Why ten to 40 minutes of exercise top trumps an hour of steady-state cardiovascular training in the gym

Yearly twenties were spent slogging away in the gym for at least an hour most days. If you hadn’t been hard at it for an hour, then what was even the point? Make that nearer two hours, given the time I spent faffing around and talking to people in between. Two hours of my life wasted in the gym. I’m not sure where the magic 60 minutes come from, but it’s something gym goers, me included, have clung on to for many years. But these days, I’m all about the quick workout.

Enter HIIT, or High-Intensity Interval Training. Where have you been all my life?

Generally, a HIIT exercise session lasts anywhere from ten to 40 minutes and involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise followed by a period of rest or lower intensity. HIIT is a time-efficient and effective way to improve your fitness level, burn calories, and enhance various aspects of your health. When done consistently, I see the same if not better results than when I was putting in hours at the gym. The best thing is, I can do it at home with very little equipment.

If you’ve got a busy schedule or are one of those people who say they just don’t have time to exercise, then HIIT is for you. You can’t pull out the ‘don’t have time’ excuse with HIIT training. Everyone has ten minutes, right?

The beauty of HIIT is that you can tailor it to your needs and time constraints. It is highly adaptable to your schedule, fitness level, and preferences. Plus, you can choose from a wide variety of exercises and intensities, making it easy to customise your routine based on your goals. Can you tell I’m a fan?

HIIT training can be a great mood lifter. If you’re feeling a bit low then the invigoration and satisfaction of a short HIIT workout is a game changer. Akin to dancing round the kitchen to your favourite song, I find HIIT helps shift my energy and focus.

HIIT newbies might start with shorter intervals and longer recovery periods, while more advanced individuals may opt for longer, more intense intervals with shorter recovery times.

So, what does the science say? A 2021 meta-analysis (where lots of smaller studies are looked at and the results pooled) found that HIIT in older adults had positive benefits in terms of physical fitness, cardiorespiratory health, muscle strength, and reduced levels of triglyceride and glucose in the blood; improving the chances of ageing well. What was the sweet spot in terms of training times and duration? The same study found training periods greater than 12 weeks, with two sessions per week, 40 minutes each session including six sets and repetitions, with around 60 seconds work and up to 90 seconds rest on each repetition to be most beneficial. Confused? Check out our typical HIIT structure below.

HIIT isn’t just about torching calories and boosting fitness – it could also be your ticket to better sleep! In a separate 2021 meta-analysis, researchers discovered that sweating it out with HIIT sessions could seriously upgrade your sleep quality. Significant positive sleep effects were seen in those who participated in sessions lasting longer than 16 minutes, done consistently over eight weeks. And we should all know by now the health-giving benefits of a good night’s sleep!

A typical structure for a HIIT workout:

  1. Warm-Up

Five minutes of light aerobic activity (eg jogging, jumping jacks) to prepare your body for exercise and increase blood flow to your muscles.

  1. High Intensity Interval Training

Alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of rest or low-intensity recovery. The high-intensity intervals can range from 20 seconds to two minutes, followed by recovery periods ranging from 10-90 seconds, depending on your fitness level.

  1. Cool Down

Five minutes of low-intensity exercise (eg walking, stretching) to gradually lower your heart rate, prevent dizziness, and promote muscle recovery.

If you’ve got no idea how to structure a HIIT session, then I’ll share a little secret with you. I use an app called 7 Minute Workout by Bytesize. It features a free 7-minute workout called “the original workout exercises” and you can tailor the time of the exercise and recovery periods to your needs.

I usually do the programme three times round, giving me a 21-minute HIIT session, but you can get a nice workout in by just doing the seven minutes. It’s a full body workout for days when you don’t have much time but want the feel-good vibes and health benefits of moving your body.

As always, consult with a fitness professional before starting any new exercise programme, especially if you have any underlying health conditions. It’s important to listen to your body and gradually increase the intensity and duration of your HIIT workouts over time to avoid overtraining and reduce the risk of injury. Listen to your body and ensure you’re performing the exercises with proper form to prevent injury.

Supervised HIIT sessions are on the schedule at The Campus (Quinta do Lago) and Titan Fitness Algarve (Luz).

Words: Sally Dixon

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