March 4, 2015
Science Tells us Why Short, High Intensity Workouts are the Best
(Portions of this article are credited to Time Magazine’s Alexandra Sifferlin from her Aug 5, 2014 publication)
The number one excuse given by Americans for not exercising on a regular basis is that we simply are not able to find the time in our busy lives to get it done. Well, there is good news! A series of studies published in 2014 have shown that individuals can improve cardiovascular fitness and strength while burning MORE fat than traditional longer-duration exercise in as little as 15-20 minutes. There is, as expected, a catch: you must significantly increase the intensity of the workout.
You may have heard of, or maybe even tried, a relatively new kind of workout principle called “high intensity interval training” or HIIT. The basic premise is this: perform an activity at your maximum effort for as long as you can; say for 30 seconds to a minute, then quickly switch to a lesser intensity for 1 to 2 minutes to recover without coming to a complete stop. Repeat. The HIIT workouts are designed to last a total of about 30 minutes after which you should be relatively exhausted. The studies have shown that this can be modified to any fitness level. You don’t have to be a Michael Phelps, LeSean McCoy, or Mike Beiler to try these out. Just make sure you are working at your maximum safe level. You should do an honest self-assessment before attempting any exercise regimen that is asking you to perform at these levels. Better still, check with your family physician or favorite physical therapist to help guide you in the right direction.
The reason that HIIT-type workouts are thought to be so effective is that they are requiring your body to work on speed, strength, and endurance at a maximum effort within a single session. You are also elevating your heart rate to a level that is higher than you could possibly sustain for an extended period, so your cardiovascular system is getting a big boost. Some research has found that interval training can boost attention and memory because it is stimulating more circulation to the brain. These principles have been applied not only to the healthy population, but also to those with chronic conditions. Persons with diabetes have had better success in regards to controlling blood sugar levels by applying intervals to their walking programs compared to longer walks without intervals.
There are many, many options when it comes to finding and choosing the interval training program that is right for you. If you are interested in HIIT workouts, simply Google the phrase and prepare to be flooded with preset exercise sequences designed by trainers and fitness enthusiasts. With these, you can look over each of the moves before you begin and decide if it looks like something you can handle. If you are not ready for high intensity, you can simply add a little increased intensity interval to your walking, bike riding, or elliptical workout for 30 seconds to a minute to achieve a similar effect. I have tried many of these, myself, and can tell you that most will fit the bill when it comes to breaking a sweat and getting the job done quickly which is, after all, the idea.
Mike Beiler, MPT, DPT, CSCS