Rising Above the Plateau: High-Intensity Interval Training
Anyone who regularly sets and works toward achieving fitness goals will inevitably hit the dreaded plateau. You start to progress toward your goal, but you reach a point where the progress that you saw with your exercise program and diet sputters to a halt. For experienced gym-goers, a tweak here or there to their routines suffices to get their progress restarted.
For those of us who might not have a lot of experience with an exercise routine, the plateau can be the death knell for someone’s well-intentioned exercise renaissance. We see the progress on the scale slow down, or notice that while you had to buy some new clothes after the first couple months of your new workout, you haven’t noticed much of a change since then. You’re still putting in the hard work at the gym, but you just aren’t seeing the same results as when you started. It’s easy to become disheartened and fall back into our bad habits.
If you are looking to take your fitness to the next level, the answer is high-intensity interval training (sometimes called HIIT). HIIT is comprised of short bursts of intense exercise, broken up by “rest” periods of low to moderate exercise. This can be as simple as high-intensity periods of sprinting broken up by moderate periods of jogging and walking, or as diverse as incorporating different kinds of cardiovascular exercise with weight training, plyometrics, body weight exercises, etc. HIIT has long been popular with athletes, as it can mirror the short bursts of energy they expend on the field or court. But HIIT also offers benefits to non-athletes looking to push their workouts to the next level.
HIIT workouts have been shown to be more effective in increasing endurance levels than longer periods of moderate exercise. A study of college-aged men and women showed that the endurance of 75% of the subjects who did HIIT workouts for two weeks had doubled when they returned to moderate exercise, while the control group showed no change. If you are someone who enjoys running and cycling as a pastime, incorporating HIIT into your routine can pay dividends by enabling you to run or cycle longer.
The benefits of HIIT do not stop when you are finished with your workout. Due to the high intensity of portions of the workout, your body needs to work harder to restore itself after the workout than it would during a moderate or low-intensity workout. So for a couple hours after your workout, your body is burning more calories than it normally would.
One of the most oft-cited reasons for someone who is not regularly exercising is that they just don’t have enough time to fit it in. While this is simply an excuse for a lot of people, there are many who really would like to exercise more often and/or get more out of their workouts. By packing more intense activity into a shorter workout, HIIT offers an opportunity to beat the time crunch and reach goals that have been unattainable with longer, more moderate exercise routines.
While there are obvious health benefits to incorporating some HIIT into your usual workout routine, there are also risks. With increased intensity comes increased stress on our cardiovascular system, muscles, bones, etc. If you are at an increased risk for heart issues, you should check with your physician before jumping into a HIIT routine. For those that are in relatively good health and exercise regularly but don’t necessarily work out at levels of high intensity regularly, start slowly incorporating intervals of high intensity or work with a fitness professional to make sure that you are not putting yourself at risk of musculoskeletal injury.
If you think you are up to the task, try the following HIIT workout or talk to a fitness professional about creating a HIIT workout tailored specifically to your needs.
Complete 3 rounds
45 seconds of work then 15 seconds of rest:
+ Push ups + Squats
+ Butt Kicks
+ Tricep Dips
+ Jumping Jacks
+ Heel touches
Rest for 1 minute between each round. This workout will last a total of 23 minutes.