By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
Clinical Assistant Professor of Orthopedic Surgery, Stanford University
- High intensity interval training (HIIT) is an extremely time-efficient way to build cardiovascular fitness
- Many people with orthopedic or medical impairments are scared off by the words “high” and “intensity” but should not be afraid- everything depends on your baseline level of fitness and can be adapted to any medical issue
- Interval training can be incorporated into pretty much any physical activity, from dog walking to intense gym workouts or even getting out of a chair
I’m a huge believer in high intensity interval training (HIIT) and I recommend it to all of my patients. But when I mention this a lot of folks will say back to me “there is no way I can do anything that intense”.
I then go on to explain that interval training needs to be taken within the context of each person’s baseline fitness and any medical issues they may have. Everyone – whether you are a professional athlete or a 70-year-old person with hip arthritis – can benefit from interval training.
Essentially, interval training involves bursts of relatively intense exercise separated by periods of recovery, which could be either complete rest or a much lower intensity exercise. There is a growing body of evidence showing that interval training is a much more efficient way of building cardiovascular fitness compared to traditional moderate intensity long-duration exercise.
The idea is to vary the intensity of the workout. Go hard, relax, go hard, relax. The harder you go, the shorter the duration and the fewer intervals that you need to get the same benefit of a much longer endurance training workout.
The perception problem starts with the words “high” and “intensity”. When thinking of high intensity many people envision younger super fit adults doing repeated sprints or some other form of extremely rigorous aerobic activity. But let me give you another example at the other end of the spectrum. What if you’ve just had a heart transplant and have been transferred out of the intensive care unit? To summon the strength to just get out of bed, take a few steps and sit in a chair takes an enormous amount of effort. Guess what? That’s a high intensity interval for that person.
There are numerous real-world examples of how anyone can put interval training into their normal life activities.
- If you’re in the first few days after ACL surgery, your interval is probably just getting around from room to room on your crutches
- If you’re fairly out of shape but you do activities such as walking your dog each day, your high intensity interval could be walking your dog vigorously for a ½ block and slowly for another ½ block, and then repeating for your whole walk
- If you already have excellent cardiovascular fitness you could likely get even better by doing the classic Tabata, or any of its variations
Don’t be afraid of HIIT. High intensity intervals will mean different things to different people, all depending upon your baseline level of fitness and any medical impairments you may have. Everyone can benefit. I hope you’ll make the effort to put interval training into your weekly fitness routine.