If you have been exposed to exercise-related weight-loss literature, chances are that you have come across high intensity interval training (HIIT), which refers to having short bursts of intense activity followed by a slow interval recovery, repeated several times. This has also been described in other ways, one of which is “fartlek” training when it comes to running specifically.
When it was first proposed, the movement started to gather momentum and a lot of people jumped on the bandwagon. Some people were reasonable about it, creating high intensity workouts that can be done in 25 minutes rather than 45. As time progressed, word got round that if you perform HIIT, you only need to exercise for a few minutes each day to be able to lose a lot of fat. This article will investigate what the reality is, and aims to separate fact from fiction.
One of the more common micro-workout methods that has been gathering steam is the idea that you only need to exercise intensely for a few minutes three times a week, and you will lose weight and get fit in no time. This form of interval training goes by the name of “4×4”, and involves cycles of four-minute bursts interspersed between three-minute resting periods.
Research has indeed shown that alternating between high and low intensities forces your heart to adjust and therefore keeps your hard rate higher for longer. These pieces of research, done on overweight middle-aged inactive men in a few countries such as Australia, USA, Norway and Canada, concluded that people who did these 4×4 workouts had similar benefits to those that only did intense exercise without the rest periods.
The measure that they used for the outcome is known as the maximal oxygen uptake or VO2 max, which is a known measure for fitness levels. Despite this, however, the number of individuals in these experiments was quite low, which means that more research is needed to confirm its findings. Furthermore, there were other limitations with the study design.
Now what happens when you decrease the overall period? For example, what if you accelerate to maximum effort for only 10-30 seconds and rest for 30-60 seconds in between? This has also been given a fancy name, which is supramaximal training. To be honest, just like the 4×4 training, this is extremely difficult to achieve for a lot of people because it does require a high level of fitness to begin with.
So what is the verdict here? Can you get slim with only a few minutes of high-intensity exercise per week? In my opinion, the evidence is not strong enough to support the idea that you can. Is it better than doing no exercise? Definitely! In my opinion, if you feel up for it, you should try HIIT. And if you are doing it right, it will wipe you out quickly. It certainly wipes me out within 20 minutes, and I’m a fairly fit person!
However, I do not recommend HIIT if you are just starting out your fitness program. The reason is because high intensity workouts can actually pose huge health risks to people in certain groups, such as those who have had a stroke, sufferers of heart conditions, people prone to having dizzy spells, or those who are likely to have any of these. I’d recommend doing some steady state cardio to get your fitness levels up first, then inject in the interval training to give it a huge boost! Got it?
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