Is HIIT Worth the Hype?

Lately, the rage in the fitness world has been all about High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT. HIIT is an exercise session that alternates periods of short, intense bouts of anaerobic exercise with much less intense recovery periods.  The sessions are shorter than traditional exercise sessions and the interval periods can vary greatly, depending on a person’s fitness level.  The total length of a HIIT session usually lasts anywhere from 4 – 30 minutes. It is used by elite athletes as well as recreational exercisers.
Let’s take a look and see if HIIT is worth all the hype.
The standard way to improve cardiovascular capacity is to do more cardiovascular exercise; run more, cycle more, etc. HIIT has become popular because it is believed to produce the same results as longer endurance exercise sessions in less time.  A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Physiology found that HIIT can produce a large range of physiological gains often in less time than continuous endurance exercise.  A 2007 study in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise also produced similar results, claiming that cardiovascular adaptations that appear with HIIT are the same, and, in some cases, superior to continuous steady state training.  
HIIT has even become popular in the healthcare sector.  A 2010 article in Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation stated that interval training is beginning to be implemented in cardiac rehab units. The same improvements were prevalent in patients who performed interval training as those who performed low intensity training, but in a shorter time and fewer sessions.  
Now, that we know the positive changes that take place in the cardiovascular system, what about weight loss? The American Council on Exercise called upon the University of Wisconsin-LaCrosse to test the potential calorie burn of a full body Tabata workout. (Tabata is a form of HIIT that combines 8 cycles of 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest).  The results showed that the participants burned an average of 15 calorie per minute!  These findings support the belief that total body Tabata workouts can improve health and facilitate weight loss.
It looks like HIIT is worth the hype! As you can see, research shows that with HIIT and continuous endurance training, positive improvements are seen in performance, body weight and health.  HIIT is also a time efficient addition to an exercise regime, and can alleviate boredom.  There are many options to choose from; you can find on line workouts, you can make up your own, or use the ones below. Whatever you choose be consistent with your workouts and results will follow.
Following are 2 examples of HIIT workouts:
Treadmill Workout
Warm up: 10 mins walk or light jog
Work interval: run 1 min at 5 mph – 1 min at 6mph – 1 min at 7mph; 3 % incline grade for all intervals.
Rest interval: Walk 1 min at 4 mph; 3% incline grade
Repeat this work interval-rest interval sequence 5 – 8 times.
Cool down: 5 – 10 mins of a light jog to a gradual walk.
The times, speeds and incline in this routine can be adjusted up or down according to you fitness level.
Tabata Workout
This is the 20 min Tabata workout from the study performed by the U of W, cited above. A set of each exercise is 20 seconds of work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. One minute of rest should be taken between each round.
Round 1 (4 mins): 2 sets of high knees – 2 sets of plank punches – 2 sets of jumping jacks – 2 sets of side skaters – Rest
Round 2 (4 mins): 2 sets jump rope   – 2 sets high/low boat (sit in a v position, upper body & legs off floor, extend legs out and slightly drop upper body towards the floor, come up and repeat) – 2 sets line jumps – 2 sets pushups – Rest
Round 3 (4 mins): 2 sets burpees – 2 sets Russian twists – 2 sets squats – 2 sets lunges – Rest
Round 4 (4 mins): 2 sets mountain climbers – 2 sets pushups – 2 sets split squats – 2 sets box jumps

HIIT tips:
This type of training is not for beginners.  A fitness program should begin with low intensity continuous training and progress slowly to interval training.  Jumping into this type of program can increase the risk of injury.  When you can comfortably do 30 minutes of continuous cardio exercise at a moderate pace, start introducing intervals into your program.
This intense type of exercise should not be done every day. Research shows that 3 days per week is the most effective for producing results and limiting injuries.  Low to moderate intensity, longer duration workouts are very effective and should still be part of your fitness regime.  HIIT is an alternative, not a replacement for, traditional endurance style programs.


Food is a Drug

I grew up in New Orleans, where every weekend is another reason to celebrate with great food and drink. When the rest of the country is finished with big eating after the holidays, we are just starting with king cake and daiquiris for the Mardi Gras season. Thank goodness for the Catholic Lenten tradition of “giving up” something between Ash Wednesday and Easter. It’s the only time of year there’s any excuse for not overindulging.

I was blessed with a decent metabolism. It’s always stayed slightly ahead of my eating habits. Even with that, I carried an extra ten or fifteen pounds all through my 20s.

Once I reached my early 30s, I found the secret way to think about food that has helped me stay lean into my late 40s.

I learned that food is much more than celebration, comfort, or even nourishment. More than all this, food is the most powerful drug we will ever put into our bodies.

Here’s why I call food a drug: what else is a drug but a delivery system into an organism to create an altered physiological state? Think about caffeine jitters and sugar crashes. These examples are just the more obvious of the continuous, subtle effect what we put in our mouths has on our energy, blood sugar levels, weight, and our long-term health.

We’re all aware that all food is made up of three macronutrients: protein, carbohydrates, and fat. Understanding how much of each nutrient is contained in what we’re consuming over the course of one day is the most important step in gaining control over our weight and health.

Dr. Barry Sears, author of “The Zone Diet”, proposed that the optimum ratio of each of these nutrients is 40% of calories from carbs, 30% from protein, and 30% fat. To lose excess fat, without losing muscle, try to meet this ratio at every meal and snack. What’s the tricky part? Knowing what you’re actually eating.

For example, most of my clients consider steak to be a great protein source. However, a nutritional breakdown of a filet reveals that it contains 56% protein calories and 44% fat calories. This 8 oz. meat serving packs 539 calories into one meal, and that doesn’t include any sides, butter, or dressings. Obviously, this isn’t the best choice when you’re trying to lose excess body fat!.

How do you learn what’s in your food? It’s simple: track what you eat! How many grams of carbs are in a baked potato? What’s the ratio of fat/protein in any nut or nut butter? How much fat is in a pat of butter? Until you know the answer to these questions without  looking it up, you don’t know what you’re putting into your body.

Using one of the many free or pay apps available makes food tracking much easier and less expensive than it’s ever been in the past. My absolute favorite website for this is Setting up an account and getting started on a desktop is free, and when you get proficient, the mobile app is very inexpensive. It seems challenging at the outset, but, I promise, if you stick with it you will be amazed at what you learn. sets up guidelines for you, based on your age, weight, activity level, and goals. Once you get started, it lets you take a snapshot at any time during the day to see where you are with calories and the protein/carb/fat ratio, so you can make adjustments before you eat your next meal.

Over the years, I’ve found that I can be a bit more free with the hard-and-fast of eating this way for each meal, and instead, apply the 40/30/30 ratio over the course of a day. For instance, if I decide to indulge and have a cinnamon roll (or a piece of king cake) for breakfast, I make certain to have a lean protein and vegetable only, with no high-density carbs, for lunch. By applying these guidelines, I have fantastic energy levels and maintain a great muscle/fat ratio.

Many of the diets that come into fashion, and then fade away, are built loosely on the 40/30/30 ratio that Dr. Sears first proposed in “The Zone Diet.” Pick up this book and learn the science behind the guidelines. You’ll never have to look at another vogue diet again.

Most trainers will tell you that 70% of weight management is your diet. Therefore, to reach your fitness goals, or a similar program is the most powerful weapon you’ll ever have in your fitness arsenal.