The phrases ‘high intensity’ and exercise in the same breath may sound like a challenging prospect, but this is actually a new trend that is not only incredibly effective but, perhaps surprisingly, is flexible enough to suit the majority, whatever their age, fitness level or lifestyle.

HIIT is based on the principles of a specific exercise program used by Marines to build and maintain strength, endurance, speed, power and agility, with low risk of injury and exercise burn out.

Civilians have adapted the key components of HITT to suit a non-military target group, and from there the concept of dedicated HIIT workouts was born.

How HIIT Works

Rather than slogging away for hours at a time HIIT works on the basis of alternating intense but short periods of activity with equally short rest periods. It is vital that you push yourself to the limit during the active period, but equally important that the full rest period is allowed. The average HIIT workout can run for anything from 20 – 45 minutes, three times a week, with a day or more between them.

Beginners are advised to start with a 1:2 ratio; for example, working out for 30 seconds and resting for one minute before repeating. This can be gradually increased to reach a 1:1 ratio.

HIIT is focused largely on aerobic activity, so strength training on some rest days is recommended if you are training to change the way your body looks.

Major Benefits

One of the most obvious attractions of HIIT is its reputation for being a great, and fast, fat burner, although of course this is more evident when combined with healthy eating. It also creates an effect known as ‘afterburn’, which means your body continues to use stored fat for energy at a greater rate than usual for a period of time afterwards.

Examples of HIIT Workouts

Although the basic principle of HIIT has long been a feature of Pilates and some intense stationary bike classes, it is now finding fame and favour as a stand-alone workout routine. The 2:1 or 1:1 ratio of activity and rest lends itself to lots of different types of exercise – including sprinting, climbing stairs, using a rowing machine, lunging or swimming. So long as the active period can be controlled and monitored by one person it will fit.

As your fitness level improves it’s easy to adjust things so you gradually work out for longer, shorten rest periods and add more reps or some weights as necessary.

Is HIIT a Good Exercise Routine for Everyone?

Despite its many benefits HIIT is not the right choice for everyone. Due to its essential intensity those completely new to exercise or anyone who is extremely unfit should establish a more gentle routine and work towards adopting the HIIT method. Plus, due to its aerobic nature HIIT wouldn’t benefit anyone looking to focus exclusively on building stamina, such as long distance runners.

Overall then, HIIT training or classes are an excellent option for those: unwilling or unable to commit to long hours in the gym, or keen to add something different to their established exercise routine. With nothing to lose except body fat, and a whole new level of fitness to gain, why not give it a try?