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How High-Intensity Interval Training Could Boost Your Fitness

Are you looking for ways to improve your health? High-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be a great way to take your fitness to the next level. With these workouts, you alternate brief periods of intense activity with periods of rest or low-intensity activity. For example, you might perform three minutes of intense activity followed by a three-minute recovery. Because the high-intensity intervals are, well, intense, you’ll want to keep them relatively short. Three to five minutes is a typical time range per interval.

We spoke with Genevieve Lambert, MD a sports medicine specialist at Banner - University Medicine Family Medicine Clinic in Phoenix, AZ. She filled us in on the benefits of HIIT training, the best ways to get started, the types of exercises you can perform and more.

What benefits do HIIT workouts provide?

“There are a lot of health benefits to HIIT workouts,” Dr. Lambert said. They can help you maintain body muscle mass and can improve:

What types of exercises can you perform in HIIT workouts?

High-intensity interval training can be a part of many different cardio-based workouts, including:

  • Cycling
  • Walking
  • Swimming
  • Aqua training
  • Elliptical training
  • Many types of group exercise classes
  • Exercises such as jump squats, burpees or mountain climbers

If you’re accustomed to doing these workouts at a steady pace, it’s easy to turn them into HIIT workouts. Just pick up the pace for a short time, then alternate with a resting or recovery period. If you’re not already performing these workouts, you’ll probably want to give yourself a few weeks to get accustomed to the exercise before you add in HIIT.

Who can try high-intensity interval training?

Anyone can try HIIT workouts—it doesn’t matter how old you are, what gender you are or how fit you are. “The key to being safe is to modify the intensity of the work to your level,” Dr. Lambert said. “As a reference point, the high-intensity intervals should feel like you are exercising ‘hard’ to ‘very hard.’ It should feel difficult, but not impossible, to carry on a conversation.”

If you track your heart rate, your high-intensity intervals should be at about 80% of your estimated maximum heart rate. To calculate that number, just subtract your age from 220.

What’s the best way to get started with HIIT training safely and see results?

To start, keep your high-intensity sessions short—as short as 30 seconds—and build in several minutes for your recovery. Aim to work up to four to six high-intensity sessions within a workout. You can gradually make the high-intensity segments longer.

You’ll probably find that HIIT workouts are more exhausting than most of your endurance workouts, so you will likely need longer recovery periods in between them. Dr. Lambert recommends starting with one high-intensity training workout a week. As you improve your fitness level you can add more HIIT workouts—just continue to spread them out within your overall exercise program.

Are there risks to HIIT workouts?

With every type of exercise program, there’s some risk of injury. Using proper form can help reduce your risk. You also want to be aware of your muscular strength, or base fitness level, before you start high-intensity interval training.

“Exercising at a somewhat hard intensity for 20 to 60 minutes three to five times a week for several weeks can help your muscles adapt and prepare for HIIT workouts,” Dr. Lambert said.

Who should avoid HITT workouts?

You should avoid high-intensity interval training if you have a sedentary lifestyle, a history of smoking, hypertension, uncontrolled diabetes or coronary artery disease. Talk to your doctor about the best ways to increase your fitness level if you have any of these conditions.

The bottom line

High-intensity interval training is a great way to increase your overall fitness and reduce your risk of various health conditions. For the best results, start slowly and gradually increase your intensity as your fitness level improves. To connect with a health care provider who can work with you to design an exercise program that will help you achieve your fitness goals, reach out to Banner Health.

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