Cardiovascular Health

What Is High-Intensity Interval Training?

There is always a battle in the fitness community between high intensity exercise an steady state aerobic exercise. I don't know why some experts like to operate on one side of the fence or the other but it is common to hear that one form of cardio is better than the other. But the truth is you need both of them. There is room for both of them in your training programs.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is when you alternate between high and low intensity exercises or between high intensity exercise and a short period of rest. For example, a short sprint up a flight of stairs followed by a walk back down is interval training. Or a sprint on a treadmill followed by stepping to the side and resting for a short period.

High-intensity aerobic interval training (HIIT) is a popular strategy for improving cardiorespiratory fitness and health, as well as reducing body fat levels. High-intensity intervals are typically performed above the lactate threshold. You know that crazy burn feeling you get when you are gasping for air after running up a big flight of stairs? The science of that feeling is called lactate threshold. This high-intensity bout is then followed by a low-intensity recovery period that allows the body to buffer and clear lactic acid from the blood, thereby allowing the individual enough time to recover and perform another high-intensity interval.

Most every high intensity physical activity is a state of “crisis” in the body. It endangers oxygen supply to tissues, increases body temperature, reduces body fluids and fuel stores, and causes tissue damage.

HIIT has been shown to improve cardiovascular function and stimulate greater weight loss compared with traditional steady state aerobic training. I believe there should be a great amount of caution exercised when using it if you are a beginner. It is very important that you should establish some type of aerobic foundation before you attempt to try HIIT protocols.

I will cover what an aerobic base is in detail on a later post but I want to give you some context now as well. The more work you perform aerobically, the more efficient you are. Aerobic training produces muscular adaptations that improve oxygen transport to the muscles, reduces the rate of lactate formation, and improves the rate of lactate removal and increases energy production and utilization. These adaptations occur slowly over time.

As a result of that adaptation, you will become more efficient at HIIT training programs. HIIT can be a time efficient means to improve cardiorespiratory fitness and reduce body fat levels over and above what is possible through steady-state aerobic training. But if HIIT is done to much it can be associated with an increased potential for overtraining, especially when combined with regimented resistance training.

It is essential to understand that balance is important. It is great to integrate HIIT training in your program but do it in spurts and not as your training program as a whole.


Should You Be Doing Cardio?

The popularity of cardio goes up and down. It really just depends on what the latest fitness trend is. During the 80s and 90s and the era of Jane Fonda workouts and Tae Bo, aerobics were in and weightlifting was out. The tables have turned now. Now it’s all about being strong, not skinny. Having bigger arms, better legs, more definition, and a great set of abs is definitely “in.”

We know resistance training is an essential tool for building muscle and improving metabolism. Plus, who wouldn’t mind looking great for summer vacation?

So, is cardio a complete waste of time? Couldn’t you just invest that time into doing more lunges, bench presses, squats, and crunches?

Cardio is not the enemy. Fitness trends will always change and vary in popularity. But it’s important to remember that all types of exercises have their benefits. Just like your nutritional regimen, variety will always be best.

You should have some cardio in your workout regimen. Everyone needs some light, moderate and high intensity cardio during the week. In fact, cardio itself offers quite a few benefits for your body that exceed that which weight training can provide alone.

Like every other muscle in your body, the more you work your heart, the stronger it becomes. Endurance increases with exercises that improve the body’s ability to deliver oxygen to muscles. The more you engage in this type of exercise, the more blood your heart is able to pump per beat and in turn, your heart rate (even at resting) will decrease. This will make both exercise as well as everyday activities much easier.

Studies have shown that the parts of the brain that control thinking and memory have greater volume in people who do regular exercise when compared to those who don’t.

Numerous studies have suggested that increasing physical activity can reduce the risk of multiple chronic diseases and health conditions including obesity, cardiovascular disease, and neurological diseases.

Aerobic exercise or cardio is still king when it comes to driving weight loss. The more we move, the more calories we burn, hence the more potential body fat we can lose.

Remember, the best exercise routine is one that you can adhere to. One of the keys to adherence is to make sure you are having fun and enjoying the exercise you are partaking in. So make sure that your routine is constantly changing and challenging you to improve your fitness level. If you’re someone who only likes weightlifting, try working in some bike riding, brisk walking, or a quick jog a couple of times a week. If you’re someone who runs the same track every day, try hitting some circuit training at the gym or even trying a few body weight exercises in your living room.

Variety is key in exercise selection, and nutrition. With a good amount of variety you might find yourself much more excited about your workouts. The possibilities are endless, so mix it up.