A little pain for a lot of gain?

We are always looking for shortcuts in our fast-paced lives. Exercise is no exception, hence the popularity of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). HIIT involves alternating high intensity bursts with recovery periods at lower intensity. I used to exercise with a mentality of “more is more”, and if I didn't work out for at least an hour, then it wasn't worth exercising at all. Now, with less time on my hands and a better understanding of human physiology, I’ve discovered, happily, that Less is More.

The studies are unequivocal on this fact, too. But the surprising thing is how wide-reaching the benefits really are. A study at McMaster University found that HIIT reduces your risk of heart disease and diabetes, improves VO2 max, reduces fat mass and burns more calories when compared to longer steady-state exercise. In large part, this is because interval training burns calories for 1-2 days after you exercise. On the other hand, extended periods of steady state aerobic exercise releases higher amounts of the stress hormone, cortisol, which stimulates your appetite and encourages fat storage while inhibiting muscle recovery. So that extra long run may be causing you to crave more cookies, and may be the reason you are not losing weight.

Most importantly, you get the same if not better results from spending 1/10th of your time exercising! 4 minutes of high intensity work (16 total minutes of exercise) 3 times per week is enough to improve your VO2 max and obtain cardiovascular benefits. 

HIIT is appropriate for everyone – whether you are starting out on your exercise routine, or you are a seasoned athlete. If you are a beginner, use work:rest periods of 1:3. For example, do 30 seconds of faster paced walking, at a speed where you can’t maintain a conversation, followed by 90 seconds at a more relaxed pace. For athletes, decrease the rest interval and increase your work intensity. Repeat these sets 6-10 times and I guarantee that your 15-20 minute workout will leave you feeling accomplished.

So, now that you know all about HITT, here are 3 ways you can incorporate intervals into your exercise routine. I recommend doing it with a friend because it makes it a lot more fun. Next time you feel like you don’t have time to exercise, remember that even 4 minutes of HIIT will have a great effect on your health!

1.    Use Technology. There are so many websites and apps out there to help you come up with some great ideas for circuit training. Some of the ones I use often are 7-minute workoutDeck of WOD and Traveling WOD. These are all body weight exercises so you can even try them out in your backyard or at a local park. 

2.   Hill training – find a hill on your running/cycling route and challenge yourself by decreasing your total distance, but completing 3-4 sets of hill sprints. Your recovery time should be the time it takes you to walk/jog to the bottom of the hill. 

3.   Download an interval timer app – there are so many options available. Check out this article for reviews of all the top timers. Next time you are out for a run or a walk, challenge yourself by setting a timer for 30 seconds of intense effort, and then give your body time to recover before the next round. 

If you made it all the way to the end of this article then you have an amazing attention span. I'll reward you with this great infographic for more ideas.