The fitness world is replete with new words, phrases, fads and practices vying with each other for attention, often threatening to replace one or make another obsolete.
However, amidst this jargon, one form of exercise that has established itself firmly and with good reason is the High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT workout.
What is a HIIT Workout?
It consists of very high intensity exercises usually done for twenty-second-capsules with each capsule punctuated with ten seconds of rest. Several repetitions of these thirty second sets (20+10) together constitute a circuit, leaving you sweating and breathless at the end of it all.
The reason behind much of its popularity is the swiftness with which it gets results if you’re looking to lose weight, get your heart racing or just simply bring in some movement and fluidity in your body. Though difficult at first (intensity is in the name, after all), it is a very time-effective mode of building strength and stamina in the body.
Before we begin to decode the benefits of a HIIT workout, it is first important to understand anaerobic and aerobic kinds of exercises.
Aerobic and Anaerobic Exercise:
Every movement in the body requires energy which is either taken from oxygen (aerobic exercise) or by breaking down sugar in the body (anaerobic).
While the former burns fat, mostly keeping your heart healthy and building endurance, the latter not only burns fat faster, but also helps you gain lean muscle. So if you are looking for a physical transformation, a HIIT workout is the way to go for it falls in the category of anaerobic exercise.
Simply put, imagine an aerobic exercise as one which you can sustain over a long period of time whereas an anaerobic exercise would get you breathless as soon as you start which is what happens in a HIIT workout.
However, before you jump right into it, here is how you prepare for it. Dr Raju Easwaran, Senior Consultant, Orthopedics (special interest-Arthroscopy & sports injury), Max Super Speciality Hospital, Shalimar Bagh, New Delhi, explains.
“Cardio for the most part is an aerobic exercise and gets anaerobic only if performed to fatigue or at a very high intensity for the person. In ideal conditions, fat should be your energy source in low heart rate conditions (most of the day actually) instead of glucose, and we have an organelle in our cells called 'mitochondrion' which is responsible for that,” he says.
“People who don't exercise don't have many mitochondria and end up not burning fat much, and instead use glucose for ready energy. Cardio exercise in general and HIIT in particular increases the number of mitochondria in our cells making them burn fat more efficiently while also increasing the rate of metabolism.”
How Does a Beginner Ease Into a HIIT Workout Routine?
The first and foremost step, avers Dr Easwaran, is to consult your own doctor and physician.
“If you have not exercised before, assume that you are unfit and start with a month or two of easy to moderate exercises like treadmill running/ cycling/ brisk walking and the like. Work on your flexibility through Yoga or general stretches before HIIT, as the intense workout can cause injuries in stiff people.”Dr Raju Easwaran, Senior Consultant, Orthopedics, Max Super Specialty hospital, New Delhi
In terms of technology and mobile applications, the doctor recommends verified apps, and only after you have consulted your doctor and have taken a good estimate of your own strengths and limitations.
Finally Starting With the Regime
Now that the initial steps have been taken care of and it’s finally time to get down to start work on the exercise mat, here’s how you begin.
“Start with an easy work/recovery interval ratio of 30 seconds/15 seconds and build up slowly depending on your capacity and recovery. It is useful to invest in any of the commercially available heart rate monitoring devices.”Dr Raju Easwaran
“The most common ones are wrist bound (lowest accuracy, but sufficient for most people), but you could also consider a chest strap (a little inconvenient, but higher accuracy if worn correctly) or these days even a smart ring (highest accuracy, what I use) could be an option. Most HIIT apps also give you a general idea of the energy burnt in calories.” added Dr Raju Easwaran
The doctor also reminds you that doing HIIT workouts seven days a week is never a good idea. It should only constitute twenty percent of your entire fitness regime for most optimum benefits.
Dietary Requirements to Keep in Mind for HIIT
These would be different and specific to each individual depending on what your goal is - if it is to lose weight, build strength or gain muscle or all of it.
“If you are looking to lose weight or get a six-pack-abdomen, then you must be in a state of relative calorie deficit (intake slightly less than energy expenditure). If you want to build muscle then you must be on a high protein diet (0.8-1.6 g/kg body weight), says Dr Easwaran.
A balanced home-cooked diet which is colourful to look at (rainbow diet) is one option. Best solution, however, is to invest in consultation with a good nutritionist, especially a sports nutritionist.”Dr Raju Easwaran
Final Word of Caution...
It is also very important to not be over-enthusiastic about any exercise regimen in general, and HIIT in particular.
The doctor also mentions a few more parameters that you can use an index of your progress - two of these include sleep quality and resting heart rate.
He further advises against exercising during late evening or night for it would interfere with sleep. It is also very important to not overtrain and thereby protect yourself from injuries in the process, concludes Dr Easaran.
(Rosheena Zehra is a published author and media professional. You can find out more about her work here.)