Considering high-intensity interval training (HIIT)? These timed, rotating workouts take a little explaining, but their results speak for themselves, and it makes a better gift than an actual clock for a first anniversary.
HIIT sessions begin with a brisk warm-up, then alternate bursts of intense activity with short recovery exercises. Exercisers can do the same exercise, simply changing intensity, or can switch exercise machines to make the workout more dynamic, says Michael Scott, head trainer and HIIT coach at Mid-City's Orangetheory Fitness. Each interval is timed, and exercises can be modified to fit individual abilities and goals.
HIIT is a time-efficient, holistic approach to fitness that encompasses both cardio and isometric exercises. Sessions usually are one hour long, with at least one day of rest between sessions.
Orangetheory specializes in group work. Clients rotate between treadmill, weight floor and rowing machine stations, supervised by a trainer. There also are stationary bikes and Strider machines for clients in need of low-impact options.
Machines aren't necessary in Jeffrey Martin's classes. Martin, a personal trainer, conducts individual HIIT sessions and group classes at Metairie Country Club. He prefers to use body weight exercises or free weights.
"When you're controlling dumbbells or a (straight) bar, you're engaging your core, not only your bicep, and you have to be focused on your back," he says. "It's total body mechanics. When you're using machines, you may be sitting, and you may be slouching."
He urges nervous beginners who might be intimated by HIIT to try group lessons. He advises consulting a doctor before beginning any exercise regimen, especially if the client is recovering from an injury, has limited mobility or flexibility, or is over age 55 and unaccustomed to exercise. Martin suggests a "basic level of strength" before beginning HIIT, but that definition encompasses most clients.
"If you can open a twist-off Coke bottle, you have good hand strength (for free weights)," he says. "You're also good in your core."
- Photo by Al Peters Photography
- Jeffrey Martin assists a client during a personal training session.
According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), the scientific theory behind HIIT says that spending 5 to 8 minutes of a session with the heart rate elevated at 80 to 95 percent of its capacity puts the body into excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). During EPOC, the body restores hormones and energy and repairs stressed muscles and other tissues. As oxygen is continually used and fat stores are broken down for repair, calories keep burning. The ACSM approximates the "afterburn" duration at 2 hours, but Scott and Martin say it continues for 24 to 36 hours after a workout, which is why the resting period following a session is crucial.
"Rest is key," Martin says. "Your muscles won't grow and they will get fatigued ... and you're more prone to injury when the body is tired."
Martin and Scott commonly see injuries to the knees and back, usually from overtraining or poor body mechanics. Keeping an open dialogue with an observant, engaged trainer can prevent some injuries, but it's just as important to avoid overdoing it. HIIT training shouldn't exceed three or four sessions per week, and Scott advises passive off-day exercises such as swimming or yoga.
Benefits aren't strictly physical.
"I've had people not use antidepressants anymore," Scott says. "I've had people that were joggers progress to become runners."
With a regular workout routine combined with proper diet, Scott's clients see increased energy after four or five sessions, and Martin's clients see significant weight loss in three to six months.
"Be patient," Martin says. "Don't get on the scale every day. More importantly, do you feel good about yourself?"
Considering signing up for classes? Ask to observe a HIIT session or take a mini-class. If HIIT isn't for you, Scott offers advice.
"If you don't like HIIT, try Jazzercise," he says. "If you don't like Jazzercise, try tai chi. If you don't find what's yours immediately, don't put [limits] on yourself. Find a movement program that fits you."