If you hang out with a bunch of athletes, then no doubt you’ve heard quite a bit about “HIIT work.”  Let’s be honest — HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, can be intimidating since it requires you put in periods of “all out” effort. But consider this: HIIT provides a number of fitness and health benefits over and above those long hours of traditional cardio work and it actually requires much less time. So, just hang in there for those short bursts, and it won’t be long before you’re glad you did! First, let’s consider benefits and then let’s discuss approach.

HIIT’s benefits are primarily about boosting mitochondrial vitality. Mitochondria are the powerhouses of your cells. These powerhouses generate ATP, which is a nucleotide that stores and transports chemical energy within the cells. As you age, your mitochondria wear out and leave you feeling tired and susceptible to chronic disease.  For younger adults, HIIT work has been shown to slow the effects of aging and to help maintain overall health. For older adults, HIIT work actually leads to increases in mitochondrial numbers and quality as well as a reversal in the decline of muscle-building proteins. This can translate into greater mental as well as physical health. In fact, mitochondrial dysfunction is involved in various neurodegenerative conditions, such as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s disease. 

HIIT requires a fraction of the time required by more traditional cardio workouts and is adaptable to many different activities, including running, cycling, swimming, hiking, doing burpees, and frankly just about anything. There is no single way to do HIIT work, and just how “all out” you go will depend on where you are in your fitness level. The basic approach goes something like this: Warm up for about five minutes (or as long as it takes you to prepare to go “all out”).  Then go all out for a short time of up to about a minute, then slow down a minute or two, then go all out again, then slow down again. Repeat this process five to seven times, and then wrap up with a cool down of at least two minutes. The idea when you go all out is to get into that place in which you are breathing hard to catch your breath, but only for a short burst. Then rest before you go hard again. If you are not accustomed to doing this kind of activity, be very sure to take it easy. You might initially consider “all out” to be 60-70 percent effort and only slowly build up to 100 percent effort.

If you are an athlete, then you know that you do not do sports to stay in shape. Rather, you stay in shape to do sports. While it also helps to do specific strength and athletic skill work, HIIT is a fabulous addition to your workout routine. In addition to helping you maintain overall health and vitality, it will tremendously boost your athletic performance! So, how can you integrate HIIT work into your routine?