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If you've bought into the hype and you don't need to do anything other than High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIIT) to stay healthy and fit, there’s a good chance you're missing out on your goals and putting yourself in a bad position.
This buzzy training protocol often under-delivers on the benefits trainers promise. HIIT has been touted as the all-in-one workout that can build muscle, shed fat, and make all of your physical dreams come true. The fact is, however, according to Men’s Health fitness director Ebenezer Samuel, C.S.C.S., and MH Advisory Board member David Otey, C.S.C.S., is that HIIT doesn't exactly live up to the hype.
These days, the HIIT label has been watered down, often being applied to any form of training that features quick bursts of activity, broken down into circuits of work periods and rest periods. Unfortunately, most exercisers (and the trainers instructing them) fall far short of that first key part of the acronym: high intensity. “When it comes to HIIT training for the most part, people think it is the best possible cardiovascular exercise and protocol,” Otey says. “And unfortunately, it doesn't meet the standard because it's misinterpreted by a lot of people and misapplied by a lot of coaches.”
HIIT performed improperly really doesn’t push the heart rate as advertised. Remember those first two words in HIIT: high intensity. Unfortunately, most routines fall far short from the original goal of all-out effort. One of the reasons is the time format—a standard 40 seconds on, 20 seconds off method—which may be too long a timeframe for all-out sprints or mountain climbers and not long enough of a recovery period. Samuel says that flipping the routine—20 seconds on, 40 seconds rest—would be more effective, but probably a harder sell for most group fitness classes.
Why HIIT Doesn't Live Up to the Hype
No Cardio Foundation
When done properly, HIIT is gonna be exhausting. If you’re not hunched over, hands on your knees and gasping, you might not have put in enough effort to reap the rewards. And truth be told, a lot of us don’t have a proper cardio base to be able to handle a full-blown HIIT workout. You want to build your cardio gradually, sort of like working toward a one-rep max.
The HIIT Calorie Burn Doesn't Live Up to its Hype
One of the main selling points of HIIT is its so-called “afterburn effect,” meaning your body is still burning calories hours after you’ve finished your workout. But unfortunately, that HIIT hype is a bit overinflated on this front as well. Research has shown that the afterburn effects are in fact negligible and not as beneficial as advertised, according to Otey.
3 Alternatives for HIIT Workouts
Instead, there are these 3 alternative protocols to try.
Low-Intensity Steady State (LISS)
20 to 30 minutes daily 3 days per week
It’s not flashy, but a basic walk or jog or other activity at a lower intensity and consistent pace remains an effective form of exercise. These types of activities allows your heart to regulate itself at this intensity level and over time you’ll begin noticing your heart rate getting stronger.
30 minute training sessions 3 days per week
That’s right, hitting the weights can be a better option than aimless HIIT workouts. Muscle building, primarily multi-joint moves such as bench presses, rows, deadlifts, and squats are going to burn more calories than you would think, especially as you begin pushing heavier loads. This is especially important for those over 40, who need weight training to maintain muscle mass. And don’t forget, over time, building muscle through weight training is going to help burn fat.
Moderate-Intensity Steady State Training
2 to 3 days per week
Hate to burst your HIIT bubble, but most everyone sweating through 40- to 60-minute group fitness class are actually performing exercises at a moderate intensity. And that’s not such a bad thing—it’s just not what you were sold when you signed up for a HIIT class. An easy and effective training template to work with would be going at about 70 to 90 percent of your max effort, whether it be a treadmill or row machine. You could even incorporate bodyweight exercises—mountain climbers or jump squats—and come up with a solid and efficient moderate-intensity workout.
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