A method of exercise that has been steadily growing in popularity over the last several years, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is awesome for improving your overall fitness level. Arguably the best part about HIIT is that you can complete a session in about half the time as your regular gym workout due to reaching fatigue that much faster. The caveat to that, however, is that you really need to push yourself to reap the advertised benefits of this form of training. Depending on your workout and how effectively you use HIIT, your body will need some extra recovery time to deal with the added stress. So, how often should you do HIIT?
How High-Intensity Interval Training Works
The HIIT method entails going as hard as you possibly can, as in 80%-100% of your maximum ability, for a determinate amount of time followed by an active rest period in which you lower the intensity of your workout to around 50% (or so is the most commonly used practice). This is usually accomplished in ratios of 1:1, 1:2, or 1:3, with the high-intensity portion lasting anywhere from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. Then the entire process is repeated, generally between 4-7 times.
Popular vehicles for HIIT training include running, cycling, and circuit-training but it is a flexible technique and can be incorporated into almost any type of exercise plan.
The Benefits of HIIT
When executed properly, completing a HIIT workout has shown to have numerous positive effects on the cardiorespiratory system, aerobic and anaerobic energy systems, and on fat metabolism. Studies have shown HIIT sessions:
Increase Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC)
When you’re taking off into your butt-kicking intervals your body switches from using its aerobic system to its anaerobic system, and thus will temporarily go from using oxygen to using stored glycogen from the liver (or fat, if glucose is unavailable). However, just because your body isn’t utilizing oxygen during that time doesn’t mean it won’t eventually need it. During a HIIT session you will naturally go into a state of oxygen-deprivation that has to be made up for later, called Increased Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC).
Also regularly referred to as “afterburn”, EPOC can last up to 24-hours post workout. During this time your body will resynthesize muscle glycogen, restore oxygen levels, use protein to repair muscle tissues, and restore body temperature. The added benefit of all this work, is a metabolism boost. So, without doing anything at all after your workout you will continue to burn calories for up to a full day (depending on the craziness of your workout).
Preserve Muscle Mass
An oft heard complaint by the steady state endurance die-hards is the inability to maintain or build muscle mass. That’s not to say steady-state cardio is bad for you in the slightest – there are numerous health benefits from both methods of cardio, but there are also some very important differences. Because HIIT tends to use a greater amount of muscle, and impressively can up your levels of human growth hormone (HGH) up to 450% higher than resting levels in the 24 hours after your workout, HIIT is the winner when it comes to preserving muscle mass (or even building it depending on what type of HIIT training you’re partaking in).
Increase Aerobic Capacity
While steady state cardio will increase your aerobic fitness levels, studies have shown HIIT workouts to require less time to get to the same levels. V02 Max, or the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use at one time, has been found to be one of the best predictors of longevity by researchers, and serves as the foundation for essentially everything you do.
So, How Often Should I Do HIIT?
Most experts seem to agree that a HIIT session can be done safely around 2-3 times a week, but it depends on your overall fitness level. A highly trained athlete that’s used to pushing his or her body to the extreme (and recognizing the warning signs of overtraining) might fare well at 4 sessions per week
Overtraining occurs when your body hasn’t had adequate time to recover in between workouts and can manifest in a lot of subtle and yucky ways like headaches, fatigue, irritability, muscle cramps, nausea, or even depression. This is why it’s important not to practice HIIT every day. At the very least you should allow your body a full 48 hours in between sessions.
It can be tempting to get overzealous about a new workout routine, or to want to see results faster than possible but there’s nothing like getting sick or spraining your wrist to put a damper on your bout of motivation and force you to take a break from physical activity altogether.
That being said, there is nothing wrong with working out every day, but it is important to rotate what you’re doing at the gym (or outside). For example, it’s perfectly healthy to perform light-moderate steady-state cardio the day after you complete a HIIT workout, provided you’re feeling well (and aren’t in any extreme amount of pain). It can actually be beneficial to do so as light aerobic exercise will help flush any remaining lactic acid from your muscle tissue – as well as improving your endurance.
And If you do feel like you can return to your HIIT regime the next day, unfortunately the chances are you didn’t push yourself hard enough the day before. HIIT can be uncomfortable, but at least it’s short!
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