Imagine if you were given an exercise routine that took only three minutes to do twice a week – you’d probably think someone was having a joke, right?
However, that’s the science behind High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) and it’s been a favourite routine of elite athletes for many years. It works your body as hard as possible – but in short bursts, 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off, for three minutes.
You might be someone who is already a regular walker, swimmer, golfer and so forth, but believe you’re a little “past it” to do HIIT. However, Kusal Goonewardena, a Melbourne-based physiotherapist who heads the Elite Akademy clinic, says this is a common misconception. And he should know. He has worked for 18 years with everyone from the average Joe to Olympians.
Goonewardena says just because we’re getting a bit older doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push ourselves to our physical limits. Why? Because the research shows the physical and mental benefits of doing HIIT are so positive.
Just ask Dr Michael Mosley, who was one of the first high profile medicos (and author and TV personality) to put HIIT on the map. Dr Mosley, who had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, said that doing HIIT had “changed” his life because it had, among other things, helped reduce his insulin sensitivity and increase his aerobic fitness.
“High Intensity Interval Training is about pushing yourself outside of your comfort zone, both mentally and physically,” says Goonewardena.
He believes it’s actually quite easy to incorporate HIIT into your existing exercise routine. He says research has found that it improves mobility, heart and lung capacity, lowers cholesterol, blood pressure, helps you lose body fat, build muscle, and boosts your mental health too.
Running up stairs is an effective high-intensity activity
“The interesting thing about HIIT is that it doesn’t take very long for you to see results. In about 12 weeks you can notice a real difference in terms of your physical wellbeing, your capacity to exercise even more than you have been, and it can also have an impact on your diet. You might have once craved sugary or fatty foods, but you’ll find you’ll crave foods to healthily boost your energy levels,” he says.
He says it’s true that many people aged over 50 (including some of his clients) are initially quite hesitant to try HIIT because they’re worried they could injure themselves or they think it’ll be too hard. He says they are often pleasantly surprised when they realise it’s not as tricky as they thought.
While considering adding HIIT to your exercise regimen, there are some practical steps to do before starting. First, get the all-clear from your GP. Second, assess or grade your fitness levels (if you’ve done no exercise for a long time, find a personal trainer or physiotherapist who can access this for you).
Many of us, says Goonewardena, operate at a low-to-medium level, perhaps believing that doing 10,000 steps a day is enough: we exercise often, but we’re not testing our physical endurance.
“If you’re someone who is used to doing low-to-medium level regular exercise such as walking your dog daily, going up flights of stairs, to playing more active sports, you’ll probably feel more confident about grading yourself.
“Something like walking the dog is a two out of 10, going up a flight of stairs could be a five out of 10.
“You can incorporate HIIT into your regular work-out routine,” adds Goonewardena. “If you go for a brisk one-hour walk, at the end of that, if you’re back home, your body is warmed up and that’s good.
“So try running on the spot for 30 seconds at a level that’s closer to eight or nine of out 10 for you, rest for 30 seconds, and then run on the spot for another 30 seconds. It’s important to really push yourself but if you experience any pain, listen to your body and stop,” he says. The total work out needs to be three minutes, twice a week, on non-consecutive days to allow your body to recover.
Goonewardena adds that if running on the spot doesn’t appeal, another routine would be to do star jumps or shadow boxing for the same time period. Alternatively, you can look up HIIT routines to do at home online. There are some great routines on YouTube, for example this HIIT home workout for beginners:
Have you tried HIIT? What exercise routine works for you? Comment below.