Recently I embarked on a journey to outline the advantages and disadvantages of many different types of exercise programs. Each week I’m discussing whether these programs are safe, effective and recommended for firefighters. So far I’ve covered yoga/pilates, P90X and circuit workouts and there’s been some great insight from firefighters so check out the comments sections!
Today I’m going over a general type of workout rather than a specific exercise regime: High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This type of exercise has become really popular, spurred by people’s inability to set aside an hour or more for exercise.
Lots of recent research studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of HIIT; it appears to bring on all the same health benefits as longer duration/lower intensity workouts, such as improved insulin sensitivity, and actually produces greater gains in aerobic and muscular fitness. It can also be really beneficial for firefighters to prepare their bodies to go from zero to ten at a moment’s notice.
It works because the rate of improvement in fitness increases dramatically as the intensity of the exercise increases. So, the duration of a workout can become shorter as the intensity increases. Performing high intensity exercise also creates a greater challenge for the muscular system (ie. the leg power that is needed to sprint is much greater than that needed to jog.)
The basic skeleton of an interval workout is simply a “work interval” followed by a “rest interval” and repeat. During the work interval, the intensity must be very high, one in which you would not be able to carry on a conversation. The rest interval should include very light movement and you should be upright (head above the heart). The number of intervals and overall duration of the workout is up to you. If you can complete 10 work/rest intervals that are 1 minute each (20 minutes overall) that will definitely enhance your fitness. Just starting out, you may want to try 5 1-minute work intervals followed by 2-minute rest intervals (15 minutes.)
Each work interval can be the same thing or they can differ, it doesn’t matter. You could simply sprint for 1 minute, followed by walking for 1-2 minutes or you could do a series of heart-raising exercises for your work intervals (ie. jump squats, burpees, mountain climbers, push-ups) followed by a low-intensity exercise like some easy lunges. The possibilities are endless.
The biggest advantage of HIIT is that it takes little time and the benefits are the same, if not greater, than that of traditional exercise training. However, a big disadvantage is that it’s really difficult! It can be very uncomfortable for many people to perform exercise at such a high intensity, and for that reason some people may find it very unenjoyable.
Have you tried HIIT? What are your thoughts or questions about it? Tell me in the comments below.
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