session. Circuit training is way better at covering all the muscle groups with conditioning, which HIIT does not.
By the way, we are also very much are in favour of resistance training (reasonably heavy weight training - but not to max out fully and over stress the joints) as being very beneficial for health benefits and muscle tone, muscle building and functionality. As good as weight training is (and it is fantastic), it doesn't greatly assist with cardio vascular health improvements and dropping body fat like HIIT does. So mixing up the training is a good way to force the body to adapt in different ways.
If done right, HIIT will not result in muscle tissue losses. Doing a total of 6 minutes a week of HIIT sessions just won't do that. If you start to think more volume of exercise is better, then you are missing the whole point and benefits of implementing HIIT into your arsenal of training routines.
For those of you that might have come to the conclusion that the author thinks moderate cardio is not of any benefit, this is actually far from true. It is far better than being completely sedentary and there is another benefit that no one has been discussing. It is improvements in memory and learning. Why? Blood flow is improved to the brain while you are training. One advantage of sitting on a stationary bike is you are not bouncing up and down and you don't have to focus on where you are going. When I was back in school many years ago, it was 2 days before a physics exam and I counted 75 formulas that I needed to learn and I remember being a little depressed because as I sat in my bedroom I could at best recall 5 of them. I put them on onto flash cards and then had a brilliant idea. Blood flow to the brain would help increase my memory. So I took 1 flash card at a time and ran for 5 minutes near my house while repeated looking and reading the formula. I got through all 75 formulas. When I sat the exam I was delighted to be able to recall 95% of them! Some schools are just now finding this out as some classrooms are fitted with silent pedaling devices under desks and noticing good jumps in student grades and student attention spans and contribution to class room discussion. So if you are learning a new language (as I am now) or studying to learn something new, want to come up with new creative ideas, then pedaling a stationary bike (or moderate running) is something I definitely recommend.
Remember with training, ultimately it does not have to be one or the other. Life is about living and enabling the body to adapt for your lifestyle and desired goals. It's just HIIT training can get your body (heart and lungs) to adapt much faster than conventional cardio and people want to know what is the fastest way to get into shape and see change. Most people are just trying to lose a few pounds. Some days you may just not feel like doing a HIIT session. Don't sweat it. If you want to do conventional cardio for a change for a day, or hit the weights for a great muscle pump - do it! If you need an extra day off because you feel too taxed, do and come back more fresh the day after.
For improvement in endurance capacity building lean muscle, or for faster recovery from HIIT sessions, remember you can take the supplement Kre-Alkalyn® + Vitamin E. Powerband Kre-Alkalyn® + Vitamin E formula will not only introduce this important energy carrier in your body, but preserve it where it is most needed – in the muscles, due to its ingenious combination with Vitamin E.
In up-coming articles in the near future we will also discuss:
• Tips and tricks for our body building enthusiast to get gains faster, minimize pressure on the joints and unbelievable muscle pumps;
• Posture correction and addressing issues of pain felt in shoulders and upper arms.
Stay tuned! And don’t forget to share in the comments section – which is your current preferred cardio training combination and why? Or results by incorporating HIIT or taking Powerband's Kre-Alkalyn® + Vitamin E with your training and the improvements you have gained.