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High-Intensity Interval Training

March 6, 2014 Written by JP    [Font too small?]

Last week, a column in the New York Times entitled, “How to Get Fit in a Few Minutes a Week” garnered quite a lot of attention. The idea of achieving physical fitness in such little time is appealing to just about everyone, myself included. But, is this claim supported by real science? Or is this a case of: “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is?”

The simple answer is yes and no. You can get fitter, faster by employing an efficient form of exercise known as high-intensity interval training or HIIT. Though it will take slightly longer than a few minutes. The NY Times piece focuses on a few studies that reveal that exercising for less than 10 minutes, three-times weekly can lead to more pronounced improvements in physical fitness than more frequent and/or longer bouts of aerobic exercise. The latest research suggests that 4 sets of full effort, “push yourself to the limit” exercise interspersed with 4 sets of gentle recovery exercise, about every other day, is all you need. This can be accomplished on an elliptical machine, a stationary bike or a treadmill.

Besides saving time, HIIT also influences various health markers more profoundly than longer lasting forms of exercise. One study, appearing in the February 2014 issue of Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, reports that HIIT improves cardiac autonomic function more so than aerobic endurance training. This noted effect could be invaluable to those with heart rate irregularities such as atrial fibrillation. Likewise, interval training promotes far greater oxygen uptake than continuous training. This compensates for cardiopulmonary changes that typically accompany aging in the lungs. Finally, two recent trials reveal that HIIT is tops when it comes to supporting healthier blood pressure, blood sugar and oxidative status. In short, HIIT is a powerful tool for slowing the aging process and staying healthy along the way.

Whether you already practice HIIT or plan to start, take note of two current findings that can influence the lasting success of your exercise routine. High-intensity, interval training is great in many ways. However, it may not make you feel great immediately. The November 2013 edition of PLos One, examined the psychological feelings induced by continuous and high-intensity training sessions. Participants in the HIIT phase of the study reported more negative feelings than in the continuous phase. This can be overcome by reminding yourself of the distinct benefits that you’ll reap, both physiologically and in terms of time savings. Another recent experiment informs that the “gentle” stages of HIIT are vitally important. Some athletes take a passive, restful approach to the periods in between the intense segments of exercise. This is a mistake! Remaining active in the gentle stages has been shown to stimulate a hormonal environment that encourages muscle building and recovery. So, slow down, but don’t completely stop during the gentler intervals.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 – Is High-Intensity Interval Training a Time-Efficient Exercise Strategy to (link)

Study 2 – Intermittent and Continuous High-Intensity Exercise Induce Similar (link)

Study 3 – Effect of 24 Sessions of High-Intensity Aerobic Interval Training Carried … (link)

Study 4 – Effect of Traditional Aerobic Exercises Versus Sprint Interval Training on (link)

Study 5 – Cardiac Autonomic Function and High-Intensity Interval Training in (link)

Study 6 – Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training Rapidly Improves (link)

Study 7 – Continuous vs Interval Training on Glycemic Control and Macro- (link)

Study 8 – Effect of High-Intensity Interval Training Versus Moderate Continuous (link)

Study 9 – Continuous and High-Intensity Interval Training: Which Promotes (link)

Study 10 – Active vs. Passive Recovery During High-intensity Training Influences (link)

Moderate vs. High Frequency HIIT on Maximal Oxygen Uptake (VO2max)

Source: PLoS One. 2014 Feb 7;9(2):e88375. (link)

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Posted in Alternative Therapies, Exercise, Heart Health

10 Comments & Updates to “High-Intensity Interval Training”

  1. rob Says:

    HIIT can be a good addition to you routine but probably best not to over do this as you can burn yourself out

  2. JP Says:

    Hi Rob,

    The 3x weekly, 10 minute or less, HIIT routine is intense. But, I don’t think it will lead to burnout. There’s plenty of time for recovery. In fact, adequate recovery time is part of the key to its success!

    Be well!


  3. rob Says:

    I was talking about those that do 5+ days a week for long time periods and dont give there bodies chance to recover. I did that at one point and while I did get good results its was taking its toll on my body and had to dial it back. Thanks

  4. JP Says:

    Update: Lemon balm extract may also protect against heart palpitations …


    J Ethnopharmacol. 2015 Feb 10. pii: S0378-8741(15)00078-1. doi: 10.1016/j.jep.2015.02.007. [Epub ahead of print]

    Heart palpitation relief with Melissa officinalis leaf extract: Double blind, randomized, placebo controlled trial of efficacy and safety.


    In Traditional Iranian Medicine (TIM), Melissa officinalis L. is commonly regarded as an effective therapy for heart palpitations.


    Heart palpitation is a common complaint that is often benign and associated with a marked distress that makes the condition difficult to treat. Herbal medicines provide an alternative to conventional drugs for treating various kinds of diseases. This study was done as a double blind randomized placebo-controlled clinical trial to evaluate the efficacy and safety of the dried extract of M. officinalis on adults suffering from benign palpitations.


    Eligible volunteers were randomly assigned as outpatients to a fourteen day treatment with 500mg twice a day of lyophilized aqueous extract of M. officinalis leaves (or placebo). Participants in the tests, physicians and researchers were blind to group assignments. Both primary and secondary outcomes were patient-reported. Primary outcomes were obtained from two measures: mean frequency of palpitation episodes per week, derived from patients’ diaries, and mean intensity of palpitation estimated through Visual Analogue Scale (VAS) in a self-report questionnaire. Psychiatric symptoms (somatization, anxiety and insomnia, social dysfunction and severe depression) were evaluated as secondary outcomes by General Health Questionnaire-28(GHQ-28), before and after intervention.


    Fifty-five volunteers out of seventy-one recruited study subjects completed the trial. Results showed that 14-days of treatment with lyophilized aqueous extract of M. officinalis leaves reduced frequency of palpitation episodes and significantly reduced the number of anxious patients in comparison to the placebo (P=0.0001, P=0.004resp.). Also, M. officinalis extract showed no indication of any serious side effects.


    Lyophilized aqueous extract of Melissa officinalis leaves may be a proper and safe herbal drug for the treatment of benign palpitations.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Update 04/28/15:


    Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: Post Acceptance: April 18, 2015

    Effects of High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise Training on Appetite Regulation.

    Objective: An acute bout of high intensity intermittent exercise suppresses ad-libitum energy intake at the post-exercise meal. The present study examined the effects of 12 weeks of high intensity intermittent exercise training (HIIT) compared with moderate intensity continuous exercise training (MICT) on appetite regulation.

    Methods: Thirty overweight, inactive men (BMI: 27.2 +/- 1.3 kg/m2; V[spacing dot above]O2Peak: 35.3 +/- 5.3 mL.kg-1.min-1) were randomised to either HIIT or MICT (involving 12 weeks of training, 3 sessions per week) or a control group (CON) (n = 10 per group). Ad-libitum energy intake from a laboratory test meal was assessed following both a low-energy (LEP: 847 kJ) and a high-energy preload (HEP: 2438 kJ) pre and post-intervention. Perceived appetite and appetite-related blood variables were also measured.

    Results: There was no significant effect of the intervention period on energy intake at the test meal following the two different preloads (p >= 0.05). However, the 95% CI indicated a clinically meaningful decrease in energy intake after the HEP compared with LEP in response to HIIT (516 +/- 395 kJ decrease), but not for MICT or CON, suggesting improved appetite regulation. This was not associated with alterations in the perception of appetite or the circulating concentration of a number of appetite-related peptides or metabolites, although insulin sensitivity was enhanced with HIIT only (p = 0.003).

    Conclusion: HIIT appears to benefit appetite regulation in overweight men. The mechanisms for this remain to be elucidated.

    Be well!


  6. JP Says:

    Updated 1/4/16:


    Physiol Behav. 2015 Dec 23. pii: S0031-9384(15)30218-3.

    Greater impact of acute high-intensity interval exercise on post-exercise executive function compared to moderate-intensity continuous exercise.

    Aerobic moderate-intensity continuous exercise (MCE) can improve executive function (EF) acutely, potentially through the activation of both physiological and psychological factors. Recently, high-intensity interval exercise (HIIE) has been reported to be more beneficial for physical adaptation than MCE. Factors for EF improvement can potentially be more enhanced by HIIE than by MCE; but the effects of HIIE on EF remain unknown. Therefore, we aimed to examine to what extent HIIE impacts post-exercise EF immediately after exercise and during post-exercise recovery, compared with traditional MCE. Twelve healthy male subjects performed cycle ergometer exercise based on either HIIE or MCE protocols in a randomized and counterbalanced order. The HIIE protocol consisted of four 4-min bouts at 90% of peak VO2 with 3-min active recovery at 60% of peak VO2. A volume-matched MCE protocol was applied at 60% of peak VO2. To evaluate EF, a color-words Stroop task was performed pre- and post-exercise. Improvement in EF immediately after exercise was the same for the HIIE and MCE protocols. However, the improvement of EF by HIIE was sustained during 30min of post-exercise recovery, during which MCE returned to the pre-exercise level. The EF response in the post-exercise recovery was associated with changes in physiological and psychological responses. The present findings showed that HIIE and MCE were capable of improving EF. Moreover, HIIE could prolong improvement in EF during post-exercise recovery. For the first time, we suggest that HIIE may be more effective strategy than MCE for improving EF.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Updated 06/04/16:


    Int J Sports Med. 2016 Jun 3.

    Low-Volume High-Intensity Interval Training as a Therapy for Type 2 Diabetes.

    Our purpose was to investigate the effects of low-volume, high-intensity interval training (HIT) on cardiometabolic risk and exercise capacity in women with type 2 diabetes mellitus (T2DM). Sedentary overweight/obese T2DM women (age=44.5±1.8 years; BMI=30.5±0.6 kg/m2) were randomly assigned to a tri-weekly running-based HIT program (n=13) or non-exercise control follow-up (CON; n=10). Glycemic control, lipid and blood pressure levels, endurance performance, and anthropometry were measured before and after the follow-up (16 weeks) in both groups. Medication intake was also assessed throughout the follow-up. Improvements (P<0.05) on fasting glucose (14.3±1.4%), HbA1c (12.8±1.1%), systolic blood pressure (3.7±0.5 mmHg), HDL-cholesterol (21.1±2.8%), triglycerides (17.7±2.8%), endurance performance (9.8±1.0%), body weight (2.2±0.3%), BMI (2.1±0.3%), waist circumference (4.0±0.5%) and subcutaneous fat (18.6±1.4%) were found after HIT intervention. Patients of HIT group also showed reductions in daily dosage of antihyperglycemic and antihypertensive medication during follow-up. No changes were found in any variable of CON group. The HIT-induced improvements occurred with a weekly time commitment 56-25% lower than the minimal recommended in current guidelines. These findings suggest that low-volume HIT may be a time-efficient intervention to treat T2DM women.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Updated 06/28/16:


    Exp Gerontol. 2016 Jun 21.

    Novel All-Extremity High-Intensity Interval Training Improves Aerobic Fitness, Cardiac Function and Insulin Resistance in Healthy Older Adults.

    Aging is associated with decreased aerobic fitness and cardiac remodeling leading to increased risk for cardiovascular disease.High-intensity interval training (HIIT) on the treadmill has been reported to be more effective in ameliorating these risk factors compared with moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) in patients with cardiometabolic disease.In older adults, however, weight-bearing activities are frequently limited due to musculoskeletal and balance problems.The purpose of this study was to examine the feasibility and safety of non-weight-bearing all-extremity HIIT in older adults.In addition, we tested the hypothesis that all-extremity HIIT will be more effective in improving aerobic fitness, cardiac function, and metabolic risk factors compared with all-extremity MICT.Fifty-one healthy sedentary older adults (age: 65±1years) were randomized to HIIT (n=17), MICT (n=18) or non-exercise control (CONT; n=16).HIIT (4×4min 90% of peak heart rate; HRpeak) and isocaloric MICT (70% of HRpeak) were performed on a non-weight-bearing all-extremity ergometer, 4×/week for 8weeks under supervision.All-extremity HIIT was feasible in older adults and resulted in no adverse events.Aerobic fitness (peak oxygen consumption; VO2peak) and ejection fraction (echocardiography) improved by 11% (P<0.0001) and 4% (P=0.001) respectively in HIIT, while no changes were observed in MICT and CONT (P≥0.1).Greater improvements in ejection fraction were associated with greater improvements in VO2peak (r=0.57; P<0.0001).Insulin resistance (homeostatic model assessment) decreased only in HIIT by 26% (P=0.016).Diastolic function, body composition, glucose and lipids were unaffected (P≥0.1).In conclusion, all-extremity HIIT is feasible and safe in older adults.HIIT, but not MICT, improved aerobic fitness, ejection fraction, and insulin resistance.

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 08/31/16:


    Diabetes Metab. 2016 Aug 23.

    High-intensity interval training reduces abdominal fat mass in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes.

    AIM: This study compared the effect of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT) for 16 weeks on whole-body and abdominal fat mass (FM) in postmenopausal women with type 2 diabetes (T2D).

    METHODS: Seventeen women (69±1 years; BMI: 31±1kg.m-2) were randomly assigned to either a HIIT [60×(8s at 77-85% HRmax, 12s of active recovery)] or MICT (40min at 55-60% of their individual HRR) cycling program for 16 weeks, 2 days/week. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry was used to measure whole-body and regional FM content, including abdominal adiposity and visceral adipose tissue. Plasma cholesterol, HDL, LDL, triglycerides, glucose and HbA1c levels were measured. Levels of nutritional intake and physical activity were evaluated by 7-day self-reports.

    RESULTS: Dietary energy (caloric) intake, physical activity level and total body mass did not vary in either group from the beginning to the end of the training intervention. Overall, total FM decreased and total fat-free mass significantly increased over time (by around 2-3%). Total FM reduction at the end of the intervention was not significantly different between groups. However, significant loss of total abdominal (-8.3±2.2%) and visceral (-24.2±7.7%) FM was observed only with HIIT. Time effects were noted for HbA1c and total cholesterol/HDL ratio.

    CONCLUSION: With no concomitant caloric restriction, an HIIT program in postmenopausal women with T2D (twice a week for 16 weeks) appeared to be more effective for reducing central obesity than MICT, and could be proposed as an alternative exercise training program for this population.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Updated 09/04/18:


    Nutr Health. 2018 Sep 3:260106018793049.

    High-intensity interval walking in combination with acute green tea extract supplementation reduces postprandial blood glucose concentrations in physically inactive participants.

    BACKGROUND: Exercise and green tea supplementation have been shown to have the potential to improve postprandial blood glucose concentrations, but past interventions have not often investigated attainable and time effective exercise protocols.

    AIM: The purpose of this study was to investigate the effects of interval walking exercise and acute green tea extract supplementation on the glycaemic response to an oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT).

    METHOD: Twelve physically inactive participants (nine male, three female, age: 22 ± 1 years; body mass: 81.2 ± 16.3 kg; stature: 175.7 ± 9.6 cm; body mass index (in kg/m2): 26.2 ± 4.3) underwent a 2-h OGTT immediately following i) no intervention (REST), ii) placebo and exercise (EX-PLAC), iii) green tea extract supplementation and exercise (EX-GTE), in a random order. The walking exercise consisted of 6 × 1 min of brisk walking (7.92 ± 0.56 km/h) separated by 1 min of slower walking (4.8 km/h). Differences between groups were identified using magnitude-based inferences.

    RESULTS: The EX-GTE intervention resulted in a ∼9% most likely beneficial effect on blood glucose area under the curve response to the OGTT (702.18 ± 76.90 mmol/L-1·120 min-1) compared with REST (775.30 ± 86.76 mmol/L-1·120 min-1), and a very likely beneficial effect compared with the EX-PLAC (772.04 ± 81.53 mmol/L-1·120 min-1).

    CONCLUSION: These data suggest that an EX-GTE intervention can reduce postprandial glucose concentrations in physically inactive individuals.

    Be well!


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