The perfect HIIT for your body
Forget gentle jogs and long runs, people, start doing bursts of intense exercise instead.
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.