No, this is not about a Britney’s Spears song. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training; this is a form of exercise that combines short bursts of high energy exercise (usually for a fixed amount of time) with longer periods of rest or lower intensity exercise (also for a fixed amount of time). Generally, HIIT is used with aerobic or cardio workouts, but it can contain elements of resistance as well.
I have blogged previously about HIIT workouts. In the past, many in the fitness industry felt that HIIT workouts were inappropriate for older adults, but the most recent research shows that it can actually increase a person’s lifespan. As a general rule, the only people who should avoid HIIT workouts are those with injuries, women who are pregnant, or women who are 3-6 months post-partem (but consult your own doctor for specifics).
HIIT is an effective way to work with seniors who may not be able to sustain longer periods of aerobic activity, but who can still tolerate and benefit from intervals of higher intensity exercise. I often begin my workouts with older adults using a TABATA: 20 seconds of exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest with 8 sets incorporating two different exercises alternating. With other clients I may do a 5-minute HIIT comprised of 1 minute of low intensity walking, stationary bike, treadmill, or jogging-in-place followed by 20 seconds at a higher speed; this cycle is repeated 3 times with a minute of low intensity at the end. For a longer workout, the periods of high and low intensity can be adjusted; for example, one could do 2 minutes of walking followed by 30 seconds of easy jogging. As a client progresses, the higher intensity periods can be lengthened.
The advantage of HIIT is that if it is done for a long enough period (opinions vary), it can raise the heart rate and resting metabolic rate for an extended amount of time–as long as 24 hours! The body can continue to burn calories long after the workout is over. Even for shorter workouts, let’s call them “quickies,” it has the advantage of pushing the client to work more intensely but for a period of time that is manageable. A person may not be able to run for one minute straight, but they may be able to run 3 sprints of 20 seconds separated by a minute or two.
I will continue to explore ways that I can use HIIT workouts with my clients. Research shows that there are no downsides except that they should be limited (at least for HIIT workouts of longer than 20 minutes) to three times a week to prevent overtraining and/or boredom which would lead to demotivation to exercise. For my older clients, there are many advantages, most important among them that it can add to a person’s life expectancy.