High Intensity Interval Training: why you should be doing it

This article was featured as my Holistic Outlook column in The Times Herald Record.

Did you make a resolution about exercise? You don’t have to spend hours in the gym to get results. Don’t exercise harder. Don’t exercise longer. Exercise smarter.

I have been recommending High Intensity Interval Training for almost a decade now, and it is finally catching on in the mainstream health and fitness worlds, as research accumulates. Just 15-20 minutes every other day gets you great results.

No need to join a gym, and you can do it with no equipment, on a machine you already have, or with one of my favorite pieces of equipment, a Bosu, which is like half a ball on a platform.

What is interval training?

Interval training fits the way we are designed. If you were running from a saber tooth tiger, you wouldn’t be running for an hour. You’d be safe, or you’d be dinner. We’re designed for sprints. Long steady-state cardio floods the body with stress hormones that break us down and even work against losing belly fat. HIIT boosts production of Human Growth Hormone, and a little testosterone. These are natural anabolic (building) hormones that help create and protect lean muscle.

HIIT also increases GABA, a neurotransmitter that is calming and improves focus. GABA helps for turning down the volume on the “monkey mind”, that endless chatter that often keeps people from concentrating during the day, and sleeping soundly at night. It can also help reduce cravings.

HIIT is particularly important for those of us over the age of 35, after the prime reproductive years, when the body is less naturally programmed to repair and rebuild. Doing HIIT will help keep your body from breaking down any faster than absolutely necessary, help build and retain lean muscle, help bounce back from stress more easily, support a healthy libido, and healthy body composition.

Here’s how: Warm up, then do one minute full out, as hard as you can go. You want to get your heart rate way up, creating an oxygen deficit. You should be breathing very hard. If you can’t do a full minute, do 20-40 seconds. Push hard, and get your heart rate up. It’s good to feel some burn in your muscles, too.

Follow with 2 minutes of relaxed, active recovery: walking, stretching, or going more slowly if you are on a treadmill, bike, elliptical or other machine. That 3 minutes is one interval. Do 3 to 8 of these every other day. That is all the cardio you need.

If you include some intervals of pushups, burpees, or other body weight exercises, you may not need anything else to get some muscle definition, too.

HIIT is also an excellent way to recover after illness or debilitation. Just do as much as you can, every other day, and you will be amazed at how your endurance, strength, muscle tone and overall well-being quickly improve.

Of course, don’t start an exercise program without your doctor’s OK. You can find HIIT timing apps for your phone or computer.

But remember
: losing weight and getting in shape is 85 percent nutrition and only 15 percent exercise. No exercise in the world will make up for poor eating, but this form of exercise will help you reach your goals better than others.

My favorite HIIT program is available as an inexpensive download. It requires no special equipment, very little space, and only 15 minutes 3 times a week. This is a 12 week program, with a great variety of exercises, and a lot of information while you’re working out. (Yes, the marketing is obnoxious, but just get through it and order! I advise unsubscribing after you order, though, or you’ll be deluged with quite an onslaught of sales stuff. But the program is great.) Order here

Want to read up on more of the science, and some ideas for routines you can do on your own, or with a trainer? You’ll find that in this book:

7 thoughts on “High Intensity Interval Training: why you should be doing it

  1. I’m getting ready for an Ironman and add Prime 8 to my routine. I have a Q, for you; If I bike and then run, do keep the 1-2 ratio without a break, or have a 5-10 recovery between sessions? Hope to hear from you.



    1. Hi Bill,
      Good question! Please understand that I am not advocating Prime 8, Peak, or any other program. I am talking about high intensity interval training, and the research that has been done on that. While it is okay to leave longer breaks between intervals, the best results for endurance and VO2 come when you work in smaller intervals, like the 1-2. The idea is to push yourself to your own limits, and then stop, or do the last intervals shorter, if that’s what you can do. That’s how you increase capacity. I have also done Tabata, and love it, and that’s an even shorter interval, with 20 seconds on and 10 off for 4 minutes at a time – very intense! and also well-researched.


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