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Is Interval Training better than normal Cardio?

High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT for short, has become increasingly popular with workouts like the 7-minute workout and 4×4 Tabata are popping up. HIIT workouts are a dream come true for people with tight schedules. They are short and more time effective than steady state cardio like running. What makes HIIT so great?

The Pros

Saves time

A 20-minute workout done properly is often plenty effective. Compared to steady state cardio workouts which take longer to be equally as effective, HIIT is a great way to get your training in at any time of the day. HIIT requires little space or equipment to do, meaning you can pump out a workout anywhere.

Improved Aerobic Ability with Anaerobic ability

HIIT can also be a form of cardio and thus improves maximum oxygen uptake and stamina over time. Besides that, the intensity of HIIT will improve the body’s ability to reproduce short bursts of high-intensity work, which can be beneficial not only for sports and martial arts but also in daily life like when chasing after the bus. 

Improved Fat loss

HIIT helps to accelerate fat loss by both releasing testosterone and lowering cortisol levels, maintaining a good hormonal ratio that is optimal for fat loss.

Builds and maintains muscle

HIIT can include but is not limited to bodyweight exercises like burpees, squats, and pushups. It is flexible enough to be done with or without any equipment and still reap the benefits. Often, compound (multiple muscle group) exercises are preferred over “isolated” ones, as they help to build and maintain muscle within a shorter time. Improved lean body mass (muscle mass) improves the body’s RMR (Resting Metabolic Rate), meaning the body burns more calories during activity and even during rest.

You will not end up skinny fat

Doing only low-intensity cardio like walking and jogging can cause you to end up skinny fat, where muscle is consumed as energy instead of fat. This skews your fat to muscle ratio, meaning you will probably not have the “shredded” look even after for all the effort you have put in.

The Cons

Although HIIT seems like the way to go, there is always a trade-off.

Intensity

A shorter workout means a higher intensity. HIIT comprises of short bursts of activity with minimum rest in between. This intensity can sometimes be difficult to cope with and can be exhausting for individuals with little to no prior training. Some people might be turned off by this, so always remember to start slow and ramp it up accordingly.  

 

Not maximising workouts

Due to the short duration of work to rest ratio, a maximal effort is needed to achieve the intensity needed. Unfortunately, many people tend to cut corners when they start to feel tired, denying themselves potential gains. A partner or trainer is usually needed at the beginning to ensure one is pushing himself/herself.

Getting Started

Select a few, preferably compound exercises (6-8 normally) to comprise a set. 
Decide on a work and rest cycle, such as 30 seconds of work with 15 seconds of rest
Take longer breaks between sets to let the body recover.

Progress by increasing work time, decreasing rest time between exercises and sets or increasing the number of sets.

A Sample Tabata Workout looks something like this:

20s work, 10s rest 
1. Jumping Jacks
2. Pushups or Knee Pushups
3. Flutterkicks
4. Squats
5. High Knees
6. Burpees
7. Lunges
8. Chair Dips

1-2 minute rest between sets
Total 2-3 Sets
Total workout 10 -15 Minutes

Be creative with the movements or look for recommended workouts online to see what works best for you.
Make sure to progress at a pace comfortable for you. Listen to your body, give it sufficient rest and stay hydrated especially after the workout.