If you’re reading this article, chances are you are already performing some form of high intensity interval cardio. Over the last few years much has been written about various forms of interval cardio and the overall effectiveness of HIIT training, and one thing has become abundantly clear: HIIT cardio is the most efficient and effective form of cardio for fat loss, and it should be a part of any well-rounded training program for those who are able to perform it.
And it is – to a degree. Many have started including what they feel are high intensity intervals in their cardio routine. The problem? Most of the time, those intervals are far from high intensity. So what does high intensity mean?
Every athlete can perform at a high intensity level. For well-trained athletes, the output may be greater due to training adaptations. But even the novice trainee can give the same level of effort, which is what the focus should be on. Intensity of exercise is the most critical factor in determining the success of aerobic training.
There have been many different research designs set up to determine the effectiveness of interval cardio. A 2008 from Ontario’s University of Guelph reported that “seven sessions of HIIT over a two-week period offer a short-duration stimulus to improve whole-body fat oxidation and the capacity for skeletal muscle to oxidize fat.” (Talanian et al. 2008)
During the two-week period of this study, participants were compared between 7 hours of HIIT cardio versus 12 hours of medium-intensity cardio. The results were clearly in favor of the HIIT cardio group, which was shown to burn more fat despite the five-hour total-time difference.
But the question remains – without the ability to train in a lab where VO2 max and other metabolic markers are tracked, how do you know you are performing HIIT correctly for optimal fat-loss results? Here are five guidelines to follow:
1. The sprint portion of the interval should be no longer than 20 to 30 seconds.
2. Once the interval is complete, there should be a period of time where you are unable to maintain a conversation – meaning shortness of breath will be very present.
3. Time between intervals needs to be significant enough that the athlete is able to perform at full capacity for each high-intensity interval.
4. Style of interval shall not be done on equipment which limits an individual’s output.
5. Proper warm up and cool down shall be performed to ensure safety, effectiveness and efficiency during the interval.
The five key components above will tell you just how effectively you are performing HIIT cardio, and hopefully help you avoid performing high intensity intervals at moderate intensity. As you adapt to the training you will be able to perform more intervals and at a higher intensity. For this reason, HIIT cardio never becomes dull.
How should HIIT cardio be applied to your training? Should HIIT cardio be the only type you perform? Specifics for you training protocol will be dictated by your goal. More is not always better with this type of training. Allow yourself time to adapt before you progress with frequency and increased intervals and you can expect a positive impact on your body composition as well as a number of other positive health benefits.