HIIT Workouts Work: Two New Studies Show Positive Results

HIIT workouts often use medicine balls

photo credit: Flickr

This is an interesting twist on high intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts. Two new studies from overseas both show positive results, even if you're older. The studies were published together in the Journal of Physiology this past week by the same team of researchers. Both studies compared endurance training (i.e., your regular steady state cardio of 40 to 60 minutes) with SIT (sprint intensity training). For endurance training, researchers assumed people were working out with steady state cardio between three and five hours per week. The SIT sessions take only 90 minutes total per week. Particpants in the study, all sedentary males, would do a 30-second all-out sprint on an exercise bike followed by four and a half minutes of easy recovery. This would be repeated for a full 30 minutes or six repetitions total. Results showed that both the endurance training and SIT groups increased aerobic capacity and insulin sensitivity. Improved insulin sensitivity is a good thing ... that means less diabetes! To be fair, this was a small study; only 16 people and the average age was 21 ... so basically a bunch of college students who likely got paid to be guinea pigs.

What HIIT Workouts Mean For You

So what do these results mean for you? Good question. If you love your workouts and you're happy doing what you're doing, please don't change a thing! If, however, you're a bit frustrated in your attempts to get longer workouts in, then maybe HIIT is a good solution for you. The HIIT training takes a LOT less than 40 to 60 minutes of steady state training, and more and more studies (albeit small ones) are showing that the bang for your buck is nearly identical. It appears working out as hard as possible for very brief periods of time is actually great for your body. The most important factor for all of this is determining what balance is right for you. I am just starting a running program and will be doing a lot of steady state runs. I'll also be doing my usual twice a week Pilates (about 50 minutes of weight training, which sometimes edges up into low level cardio), but I also plan on doing my 10 minute HIIT blasts on days that I'm too busy to do anything else. And no, there is absolutely not one single excuse available for skipping a 10-minute workout ... unless you're sick enough to stay home from work or school. For me, looking at HIIT workouts as legitimate required a lot of research and reading as well as letting go of old ideas. I was so locked in from my heavy cardio days where you needed at least 30 minutes -- and more like 60 minutes -- to get a "good" workout in. The idea that 10 minutes is truly enough is kind of amazing. If you're thinking about giving HIIT a try here are a couple of caveats:
  1. Intense training can be rough on your joints.  Make sure the moves you're doing are easy to perform and are something that you can execute safely. Otherwise, don't do it!
  2. Intense means intense for you. As long as you're huffing and puffing and frankly uncomfortable, then you are doing the level that is right for you. I personally push myself until I'm heaving a lung and almost nauseous by the third or fourth round ... that's plenty hard for me.
  3. Figure out a mix of steady state and HIIT workouts that work best for you. The HIIT junkies still recommend one steady state session per week for overall cardiovascular health ... But the steady state junkies might see improvements with just one HIIT workout per week.  So experiment until you find your mix.
Let me know what you think of the newest research and whether you mix in HIIT workouts or you're fine just sticking to your steady state sessions. Cheers, Lisa  

About Lisa Johnson

Lisa Johnson here. I've been a personal trainer since 1997, a Pilates instructor since 1998 and the owner of Modern Pilates since 1999. I'm hoping to give you some good ideas to get or stay in shape with a healthy dose of humor and reality. Thanks for joining me.


4 Responses to HIIT Workouts Work: Two New Studies Show Positive Results

  1. TraceyJoy February 10, 2013 at 9:11 pm #

    My only experience with HIIT has been Body Physica Intense. The standing and ballet series if I do them back to back I’m shaking, literally wobbling buckets of sweat. The first time I did that I laid on the floor next thing I knew it was 4 hours later, I had fallen asleep, LOL. I like HIIT workouts who in the world can’t fit 10 minutes in to do something beneficial for yourself? It’s perfect the way to go. Honestly I’m getting better results form HIIT than I do the 50-60 minute cardio class.

  2. Lisa Johnson February 11, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    Yay!!! Tracey Joy that is so awesome to hear … :-) happy dance, happy dance …

  3. evilcyber February 13, 2013 at 2:16 pm #

    HIIT is quite refreshing if you did steady-state cardio before for months on end. The only trouble with HIIT I see is that right now it is made to be “super-effective” and then rather untrained people attempt to do it. For beginners, I believe, HIIT is not ideal, as they sometimes have a hard time judging how far they should push themselves.

  4. Lisa Johnson February 13, 2013 at 9:38 pm #

    Evil, YES … that’s exactly why I did my HIIT video … I saw so many videos with bad form out there. Basic stuff like knee over toe, etc. And beginners need to be able to start “small” and work their way up. Thank you for bringing that up.

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