Does HIIT Really Work?

Does the thought of getting your blood pumping, working up an intense sweat, and pushing yourself out of your comfort zone for short bursts of time make you excited, filled with dread, or a little bit of both? 

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but this is the essence of HIIT, or high intensity interval training. Typically a cardiovascular exercise, it’s been a popular workout technique for a while, and if done correctly, can provide great results. However, is it actually right for YOU?

We’ll explain more about HIIT, some of its pros and cons, and things to consider before you amp up the intensity in your next workout.

So how does it work?

Essentially any type of workout can be turned into HIIT. All it takes is going at a faster or more intense pace for a specific amount of time, for example, 30 seconds, followed by another period of rest/recovery or a lower intensity workout. The process is then repeated for multiple rounds, typically adding up to 10-30 minutes in total, or whatever your body can handle. 

So whether it’s going from running to walking on the treadmill, doing quick jumping jacks then marching in place, or whatever other combo sounds fun to you, there are many ways to incorporate high intensity interval training.

What's so great about HIIT?

There are a few benefits that make HIIT such a popular and effective cardio exercise.

More calories burned in less time

The great thing about HIIT is that you don’t have to work out for an extended amount of time, but can still reap the benefits and fat burning capabilities of a longer, less intense workout such as walking or weight training.

Boosts your metabolism

We all know that your metabolism correlates strongly with weight loss, and HIIT has the potential to increase your metabolic rate hours after you’re done exercising. Who doesn’t love burning more calories while sitting, eating, or even sleeping?!

Burns fat

Are you looking to burn some extra fat and lose inches off of your waistline? HIIT is a great method to do so, even with the shorter time commitment.

Improves some common health issues

HIIT has many health benefits. It’s especially great at decreasing blood pressure and heart rate for those who are overweight and/or obsese. At the same time, it’s been known to help with lowering blood sugar and insulin resistance, particularly in those with diabetes.

The downsides of HIIT

We’ve discussed some amazing benefits of HIIT, but here are a few things to consider on the opposite end of the spectrum.

It’s intense

Just as the name implies, this is an intense workout and not right for everyone. Because you are moving at such a quick speed, it can sometimes cause dizziness and discomfort due to a drop in blood pressure. You might also be more prone to muscle soreness and potential injury. If you’re not used to HIIT or are just starting out, be sure to slowly build up your power and incorporate more rest periods/breaks. Also, be sure to stretch before and after each workout to loosen up those joints!

It can affect our stress response

HIIT has a direct effect on our cortisol levels, which is the hormone responsible for our stress response. According to Healthline.com, “Your brain receives the message that your survival depends on this interval, at which point cortisol and other hormones are released, sending you into the sympathetic nervous system response. The body then makes metabolic improvements following this energetically and hormonally demanding experience.”

In other words, it can skyrocket your cortisol levels, which can be harmful in general, but can also exacerbate existing health conditions such as hormonal imbalance.

Signs that you might have high cortisol levels are:

  • Mood changes
  • Increased fatigue
  • Change in sleep patterns
  • Decreased motivation

Of course, we recommend discussing these symptoms with your doctor before completely avoiding or overdoing this type of exercise. Just like nutrition, we have a healthy balance and do everything in moderation.

So, does HIIT work?!

Well, this is sort of a loaded question, because it really depends! Just as every single person in the world is not eating the same cuisine to lose weight and/or gain muscle, the same workout regimen is not going to work for every person either. As trendy and popular as HIIT can seem, you have to evaluate if it’s actually right for you.

Here are a few things to consider:

What are your goals?

Before anything else, consider what you hope to gain (or lose) by incorporating HIIT into your routine. Do you want to burn fat? Is maintaining your weight key? Would you rather focus on getting stronger and building muscle? Figure out which elements are a priority.

Do you have a hectic schedule and only a short amount of time per week to exercise? Or is exercise your way to destress and practice self-care? If so, maybe you WANT to exercise for more time at a slower pace.

Do you have any health conditions?

We touched on a few conditions, but every person has a unique set of circumstances that will affect the way they move their bodies. As always, consult with a professional and your doctor for a customized plan. And be sure to check-in with yourself every few months to ensure your routines are still working for you.

What do you enjoy?

Last but certainly not least, what’s going to allow you to have the most FUN? Sure, working out isn’t easy, but it doesn’t have to be miserable and fear-inducing either! So do burpees and squat jumps make you say “heck yes?” Or would you rather take a brisk walk or do a stretch session on the yoga mat? P.S. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, you can incorporate a nice variety of exercises into your routine. The key is to ensure you’re always having fun so you can stay consistent and keep showing up for yourself even when it gets tough.

The final verdict

There’s no clear-cut answer to whether HIIT “works,” because it’s so individually dependent. However, we hope you learned more about it from all angles, and can make an informed decision on if/when/and how you want to incorporate it.

At DTH Fitness, we take pride in not only giving our clients a customized workout plan, but explaining the how and why behind our training. If you’re looking for more support and accountability in your exercise regimen, take our free fitness assessment and speak to one of certified trainers for an in-depth analysis.

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