If you don't like the thought of spending hours on the treadmill each week, check this out: You don't have to. High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, has been scientifically proven to be a fast and efficient way to burn calories and improve your fitness level. It's also fun, and there are numerous ways to incorporate HIIT into your treadmill workout.
The proven benefits of HIIT over steady-state cardio are numerous. For fat loss, HIIT is unparalleled, according to a review of research published in Journal of Obesity in 2011. That same review found that HIIT is especially effective at reducing abdominal fat, including visceral fat -- the type that sits deep in the abdominal cavity and can lead to serious health problems including cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes.
In another study published in British Journal of Sports Medicine in 2010, researchers compared the effectiveness of HIIT vs. steady state cardio in improving cardiovascular fitness in non-athletes. Findings showed HIIT significantly improved VO2 max, a measure of endurance capacity, compared to steady-state cardio over the course of the 6-week study.
HIIT may also help slow the aging process, according to a study published in March 2017 in Cell Metabolism30099-2?_returnURL=http%3A%2F%2Flinkinghub.elsevier.com%2Fretrieve%2Fpii%2FS1550413117300992%3Fshowall%3Dtrue). Researchers found that exercise, especially HIIT, caused cells to generate more proteins for mitochondria, which produce energy, and ribosomes, which build protein. This effectively stopped aging at the mitochondrial level.
How to Do it
Now that you're convinced of HIIT's benefits, it's time to hop on the treadmill and try it out for yourself. You don't need any special equipment, just a good pair of running shoes and comfortable, breathable workout clothes. You might want to have a bottle of water handy, as well as a towel to wipe your sweat.
Oh, yeah, you're going to sweat.
- Warm up by jogging at an easy pace for 5 minutes.
- Increase the pace to a fast run (beginners) or an all-out sprint (advanced) for 30 seconds to four minutes.
- Walk briskly or jog to recover. This length of time varies, but is usually equal to or a little longer than the time you sprinted.
- Repeat steps 1 and 2 for seven more rounds.
- Cool down by walking for 5 minutes.
It's as simple as that. You get a great workout, and it's over in less than 30 minutes.
- Drink plenty of water before your workout; not right before, but throughout the day.
- Don't skip the warm up. Sprinting with cold muscles can cause injury. If you have time, warm up for 10 minutes, starting at a walk and working up to a fast jog.
- A sprint means different things for different people. As a newbie, a sprint may not be very fast. On the Rate of Perceived Exertion scale, which goes from 1 to 10, with 10 being the most effort and 1 being equivalent to sitting on the couch, beginners should aim for about 6 to 7. At that level, you're working between hard and very hard, but not yet extremely hard.
- Recover enough, but not too much. The key to an effective HIIT workout is to allow the heart rate to come down in between intervals, but not so much that your body starts to cool down.
- Stretch afterward. Your muscles have just undergone a lot of stress. Make sure to release them with static stretches for the calves, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes. If you have time, do some dynamic stretches like leg swings before you start.
- Drink plenty of water after your workout.
Change It Up and Take a Break
Add variety to your HIIT workouts by experimenting with different speeds, interval lengths and incline. The shorter the interval, the faster the pace you can sustain, which will offer different cardiovascular benefits than a slower, longer interval. Train yourself to run a faster mile by sustaining longer and longer periods at a fast run, instead of a sprint.
Similarly, playing with the incline can bring an added challenge -- and stronger legs. In the beginning, stick with a flat incline. As you progress, raise the incline to simulate hill sprints.
Because HIIT is more intense than steady-state cardio, it's not advised to do it daily. Your body needs time to rest and recover between HIIT workouts. Once or twice a week is sufficient for the beginner; advanced exercisers may be able to handle three or four HIIT sessions weekly. Do leave a day of steady state cardio or rest between interval training sessions.
Read more: 5 Myths About HIIT