It’s a simple concept with a fancy-sounding name. High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is a style of workout that combines short bursts of intense exercise, alternated with slower ‘recovery’ periods. It speeds up your workout session, gets you sweating hard, and it helps you build your fitness fast.
There are endless ways to do this, using pretty much any kind of movement you like. A basic example would be sprinting for 30 seconds, then slowing to a gentle jog for 30 seconds, and repeating. You can do it on a bike, or in the pool, or using bodyweight exercises like burpees, push ups, lunges and crunches. And in group fitness classes, it’s fast becoming a favourite, packing the power of a longer workout into a 30- or 45-minute time slot.
It’s challenging, but it works. There are plenty of scientific studies that support the advantages of HIIT for getting you fit, burning fat and building your strength. A study by Stephen H. Boutcher at the University of New South Wales, for example, found that HIIT can outperform traditional cardio when it comes to fat loss, and can increase fat burning for hours after exercise. More research is needed though to determine the length and type of HIIT program for the best results.
One of the best things about HIIT is that you’ll start to see results quickly. “You'll be able to reach your goals quicker: increase endurance, burn more fat and tone and shape your body in a shorter period of time,” fitness professional Jarrod Tucker says.
“Class after class you can very easily tell how your endurance is improving, how much stronger you are getting and how your body begins to change. I think there is nothing more rewarding than that.”
“You'll be able to reach your goals quicker: increase endurance, burn more fat and tone and shape your body in a shorter period of time.”
Jarrod is a Master Trainer of STRONG by Zumba, a HIIT-style group fitness class that has gained popularity around Australia. Driven by energetic, original music, the hour-long workout combines bodyweight, muscle conditioning, cardio, and plyometric training moves, all with variations to suit any level of fitness.
“The class is designed to work every muscle in your body, and give you the maximum burn in the shortest amount of time,” he says.
“You will find that you are doing more burpees, squats and lunges, than you ever thought you were capable of doing because of the music. And whenever you are enjoying what you are doing, unconsciously you tend to push yourself more, which means that burn more calories, and overall, get quicker results.”
Two people who have experienced these changes for themselves are Brad Coey-Braddon and Denise Betteridge. Here, they take a moment to tell us how regular HIIT training improved their lives.
"The combination of body weight exercises and cardio components really got my heart rate up and the body sweating, and that's what I'm always looking for in a workout.”
Brad was looking for a workout style that would really challenge him. He wanted a transformation – to slim down, strengthen up and recharge his vitality, so he could be a better father to his young daughter.
“She is now two years old and demands so much of my time, so having that extra energy is super important to me,” he says. “I would also like to be a good role model for her and set a good example of an active, healthy balanced life.”
He wasn’t sure what to expect when he walked into his first STRONG by Zumba class, but he quickly found the vibrant, fast-paced workout was just what he needed.
“It was pretty clear that this type of workout would challenge me. The combination of body weight exercises and cardio components really got my heart rate up and the body sweating, and that's what I'm always looking for in a workout.”
Brad fell in love with that energising rush, and his hard work gave him some pretty thrilling results. “I have seen a huge physical change – I have abs now!” he says. “I have lost 7 kg. My general fitness has improved substantially, and I feel fitter than ever before. I now find I have more energy for day to day activities.”
Working out regularly also motivated him to learn more about choosing healthy, nourishing food to fuel his body. “You realise pretty quickly doing these workouts that if you haven't eaten right or drunk enough water that the workout is going to be more difficult,” he says.
“If you want to make a change, you can. At first it will be hard and results won't come straight away but do stick with it and surround yourself with positive people. Combine the physical activity with a healthy diet, but make sure you still live your life and enjoy yourself.”
For Denise, adding a HIIT workout to her routine was the perfect way to jolt her fitness and build her core strength. Like Brad, she tried STRONG by Zumba at her local gym out of curiosity, and has never looked back.
“It’s my secret to keeping fit at the age of 61 – it has had an extraordinary impact on my body,” she says. “My posture and body strength have improved dramatically. It has not only increased my fitness levels and helped with muscle toning but has also given me a great opportunity to work on bone density, which is vital, especially for aged females.”
As a small business owner, getting a regular cardio blast helps Denise manage her stress levels and keep her mood lifted through busy days. And as a grandmother, it’s allowed her to keep fit so she has the energy to care and play with her grandson.
“Like anything new, be patient and give yourself the time to settle into the routines and slowly build your strength,” Denise advises. “Technique is the key to results. And most of all, forget your age and believe in yourself. Keep moving – when you stop, you rust!”
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Is HIIT right for you?
The health benefits of high intensity interval training are fantastic, however this type of workout is not suitable for everyone, so visit your GP for a check-up before starting any new exercise program. If high intensity interval training is not for you, your GP can guide you on other great forms of exercise that you may like to try instead.