HIIT workouts, or high intensity interval training workouts, are a form of exercise that involves quick bursts of strength and cardio intermixed with short recovery periods. It’s an all-then-nothing approach to working out, rather than just keeping a steady pace for a long time. They’re a popular workout trend, but how good are they for your body?
They’re extremely efficient
HIIT workouts only require about 15-20 minutes of your time. According to Shape.com, your muscles will see more progress from a 15-minute HIIT workout three times per week compared to running on a treadmill for an hour those same days. The quick workouts are the perfect way to build up your strength and endurance without sacrificing precious minutes of your busy schedule. While the general consensus is that HIIT workouts are the best workout for your body, some research shows that might not always be the case.
One study showed the difference between HIIT and cardio is not as much as you’d think
NerdFitness.com delved into the difference in benefits between HIIT and cardio workouts, and you might be disappointed by the results. According to a July 2015 study comparing HIIT to cardio, the differences were fairly minimal (with HIIT being the more beneficial workout). HIIT is a lot more intense than going for a run on a treadmill, so is it worth the added intensity for results that don’t seem to match? The answer is yes, but only because of something known as the “afterburn effect,” which goes beyond just a workout.
Your body keeps working long after the workout
When the workout ends, your body is still in overdrive. This is known as the “afterburn effect” and occurs when our bodies do rigorous workouts. Since we work our bodies up so much, we use a lot of oxygen. As a result, after a workout, the body needs to return itself to that resting metabolic rate. It ends up burning additional calories post workout because it is still consuming oxygen—just less and less until it gets back to normal. The American Council on Exercise compares it to turning off a car engine: When you shut off the engine, it still needs to cool down. When you stop working out, your body still burns calories while it cools.
Studies have shown that the afterburn effect is greater from a HIIT workout than a standard cardio workout. This means you’re gaining more “beyond the workout” from HIIT than cardio, which ultimately makes the former the better option. Plus, HIIT workouts save you time, and there are few things better than a calorie-burning workout that’s over in minutes.
The option you choose ultimately depends on your situation
Some people run marathons, and some people lift weights. Although it would benefit all of your muscles to do more than just a daily jog, your workout ultimately depends on what you find to be the best option. If you’re short on time, you might get more out of a 15-minute HIIT workout than you would out of a two-mile jog that took the same amount of time. But if you’ve got your eyes on a half marathon, HIIT workouts might help build endurance, but it’s those long runs that will get you to the finish line. As long as you squeeze in those 75-150 recommended minutes of exercise per week (per the American Heart Association), you’ll be in good shape.
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