Conventional wisdom has long held that an effective weight-loss program requires a good 30 minutes or more of fat-burning exercise, 4-5 times a week, before you’ll see much of a result. Well, what if I told you there’s a way to trigger your body’s fat-burning chemistry in 20 minutes or less, 3 times a week?
This isn’t an infomercial gimmick—it’s High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT.
What’s the catch? The catch is right there in the name: high intensity. In order to take on a HIIT program, you’ll need to be ready to work as hard as your body can work. If you’ve got a heart condition or any other physical impediment to all-out effort, you’ll need to pursue a program with less intense effort.
The beauty of HIIT is that it requires little or no equipment and takes almost no time at all, while improving not only your physique but your physical conditioning and endurance. Athletes often use this method to improve their performance in a broad range of sports, from rowing to soccer. In addition, studies have shown that young men who perform HIIT workouts substantially improved their insulin action, helping to prevent Type 2 Diabetes.
Run For It
The purest form of HIIT is a series of sprints: run as fast as you can possibly run for 30 seconds, rest, then run again. A beginner will want a significant rest period between sprints, as long as 90 seconds. As your body becomes accustomed to sprinting, the rest intervals should decrease to 60 seconds, and for a seasoned sprinter a 30-second rest should do.
And when you rest, don’t just lie down in the grass—keep moving, at least at a walk. At first you’ll only want to do 5-6 intervals. Yes, in about 20 minutes you’ll complete your first high intensity workout. Rest the next day, then do it again.
The primal movement uses sprinting as the primary form of cardio exercise: just find an open space, mark out the length of your sprints, and get started. It was good enough for cavemen, it’s good enough for us.
Another form of high-intensity training is the Tabata, developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata of the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. A Tabata interval consists of 20 seconds of all-out exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest. After eight intervals, you’re done.
You can perform a broad range of exercises within the Tabata structure, including exercises with reasonably heavy weights such as shoulder presses, pull-ups and kettlebell swings. Just make sure to set up the weights before you start, and test them to make sure they aren’t too heavy.
It may be the hardest four-minute workout you ever do. I know it’s one of the hardest I’ve ever taken on. In fact, the Tabata isn’t intended to be performed regularly—instead, use it to mix up your program once or twice a month. To time your intervals, either recruit a friend (it’s only four minutes; switch and time them afterward) or get an interval-timing app for your iPod or smartphone.
Take HIIT Everywhere
If your attention span is so short that you’re bored doing sprints for 20 minutes three times a week, it’s possible to highly intensify many exercises. At the gym you can perform HIIT intervals on an exercise bike, rowing machine or elliptical, at home you can pick up a jump rope, or you could even take it on at the pool (just make sure the water’s shallow enough to stand between intervals—I don’t want any drownings on my hands).
Before you perform a HIIT workout, make sure to warm up, and you may also want to cool down with a short walk and some stretching.
If you’ve been spending 30 minutes to an hour at a time on a treadmill or stair climber and wondering why you’re not losing fat, you really should give HIIT a try, if only to shake up your program.
Can You Get Fit in Six Minutes a Week? [NY Times]