Quickies Are Great: The Benefits of HIIT

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When I was a kid, I was a devout superhero fan. Now in my thirties, much hasn’t changed. But I can still recall the day when I found out that Michael Keaton was giving up the cowl in the then Batman franchise. As a certified Batman nut, I couldn’t believe it: who in the world wouldn’t want to be Batman? What was even more confusing was that Keaton was giving up the role to film a movie called Multiplicity.

The premise of the movie is that Keaton plays a man short on time, and he stumbles across a “doctor” who has learned how to clone human beings. The guy’s life is so hectic that he feels like he needs two versions of himself to try and get everything done. By the midpoint of the movie, Keaton’s character has cloned himself three times over so he now has four versions of himself to try and restore balance to his life.

Sound familiar?

I run across a lot of people in my line of work and one concept is nearly universal: time. No one feels like they have enough of it to get daily duties done, let alone squeeze in a training session. But I have good news for you. You don’t need to be an Olympic athlete to get in good shape, and living in a gym is not a pre-requisite either. Research has concluded the effects of high intensity interval training (HIIT) on fat loss, conditioning, and overall health and the fact is that HIIT works. Studies show that if you train hard enough, and smart enough, you can significantly change your body.

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One study showed that subjects who trained with an HIIT protocol lost more abdominal body fat than a group that trained for 40 minutes a day (1). The HIIT group trained half the time as the other group. A group of clinically obese men lost 5 pounds of body fat training for only 60 minutes a week (2). Lastly, more researchers are using HIIT workouts with patients with congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease, and diabetes to improve cardiovascular health (3). If you can commit a small chunk of your schedule to some HIIT, you can dramatically improve your health and even get in great shape. Get rid of that thought that rich celebrities with nannies and assistants are the only ones who can get in shape!

The following are some workouts that you can do on a tight schedule. The shortest workouts are first. Since you may not even have time to read this whole article, I thought it would nice to start there. Just keep in mind that the shorter the workout, the more challenging it will be.

The’ Go All Day’ Crowd

If your day consist of being a chauffeur for your family in addition to your day job, then this workout might be for you. Mimicking the famous Tabata protocol, your workout will only take four minutes: but it will be a brutal four minutes. Here is the breakdown of the workout:

  • 20 seconds of all out work
  • 10 seconds of rest
  • Do for a total of 8 times

The ’20 seconds of all out work’ is the important part. These 20 seconds need be a gut busting effort. If you’re outside, then an all-out sprint is called for, but you could also do something like jump squats or push ups. This protocol isn’t suited for treadmill work or any other machine; think bodyweight exercises like sprinting, stair running, or movements like burpees. Whatever you do, you need to be able to transition between work and recovery quickly or else the workout loses its effectiveness. If you feel like you can do this workout several times a week, then you’re not doing true tabata.

The ‘I Have 15 Minutes to Spare’ Group

A little bit more time to spare means that you can incorporate some variety into your workouts. The 30 second on, 30 second off protocol works great for those who have time get in a 15 minute workout. This means you can perform 8 to 12 high quality intervals. Similar to the above protocol, you perform 30 seconds of exercise at a high intensity followed by 30 seconds of recovery. For example, you can sprint for 30 seconds and then walk for 30, alternating between both for the entire workout.

If you workout three times a week, that means you can do this workout in three different ways: one session could be running outside, another on a bike, and the last on a rower. It will reduce boredom as well as give you a cross-training effect.

The ‘I Still Want to Run’ Party

I’ve worked with runners who ran into life – meaning that their hectic schedule leaves them little time to run a lot of miles each week. Maybe they’ll just be busy for a month, or other short-term factors get in the way. I’ve written short and sweet workout programs for Graduate students who plan on spending hours poring over research (been there myself and it’s not fun).

What I introduce to these clients is called threshold running. When working with the client, we can determine their race pace for a competitive event. From there I can prescribe short distances – like a mile – and have them run it in a certain amount of time. For those who don’t formally run, simply pick a distance along with a sensible guess of time that you can knock the run out in. It isn’t entirely scientific, but it’s better than just jogging for the sake of jogging. At least in this case you’re pushing the conditioning on your body.

Here’s an example of a deconditioned runner:

  • Monday – 1 Mile Threshold Run @ 8:00
  • Wednesday – 15 Minute Recovery Jog
  • Friday – 2 Mile Threshold Run @17:00

 These workouts are fun because you’ll always be challenged. Furthermore you can give yourself a nice fist bump for beating your best time.

Wrapping it Up

Will these workouts get you ready for a photo shoot? Maybe not, but they will help get you in great shape on a tight schedule. With HIIT, you have to keep in mind that recovery is huge. These short workouts will only work if you’re able to eat quality food throughout the day and get plenty of good sleep. Lastly, when your schedule returns to something of a sane nature, you’ll have the conditioning to train longer and get in even better shape.


[toggle title=”References“]

1. Irvin, BA., Davis, CK., et al. “Effect of Exercise Training Intensity on Abdominal Visceral Fat and Body Composition.” (2008) Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.40:11:1863-1872

2. Heydari, M., Freud, J., et al. “The Effect of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise on Body Composition of Overweight Young Males.”(2012) Journal of Obesity 10.1155/2012/480467

3. Gibala, M.J., Little, J.P., et al. “Physiological Adaptation to Low Volume , High Intensity Interval Training in Health and Disease” (2012) The Journal of Physiology 590, 1077-1084 [/toggle]


Originally written: August 13, 2014


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