HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training – Fraud or Fantastic?

In a previous article, The Myth of Exercise, we looked at why pinning your weight loss hopes on exercise might prove to be unfruitful. Feel free to check it out here.

If you haven’t read it let us just be clear – we still love exercise and all of its lovely benefits to us and mankind in general – it just isn’t the be all and end all for weight loss champions. But here at Waetugo Towers we never let it lie and are going to challenge our very own hypothesis in a series of exercise related articles. Here we examine HIIT.

HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is a form of exercise that alternates high and low intensity activities. You might, for example, cycle for 60 seconds at a steady pace and then race for your life for 30 followed by a repeat of the whole process. And then another repeat. And so on. There you have the high intensity training with the intervals – no surprises here. And that is HIIT in a nutshell. But does it help with weight loss?

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that the Internet tells us that it does. The numerous (or should I say ‘innumerable’?) websites with their myriad of HIIT workouts will frequently cite weight loss as a main feature of living the HIIT lifestyle and that it can be done with less than 30 minutes of exercise three or four times a week. Truth is more than this would be hard to recover from – HIIT is hard work make no mistake so although the exponents do tell us it can be done quickly we aren’t being conned by them into believing it’s a quick and easy fix. In fact many of them make it clear that you will be reeling following a HIIT session.

But does it help with weight loss in the real world? For the definitive answer we need to move away from the world of online enthusiasts and delve into the world of real experts and brainiacs.

One incredibly detailed study conducted by Shelley Keating and others and published in the Journal of Obesity suggests that HIIT does not have the same benefits on fat levels as more continuous exercise. The study does however identify that certain individuals don’t get enough exercise (no surprises there) and so HIIT might be of benefit in getting people active in a time efficient manner. If you have time, please read the full study highlighted and then come back. You can download the full pdf from the Journal of Obesity page above.

A study that seems to contradict these findings was conducted by Tremblay et al and published here in  Volume 43 of Metabolism. This article makes strong claims for lipid (fat) balance changes being far greater following vigorous (perhaps HIIT) exercise than those following low to moderate regimes.

Confused? Don’t be. These scientists aren’t trying to convince you one way or the other. They have nothing to sell and have simply highlighted that in one study one form of exercise was greater than another and in another study something else showed up.

If we move away from the narrow focus of weight loss and healthy weight maintenance HIIT might be good for us in so many other ways. Two Ph.Ds., Zuhl and Kravitz identified here that HIIT might increase stroke volume in the heart and improve mitochondrial density which effectively builds the energy in our cells. For sure, endurance exercises do this too, but HIIT might be doing it in a few minutes a day.

woman on tredmill

So do we like HIIT? Here at Waetugo we do. We see that it can be a part of a greater exercise plan, used on those days when time catches up on us. For lovers of endurance activities it might be a nice change and a way of staying motivated to get active when a ten mile run seems a little daunting.

The heavyweight literature written by our hardworking scientists seems to suggest that there is a place for HIIT and it might well improve our weight a little and will certainly complement a good diet and healthy lifestyle. It will almost certainly improve our fitness levels.

On the downside, we might get scared by HIIT as it is very hard so a plan, tailored for you, perhaps with a personal trainer, which encompasses some HIIT workouts is probably the best way forward.

comments...

  • Hit is very intense it’s true, and certainly beneficial as part of an overall weightloss plan. It can be easy to arrange, doesn’t need any fancy equipment, and can be incorporated into any routine, you can do HIIT cycling, running,x training rowing or swimming. Or you can use a phone based app such as 7 minute workout. Even an overweight middle aged asthmatic like me can do it! The main benefit for people who don’t like exercise is that it is over very very quickly.
    Stidies have shown that undertaking HIIT can reduce insulin sensitivity and increase aerobic fitness. It has also been shown to supress appetite if done regularly.

    • Hi Jeremy,
      Sorry it has taken me so long to reply – it won’t happen again. You’ve made some very useful points there and I have also read studies about the health benefits you suggest. I know many people who enjoy HIIT type training. I hope you’ll have something to add to our article coming out this Friday about endurance type exercises.

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