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The High Intensity Interval Training Advantage

This type of workout helps you burn more calories, improve your heart health and more
Written by 
Holly St. Lifer
Canyon Ranch Reviewer: 
Updated on: 
January 22, 2015

High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a combination of intense activity and slow-it-down recovery periods that allow you to get an effective workout in a short amount of time—even if you only have 20 minutes to spare. The best part: You can do at the gym, in your backyard, on the living room floor or just about anywhere. While it can be demanding, you don't need to be an athlete to perform, and benefit from, this kind of interval training. It is important, however, to incorporate HIIT into your routine gradually to avoid injury—working your way up to the recommended one to two times a week is a great complement to the other forms of exercise you do, like yoga, strength training or running.

There are key advantages to high-intensity interval training that make it worth your while. HIIT…

  •    Increases Your Cardiovascular Fitness

Performing the short, intense bursts that HIIT requires challenges your aerobic fitness by boosting your VO2 max, the amount of oxygen you use during your highest level of physical exertion. Improving your VO2 max helps you burn calories more efficiently and ups your performance, allowing you to work out longer and harder before tiring out.

Because high-intensity intervals are performed at full throttle, it takes longer for your metabolism to return to its normal resting rate than with other forms of exercise. Researchers have found that HIIT actually doubles your metabolic rate for 30 minutes post-workout. In fact, in the 24 hours post-HIIT workout, you continue burning calories as your body works to recover.

  •    Reduces Your Risk

Compared to moderate exercise, high intensity interval training can be more successful at reversing risk factors that contribute to metabolic syndrome—a combination of high blood pressure and cholesterol, abdominal obesity and insulin resistance that increases your odds of suffering from a heart attack or developing diabetes.

Get Started

If you’re new to exercise, speak with your doctor about whether interval training is right for you or if you should hold off on giving it a try until you’ve been working out regularly for a few weeks.

A certified fitness trainer can help you create your optimal HIIT plan. But you can give it a go on your own, too. Pick a cardio activity, like cycling, treadmill walking or the elliptical—or even something that doesn’t involve equipment, like swimming—and start with a five minute warm-up. Then perform the activity at an intense level for two minutes, raising your heart rate to 85 percent of its maximum capacity. You can calculate this by subtracting your age from 220 and then multiplying that number by .85. Wearing a heart rate monitor during your workout will allow you to keep track accurately. Next, recover for two minutes, slowing down—without coming to a complete stop—until your heart rate returns to normal. Use the full two minutes for recovery, even if you feel you don’t need it. Repeat that cycle three more times. Finally, spend five minutes performing a few cool-down stretches.

Keep Challenging Yourself

After about a month of high intensity intervals, you should be recovering in less time and the bursts of activity will likely feel easier. Take it to the next level by increasing your effort during the intense activity period.

More: Understanding Intervals

American Council on Exercise
Auburn University Montgomery Kinesiology Lab
IDEA Health and Fitness Association
About the author 
Holly St. Lifer is a health, fitness, nutrition and human interest writer whose work has appeared in AARP, Health, Ladies' Home Journal, Prevention and other publications. She also teaches magazine writing at New York University.