What is High Intensity Interval Training?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 30 December 2018
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High intensity interval training or HIIT is a type of aerobic program that takes a short time to complete but may be as beneficial as longer workouts. It is suited for people able to work out at high heart rates, about 75-80% of maximum, and involves exercising in fast and medium speed intervals. Exercises used can be varied, and might include running/jogging, some forms of swimming, biking on stationary bikes, or using stair machines or elliptical trainers.

Essentially, the intervals in high intensity interval training mean varying between extremely fast and high-speed periods to moderate ones, all in about a 15-30 minute total workout. In a 30 minute program, only about 15-20 minutes would be devoted to the aerobic portion, and the rest of the time would be taken up by warm up and cool down. Maximum intensity intervals are usually half the length of moderate intensity intervals, and each interval is called a cycle. Exercisers must complete at least 6 of these and often more.


There are some legitimate studies that suggest high intensity interval training may be an excellent way to get exercise for some people. It appears to have about the same, if not more, benefits than longer more moderate exercise periods. Unfortunately, it’s not suited for all people. Those just beginning exercise programs may not be able to work at near maximum heart rate. Depending on the high intensity portion, people may also not be physically suited to these workouts if they have physical injuries or problems. It’s definitely recommended that people get a full health exam prior to starting a high intensity interval training program.

For those who can work out with this type of program, one of the main attractions of HIIT appears to be efficiency. Most cardiovascular workouts require at least 45 minutes to an hour (when warm up and cool down are added). This is a lot of time, and if cardiovascular fitness can be achieved in less time, it may well be worth the extra exertion involved.

Some people find that one of the difficulties with doing this work is actually counting the intervals. Using one stopwatch won’t work because the intervals change in length throughout a workout. Looking at the watch with a digital readout is probably helpful when exercising outside. People working out on things like stationary bikes, stair machines or elliptical trainers can use the timers or clocks on these pieces of equipment in order to keep track of intervals. Many people opt to work with a trainer so the high intensity interval training workouts are carried out perfectly.



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