The per­fect HIIT for your body

For­get gen­tle jogs and long runs, peo­ple, start do­ing bursts of in­tense ex­er­cise in­stead.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - OPINION - star2@ thes­tar. com. my Man­gai Balasegaram

IN the movie Rocky, the boxer runs all over the city of Philadel­phia to get fit. He’s there in the mar­ket, by the train tracks, by the docks and at the steps of the mu­seum, panting away in his 1980s- style grey sweats and red head­band. It’s an iconic im­age of ex­er­cise in that era.

I know many peo­ple who, like the fic­tional Rocky, run for miles and miles at a steady pace, be­liev­ing this is an ideal way to get fit. Guess what? It’s not. Short, in­tense bursts of stren­u­ous ex­er­cise, with brief in­ter­vals for rest, may be a bet­ter way to get fit. A 15- minute ses­sion of high- in­ten­sity in­ter­val train­ing, also known by its acro­nym HIIT, can pro­vide more fit­ness than a one- hour run, ex­perts say.

Gretchen Reynolds, who has writ­ten ex­ten­sively about HIIT in

The New York Times and in a book, says the re­search by ex­er­cise sci­en­tists has even led peo­ple to con­sider “ditch­ing long work­outs al­to­gether”.

She says even one minute of “ar­du­ous ex­er­cise” in HIIT can be as ef­fec­tive in im­prov­ing health and fit­ness as 45 min­utes of “gen­tler sweat­ing”. In a web ar­ti­cle en­ti­tled Death

Of Steady State Car­dio, Rachel Cos­grove writes that “steady- state aer­o­bics is ab­so­lutely, com­pletely, ut­terly in­ef­fec­tive for fat loss”.

“Long, steady- state en­durance is not the answer for a de­fined, lean physique, and it’s a waste of time if your goal is long term fat loss. En­durance work is only the answer if your goal is to com­pete in an en­durance event,” she says.

This has all been wel­come news for me. HIIT was made for me.

I’ve never been the type to spend hours run­ning. Fit­ness aside, I’d just get too bored and im­pa­tient. Even the thought of en­durance ex­er­cise ex­hausts me. I was al­ways much more of a sprinter than a marathon run­ner.

For years, I be­lieved this was a prob­lem of stamina, or lack of fit­ness, or maybe I just wasn’t the sporty type. Yet when I do HIIT ex­er­cises, I’m gen­er­ally will­ing to go the dis­tance, push­ing my­self to my lim­its. I learnt two things from this: don’t as­sume too much about your body, and, find what ex­er­cise works for you.

A HIIT work­out might com­prise a few types of stren­u­ous ex­er­cises, such as jump­ing jacks, burpees ( squat thrusts) or moun­tain climbers ( full body work out), some re­sis­tance ex­er­cises like car­ry­ing weights, and brief rest in­ter­vals, just enough to catch one’s breath, in be­tween.

I do my own brand of HIIT when I cy­cle or run, go­ing at an in­tense pace for a minute or so, and then slow­ing down to catch my breath and bring down my heart rate. But I pre­fer go­ing to a class where a trainer puts to­gether a fan­tas­tic set of ex­er­cises in a com­pact HIIT work­out.

I still have trou­ble ex­plain­ing to peo­ple why I pre­fer this kind of work­out to a reg­u­lar run.

“Many peo­ple still do not un­der­stand what HIIT is,” says Isa­iah Kee Tzen Chin, na­tional fit­ness man­ager of GLS Fit­worx.

In fact, HIIT dates back to 2003 or ear­lier, when gym chain Fit­ness First brought in HIIT class- es like “RPM” and “Body At­tack”, says Kee. To­day, all com­mer­cial gyms and most bou­tique gyms here of­fer HIIT pro­grammes, he says. And the trend is grow­ing. Kee too be­lieves that HIIT of­fers more ben­e­fits as a work­out than a steady state car­dio ex­er­cise, such as run­ning. “It is good for peo­ple who do not have much time to ex­er­cise,” he says. It gives a per­son a great work­out in the frac­tion of the time needed. HIIT is also bet­ter at burn­ing fat, as it stim­u­lates a key hor­mone up to 24 hours af­ter the work­out. Kee rec­om­mends do­ing HIIT work­outs three times a week, or twice weekly com­bined with low- in­ten­sity car­dio ex­er­cises once or twice a week, to pro­vide a good mea­sure of fit­ness. As is com­monly done, Kee in­cludes some re­sis­tance train­ing, or strength train­ing, in his HIIT work­outs, which makes them much more com­plete than, say, run­ning alone.

Strength train­ing is con­sid­ered es­sen­tial to fit­ness. It helps build mus­cle, which of­fers strength, and it pre­vents in­jury and pos­si­ble dis­eases in the fu­ture such as os­teo­poro­sis and sarope­nia, the loss of body mass. It also helps rev up the body’s rest­ing me­tab­o­lism rate, be­cause it takes more calo­ries to main­tain mus­cle than fat.

Strength train­ing of­ten uses weights. “Eat clean and lift heavy”, they say. But it also in­cludes ex­er­cises like push- ups or squats, which ac­tu­ally use a num­ber of dif­fer­ent mus­cles.

Kee points out that HIIT is not for every­one. It may be too in­tense for be­gin­ners, who may drop all ex­er­cise if they get dis­cour­aged. And be­cause of its in­ten­sity, it is also not suit­able for peo­ple with cer­tain med­i­cal con­di­tions.

Thank­fully, for me right now, HIIT is a per­fect hit for me. Man­gai Balasegaram writes mostly on health, but also delves into any­thing on be­ing hu­man. She has worked with in­ter­na­tional pub­lic health bod­ies and has a Masters in pub­lic health.

Long, steady- state en­durance is not the answer for a de­fined, lean physique.

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