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Maximize and shorten your cardio sessions by incorporating high-intensity interval training.
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You don't have to spend countless hours doing cardio in order to improve your health and fitness. High-intensity interval training, commonly called HIIT, is a form of cardio training where you alternate bursts of high-intensity activity with periods of recovery. The intense nature of HIIT means you don't need to invest a lot of time to get results. By including HIIT in your fitness program, you can achieve numerous health benefits and make fitness gains while spending as little time in the gym as possible.
Intense Effort Equals Big Rewards
HIIT has numerous health and fitness benefits. Performing high-intensity intervals strengthens your heart, improves circulation, increases lung function and revs up your metabolism. As compared to lengthy moderate-intensity cardio sessions, high-intensity intervals can also elicit greater improvements in your aerobic and anaerobic capacities. There are additional benefits to HIIT besides improving your health and fitness. The short duration of these workouts enables you to spend less time exercising. You are also less likely to get bored during these workouts because your effort level is constantly changing. Despite having to work at a higher and more uncomfortable effort level, many people report preferring high-intensity interval workouts to longer, continuous moderate exercise.
In order to reap the benefits of HIIT you have to be willing to work at or very near your maximum capacity. Working at this capacity takes a high degree of motivation and a willingness to tolerate discomfort. Most research on HIIT has participants working at 100 percent effort, with few studies looking at whether sub-maximal efforts produce similar results. One 2012 study published in the "Journal of Physiology" found that performing intervals at 90 percent of maximum heart rate significantly improved the cardiovascular functioning and athletic performance of study participants. Though working at 90 percent of your maximum heart rate is less onerous than working at your maximum capacity, it's still a very hard effort level to maintain in order to properly perform HIIT.
One of the most well-known and effective types of HIIT is Tabata intervals. Named after the lead researcher of a pivotal HIIT study published in "Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise," Tabata intervals last just four minutes total but are a highly effective way to improve your aerobic and anaerobic capacities. To perform a Tabata workout, begin with a five- to 10-minute warm-up. Next, perform eight sets of 20-second all-out bursts followed by 10 seconds of rest between each bout. Finish by cooling down for five minutes. Your total workout time takes less than 20 minutes. If the Tabata protocol is too intense for your current fitness level, you can start with fewer intervals and longer rest periods and work your way up to the full workout.
Approach Intervals with Caution
Before beginning HIIT, it's important to consult with your physician. HIIT carries a higher risk of musculoskeletal injury and cardiac events so it is important to approach these workouts with caution. Always warm-up and cool-down when performing HIIT in order to reduce your risk of injury. Start by performing just one or two high-intensity interval workouts each week to allow your body to adjust to these high-stress training sessions before adding more workouts. Immediately stop your workout if you feel any musculoskeletal pain, abnormal discomfort or extreme shortness of breath.