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When it comes to fitness and muscle toning there are a lot different buzz words and keywords out there that people like to shout about, but many of these turn out just to be fads. At the moment one of the most popular terms is ‘high intensity training’ or ‘HIT’, but is there any useful science behind this concept? And if so, does it apply to you?
What is HIT?
HIT is really a bit of a broad term because it literally just means training at a higher intensity than normal. By ‘intensity’ in this context we mean the amount of effort you’re putting in at any one time, so a low intensity pec exercise might be three sets of 10 press ups over the course of ten minutes, while high intensity might be 1 set of 30 alternating normal/clapping press ups over the course of two minutes or less. The idea is, according to advocates of HIT, that by working out more intensely you can get the same amount of work done in much less time while also building more muscle and burning more fat.
Forms of HIT
It’s impossible to say that HIT is wholly useful or otherwise as it comes in many different forms. HIT could just mean reducing your resting times to 60 seconds for instance, or it might just mean using the Joe Weider ‘Training Principles’ such as forced reps and giant sets to get more out of a workout. On the other hand some HIT workouts are highly regimented such as the ‘Tabata’ workout which is a four minute blast for any body part employing very short rest periods, while ‘Interval Training’ (alternating periods of low and high intensity CV) could also be considered a form of HIT program. These are generally powerful techniques that anyone can use to get more from their workouts by maintaining a higher heart rate, causing more microtears in the muscles, enjoying greater convenience and producing more useful hormones.
That said though, some people will take HIT to extreme levels and some popular classes at the moment promise to give amazing results in just a few minutes a week. Now these claims are unfounded and simply a case of sensationalising the useful principle – while HIT is a good approach to training, it’s not powerful enough to replace a whole training routine in five minutes. If it was, there would be no overweight people in the world…
Drawbacks of HIT
The problem with trying to rely on a single short burst of HIT is that it has downsides too. While high intensity will cause more microtears for muscle growth for instance and use up a lot of energy, it doesn’t last long enough to help you burn much fat and doesn’t target enough of the body to tackle every muscle group. In other words, you aren’t going to be able to train biceps, triceps, lats, traps and all the rest in three minutes full stop – let alone at high intensity. Claims that you can train enough in three minutes are simply unfounded. It would be nice though…
There are other drawbacks of HIT too, even when used sensibly, which mean it isn’t for everyone. For instance, if you have bad joints or a weak heart, or even if you’re just very obese and not used to exercise – suddenly doing very intensive training could be enough to trigger a heart attack or cause you injury. This is a young person’s game as a rule, and much more suited to those who already have a good background in working out.
How to Use It
For all these reasons it’s important to use HIT with moderation. That means decreasing your rest time, or using super sets and other techniques to push beyond failure; but not making the entire workout so intense that you don’t get a chance to recover.
High intensity is best used in conjunction with more regularly paced exercise as this way you’ll be able to enjoy periods of anaerobic fat burning. More to the point, even though you can do more in less time by using HIT, you’re still going to need at least a good 20 minutes several times a week to really feel its benefits and more will still be better.