As an effective approach to achieving overall wellness and advancing preventive care, chiropractic has gained wide use among professional and amateur sports teams across the country. Three trends point to sports chiropractic as an exceptional way to provide value and enhance care:• Participation in high school and college sports is up, with experts predicting a 15-percent rise in employment of coaches and scouts by 2022.
• A growing number of professional and amateur athletes are seeking new strategies for gaining a competitive edge.
• As the baby boomer population ages, doctors of chiropractic (DCs) are treating more retirement- age patients who want to maintain their athletic ability by eliminating acute and chronic pain, increasing flexibility, enhancing strength and balance and improving overall quality of life.
Experts estimate that 90 percent of all world-class athletes use chiropractic care to prevent injuries and increase their performance potential. All National Football League (NFL) teams rely on DCs in varying capacities, and 77 percent of athletic trainers have referred players to a chiropractor for evaluation or treatment.
Treating Professional Athletes
Treating collegiate, Olympic and professional athletes has helped DCs gain wider recognition, creating a growing demand among younger athletes who benefit from chiropractic care in the areas of critical, acute and emergency care. This is important since the typical primary care physician lacks the education to deal with biomechanical and neuromusculoskeletal dysfunction.
Longevity on the playing field is critical: For every year a player remains competitive, millions of dollars may be earned. Professional athletes, coaches, athletic trainers and sports agents understand the consequences of disabling the pain mechanism and view chiropractic as essential for treating the cause of pain.
With professional sports highlighting its value, chiropractic is poised to become a mainstream option for improving sports performance and injury rehabilitation among athletes at every level.
Treating Young Athletes
More than 30 million children participate in organized sports in the United States, and approximately 775,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms for sports-related injuries. According to the Journal of Neurological Science, more sports-related, non-fatal injuries are treated in hospital emergency departments than any other type of unintentional injury. While traditional medicine treats fractures, dislocations, lacerations and damaged tendons and ligaments, many athletes leave the hospital with as much spinal stress as they had prior to care.
Younger athletes are more susceptible to injuries because they have slower reaction times than adults, are less coordinated, and are still growing and developing. Many injuries result from overuse, such as repetitive use syndrome, which comes from placing stress on the musculoskeletal system. It is caused by not using proper techniques or equipment, such as athletic shoes, which makes greater demands on the body with less healing time.
Injury Prevention/Performance Enhancement
Any DC who specializes in treating athletes should be prepared to treat the whole person, and tailor a comprehensive program aimed at injury avoidance. Initial evaluations should include not only traditional orthopedic tests, neurological examinations, and consideration to supplement physical exam findings with any additional diagnostic evaluations, if appropriate or a referral if indicated. Numerous studies support the fact that chiropractic care helps athletes achieve an optimal level of performance. A Canadian research team included chiropractic care in the rehabilitation program of 16 injured female long-distance runners. The runners recovered quickly; seven of them actually scored “personal best” performances while under chiropractic care, although there may be other contributing factors.
Chiropractic is beneficial to professional, amateur and weekend athletes, maximizing athletic performance and preventing and managing injuries. The growing reliance on chiropractic care among American professional sports teams has both raised awareness about the many benefits of chiropractic and helped many DCs apply and improve knowledge of biomechanical injuries and their treatment.
With growing awareness of the role of chiropractic care, practitioners will find themselves in community leadership roles, imparting a positive impact on student sports and expanding their skills to further affect athletic performance. They may be called upon to provide nutritional expertise and other approaches for enhancing pre-competition preparation, competition endurance and all aspects of injury prevention and care coordination.
Putting Sports Chiropractic into Practice
Besides having an interest in sports, becoming a successful sports DC requires:
Tailoring nutritional requirements, equipment and techniques to the needs of today’s athletes. This means augmenting traditional chiropractic care with soft-tissue treatment methods including instrument-assisted soft-tissue mobilization.
Obtaining credentials. A doctor of chiropractic does not need to add credentials such as the Certified Chiropractic Sports Physician credential or the advanced diplomate in sports, or the International Federation of Sports Chiropractic’s (FICS) international certified chiropractic sports physician (ICCSP) in order to be qualified to treat athletes. But, having these credentials conveys a higher level of knowledge and training in sports care.
Marketing sports capabilities to build a solid referral stream. The best approach is to forge solid working relationships with orthopedic surgeons, athletic trainers, physical therapists and other MDs who provide sports medicine services. Get involved in local, regional and national sports organizations and events, and issue press releases to local news outlets.
Kray Kibler, CFO, ScripHessco (www.ScripHessco.com), joined Scrip Companies in May 2006 as chief financial officer. In prior roles at Scrip, he oversaw the company’s financial, IT, human resource, customer service, distribution operations and field/corporate sales.
Spencer H. Baron, DC, DACBSP (www.drspencerbaron.com), is a health, sports fitness and medical expert, team chiropractic physician for the Miami Dolphins and a nationally acclaimed speaker and educator. Named the 2010 National Sports Chiropractor of the Year, he is author of Secrets of the Game: What Superstar Athletes Can Teach You About Health, Peak Performance and Getting Results, and co-founder of the Pro Football Chiropractic Society and POWER Play, LLC.
1. Bureau of Labor Statistics; Entertainment and Sports, Coaches and Scouts; Occupational Outlook Handbook; www.bls.gov/ooh/entertainment-and-sports/coaches-and-scouts.htm; accessed April 29, 2014.
2. Palmer Center for Natural Healing; Chiropractic Improves Athletic Performance; www.palmercenterfornaturalhealing.com/2011/chiropractic-improves-athletic-performance.html; accessed April 2, 2014.
4. Professional Football Chiropractic Society; Chiropractic in the NFL; www.profootballchiros.com/chiropractic-in-the-nfl/; accessed April 29, 2014.
5. Warner, Theresa, Warner, Stuart; ChiroEco.com; Kids, kickball and chiropractic: Child athletes need your help; www.chiroeco.com/chiropractic/news/3221/766/kids-kickball-and-chiropracticchild-athletes-need-your-help/; accessed April 29, 2014.
It’s amazing how quickly life can change! One minute you’re going about your typical daily routine. The next minute, everything changes and you have far more questions than answers.
One of the biggest questions on nearly everyone’s mind right now is… how does the human immune system work and what can we do to help support it, so it can function better?
A strong, healthy immune system is the best defense for fighting off germs of all kinds – viral, bacterial, fungal.
But many people don’t realize there’s a well documented, research-supported link between immune system strength and exercise. In other words, by staying active and physically fit, you help your immune system stay fit and healthy as well!
But are there specific actions you can take right now, to help improve your immunity through exercise?
The good news is – there is!
Below is some info on the link between exercise and health. Please be sure to pass these tips to family and friends as well. As everyone is currently looking for anything they can do to help stay healthy…especially now.
The Science Between the Immune System-Exercise Link
Just last year, the Journal of Sport and Health Science published a study describing what they called a “compelling” link between exercise and immune system response.
This relatively new field of science is called “Exercise Immunology.” Yet there is scientific research dating back well over a century, highlighting how immune system response changes based on levels of exercise.
Here, as it turns out, moderation (rather than extreme exercise or a totally sedentary lifestyle) is key to optimal immune system function.
In other words, you don’t have to head to the gym every day before or after work for hours and hours. The best results will come from simply adding in some moderate exercise to your daily schedule.
Nursing Older People Journal published a study in 2012 confirming that exercise helps fight back against immunosenescence.
What is immunosenescence?
This term refers to the normal reduction in immune system function as we age.
But researchers now know that immunosenescence is something you can slow down. Exercise can strengthen immune system response by improving killer cell response, increasing T-cells production and enhancing the body’s response to almost any immune system challenge it faces.
Read on to learn easy, effective ways to add exercise to your daily routine and experience the immune-boosting benefits this will bring.
5 Easy Ways to Add Immune-Boosting Exercise to Your Day
These five ideas will help you brainstorm creative ways to add immune-boosting exercise to your day and also encourage your loved ones to join in with you.
1. Start with one-minute workouts….20 times per day.
Here is the secret to fitting 20 minutes of exercise into your day, starting right away. As MedLine Plus emphasizes emphasizes, you don’t need to do all 20 minutes at one time.
One 2016 study published by Plos One Journal showed that sedentary adults who added one (yes, ONE) minute of high-intensity exercise every 10 minutes for 50 minutes got the same benefits as adults who pursued a routine requiring 50 minutes of moderate, sustained exercise.
What are some examples of one-minute high intensity workouts? Assuming you do the suggestions below for one minute…here you go:
– Taking the stairs at a brisk clip.
– Fast-walking from your car into the grocery store.
*assuming it’s safe, park as far back in the parking lot as possible
– Chasing your dog around the park.
– 30 jumping jacks.
– Lifting your toddler up and down 20 times with good form.
If you do each of these five things once, you just added five minutes of high intensity exercise to your day. Using the research study example, this is roughly equivalent to 25 minutes of moderate exercise. Already you’re close to exceeding your goal!
2. Create a walk-able lifestyle
If you don’t already have a dog, now may or may not be the right time to go out and get one. But you can still pretend as if you have a dog – and not just any dog, but a dog that goes stir-crazy without frequent walks.
This is important, because WebMDWebMD points out that just adding regular walks to your schedule can cut the number of colds you get in half.
Colds, including the seasonal illness we now call influenza, are viral. So is the flu.
When you add more walks into your day, your body starts producing more T-cells (white blood cells that fight germs and disease). Are you in your 60’s and you want the white blood cell count of a 30-year-old? Walk for 30 minutes each day.
How can you add more walks into your day? Try these five ideas:
– Once again, park farther away in the parking lot at work.
– Walk your dog more (or offer to walk your neighbor’s dog).
– Make a “walkable errands” list and save up those tasks to do during your walk.
– Use half your lunch hour to walk outside at work.
– Institute a new family tradition – take a walk after dinner each night.
3. Incorporate gentle exercise with proven stress-reduction benefits.
As Northwestern Health Sciences University (NHSU) explains, exercise may have proven immune system benefits, but it is not a magic bullet all on its own.
If you are chronically stressed out, you are still more susceptible to becoming ill.
And if this describes you, then adding exercise to your life can potentially make your existing stress even worse.
That is the last thing you want or need!
Instead, consider choosing a gentle, consistent exercise practice that also has proven stress-reducing benefits. This way, you get the immune-boosting benefit and the stress-reduction benefit all at once – kind of like getting two for one.
Here are five ideas for gentle exercise programs that also have a proven link to stress reduction, as well as overall immune response improvement:
– T’ai chi chuan
4. Aim for “functional strength” in your exercise routine.
“Functional strength” is a term that basically means you are improving your strength, balance/stability and endurance at the same time.
Another, more common term, that you also might have heard of is “resistance training.” Resistance training incorporates muscle-building into focused exercises against some type of resistance such as a band or weight.
Here is a common example: you decide to do 20 controlled squats with good form, while you are holding a two-pound weight in each hand. In this example, you are working out your cardiovascular, neuromuscular (nervous system and muscular systems) and respiratory systems all at the same time.
Frontiers in Immunology researchers have now confirmed that exercise like this is likely to strengthen immune response over the long-term, and here is why.
When you work out your muscles and your body’s cardiovascular system at the same time, this releases more white blood T-cells into your body to fight off pathogens wherever they are hiding in your tissues.
Here are five easy tips to consider when adding functional strength training to your day:
– Use a suspension trainer (like a TRX) for improved form, while performing body weight exercises like a step-back lunge.
– Use bands and tubes for at-home resistance training combined with endurance movements.
– Harness your body weight to do push-ups, planks, bridges and squats.
– Try Pilates routines to work with bands or reformer machines.
– Small dumbbells or kettlebells also make handy functional strength training props.
5. Don’t forget to warm up and cool down.
Injuries happen, but neither your body nor your immune system will thank you for suddenly launching into vigorous exercise without any warning or without stretching afterwards.
Taking five minutes at the start of your workout to get the blood moving…and end with a 5-10 minute gentle stretch.
Also practice deep breathing, tune in to how you are feeling and soak in the benefits of your workout. These simple tips can perhaps be just as important as the exercise itself.
According to the Journal of Sports Medicine, a cool-down period is particularly supportive of overall immune system response following exercise.
Here are five ideas from the American Heart Association for adding easy warm-up and cool-down periods to any exercise routine:
– Plan for at least 5 minutes of warm-up and 5-10 minutes of cool-down.
– Do some exercises, just at a slower pace, as part of the cool-down.
– Hold each stretch gently for up to 30 seconds.
– Incorporate your whole body in your warm-up and cool-down sessions.
– Breathe in and out (through your nose if possible) deeply during warm-up and cool-down.
These five tips will help you boost your immune system function. And as a side perk, you will also reap all the other potential benefits of regular exercise – improved heart health, sleep, energy levels and enjoyment of your favorite activities!
Get Your Personalized Exercise and Fitness Program Today
Did you know that you can request your own free personalized exercise and fitness program courtesy of WebExercises? Contact your health care provider to ask for a WebExercises prescription that is tailored to your specific health and fitness needs and goals.
– Vitamin D is an unusual vitamin because it acts like a hormone in your body. It helps the bones absorb calcium, supports the immune system and may aid strength gain and fat loss.
– Vitamin D is made in the body when your skin absorbs ultraviolet light, but most people don’t get enough sunlight to reach adequate levels
– Deficiency of vitamin D is common, so consuming a D supplement may be beneficial
– The D3 version of the vitamin is absorbed better than D2, making it a wiser choice for supplementation
What Is Vitamin D?
While classified as a vitamin, D is unique among vitamins in a few different ways. For one thing, your body makes it itself when it’s exposed to sunlight. For another, it behaves like a steroid in the body (no, not that kind of steroid), meaning that it can turn genes on and off. This makes vitamin D an especially powerful nutrient with many potential influences on your health.
When your skin absorbs ultraviolet radiation, a cholesterol precursor in your body is converted to vitamin D3 (one type of D vitamin). However, it’s difficult for most people to get the amount of vitamin D they need from the sun alone. Fortunately, vitamin D is available in food, and many other foods are fortified with it. Nevertheless, vitamin D deficiency is common, and a serious threat to health (see Do I Have A Vitamin D Deficiency? below).
Vitamin D is fat soluble, meaning that it dissolves in fats and oils, and can be stored in the body for long periods. For years, scientists have known that Vitamin D promotes the absorption of calcium and phosphate from the food in your gut, making it a key supporter of bone health. More recently, D has also gotten credit for the role it plays in muscle strength and performance, nerve transmissions, and immune health.
How Do Vitamin D2 and D3 Differ?
There are two main kinds of vitamin D—D2 (ergocalciferol) and D3 (cholecalciferol). D2 is found in plant foods, including fungi like mushrooms and yeasts. D3 is only available in animal foods, and it’s the type of vitamin D your body makes on its own when it’s exposed to UV light.
D2 is inexpensive to produce, so it’s often added to foods—such as milk—to boost their vitamin D content. However, D2 is not as well absorbed by the body as D3. Some studies indicate that D3 may be almost twice as effective at raising levels of vitamin D in the blood as D2 (1, 2, 3). If you supplement with vitamin D to achieve optimal levels, nutrition experts generally recommend choosing vitamin D3 supplements.
According to an American Journal of Clinical Nutrition report, medical literature regarded D2 and D3 “as equivalent and interchangeable” for many years, “yet this presumption of equivalence is based on studies of rickets prevention in infants conducted 70 years ago…
Despite an emerging body of evidence suggesting several plausible explanations for the greater bioefficacy of vitamin D3, the form of vitamin D used in major preparations of prescriptions in North America is vitamin D2.”
In addition to failing to raise blood levels of the vitamin as well as D3, D2 also has a shorter shelf life. Therefore, the Journal concludes, D2 “should not be regarded as a nutrient suitable for supplementation or fortification.” However, some D2 supplements are oil-based, and may be more shelf-stable and bioavailable as a result. More research is needed to see how they compare to D3, but, in the meantime, D3 supps seem to be the smarter alternative.
What Does Vitamin D Do For the Body?
Due to vitamin D’s ability to act like a hormone in the body, it has the ability to support multiple aspects of health. While it’s long been known to help regulate bone health and growth, D has also been linked to the following.
A 2015 meta-analysis of seven studies found that vitamin D supplementation significantly aided gains in upper- and lower-limb strength. The subjects ranged from 18 to 40 years of age.
A 2014 study in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition followed overweight and obese women on a diet and exercise routine for one year. Half the subjects received a vitamin D supplement, and the other half a placebo. Researchers found that the ones who got up to healthy vitamin D levels lost more weight than the placebo group—by an average of seven pounds.
Meanwhile, another study in Nutrition Journal showed that women who took vitamin D for 12 weeks didn’t lose weight, but their body fat percentages did go down, indicating that D may have helped with recomposition.
Innate immunity is the term used to describe the body’s general defense mechanisms—the ones that turn on when it senses that an unwelcome invader has entered your system. Barriers, such as the skin, and white blood cells—the body’s soldiers in the war against a pathogen—are examples of your innate immune defenses.
Adaptive immunity refers to the immune responses that are specific to a particular antigen (any foreign substance your body wants to get rid of). These include the antibodies you develop when you’re recovering from a cold, so that the same virus doesn’t make you sick again in the future.
Vitamin D has been shown to help modulate both innate and adaptive immune responses (The Journal of Investigative Medicine), supporting a strong immune system. In 2017, a review published in the British Journal of Medicine analyzed 11,321 people from 14 different countries. It concluded that vitamin D supplementation helped promote immunity in both subjects who were deficient in the vitamin, as well as those who had healthy levels.
At the same time, a lack of D in the diet can wreak havoc on health.
One study published in Archives of Internal Medicine followed 19,000 subjects for six years. Those with lower vitamin D levels were more likely to report upper respiratory health issues than those who were getting sufficient D. Meanwhile, a review in the Journal of Investigative Medicine explains that a D deficiency is associated with increased susceptibility to health issues.
Do I Have A Vitamin D Deficiency?
Most people living in first-world countries don’t have many vitamin deficiencies. We can get most of the nutrients we need through food alone, and many foods have vitamins added to them to ensure that we get enough. Vitamin D deficiency, however, is still rampant, even among otherwise healthy people.
The main reason why is lack of sun exposure. Contrary to what you might think, just walking around outside on a sunny day usually isn’t enough, even if you live on a tropical island. Clouds and shade dramatically cut down on ultraviolet light—the stuff that your skin needs to produce vitamin D—and window glass blocks it completely. Furthermore, the National Institutes of Health explain that wearing sunscreen with an SPF of eight or more won’t allow your body to absorb enough light to make D, although it’s obviously important to use some anyway to avoid sunburn and long-term skin damage.
Ethnicity also plays a factor. Melanin is a pigment that darkens the skin, but it also reduces the skin’s ability to absorb vitamin D. African Americans and Hispanics typically have more melanin than white people, so they tend to be more deficient.
A Nutrition Research study concluded that more than 41% of Americans are deficient in vitamin D. African Americans and Hispanics are most at risk, as 82% and 69% are deficient, respectively. The study went on to say that, “deficiency was significantly more common among those who had no college education, were obese, with a poor health status, hypertension, low [HDL] cholesterol level, or not consuming milk daily.”
Looking more closely at obese populations, the National Institutes of Health observe that “obesity does not affect skin’s capacity to synthesize vitamin D, but greater amounts of subcutaneous fat sequester more of the vitamin and alter its release into the circulation.” Even if an obese person gets bypass surgery to aid weight loss, his/her vitamin D levels will still be suspect, as the part of the small intestine that absorbs D is bypassed.
Senior citizens are also in jeopardy. A trial in the American Journal of Geriatric Pharmacotherapy stated that elderly subjects had insufficient D levels, “despite vitamin D intake consistent with national recommendations.”
Just what the recommended D dose should be is a subject of great debate. The current Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) for vitamin D is 15 micrograms, or 600 IU, for people up to age 70. (Folks older than that need 20 micrograms, or 800 IU.) A serving or two of fatty fish, such as salmon or trout, should have it covered. However, these recs might be very optimistic. A review of vitamin D studies in Nutrients accuses the current RDA of being flat out inaccurate because of an error in math. It concludes that, “With the current recommendation of 600 IU, bone health objectives and disease and injury prevention targets will not be met.” The appropriate IU, the researchers assert, may be many times more than what is currently advised.
Evidence published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology agrees, suggesting that significantly higher doses, such as a minimum of 25 micrograms/1000 IU of D is more appropriate. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism also explains that at least 1,500–2,000 IU per day may be necessary for adults, and at least 1,000 IU for children and teens. The Linus Pauling Institute echoes these numbers as well.
If reading all this has sent you scrambling to the cabinet for your multivitamins, your next question may be, “how much vitamin D is too much?” The National Institutes of Health say you can probably get as much as 100 micrograms/4,000 IU before you see side effects, which may include nausea, poor appetite, weakness, and weight loss. Vitamin D toxicity is rare, however, and it mainly comes from overuse of vitamin supplements. (You can’t get too much D from the sun, as your body will shut down production before then.) One review showed that there were no health risks associated with consuming 1,800–4,000 IU of D daily.
Whatever the optimal D dose may be, it seems fair to assume that we should all get our levels tested and, if low, aim to take in more. An article in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary & Alternative Medicine calls vitamin D deficiency “pandemic,” noting that health organizations worldwide are refocusing on the importance of D due to the discovery that “vitamin D receptors are present in nearly every tissue and cell in the body and that adequate vitamin D status is essential for optimal functioning of these tissues and cells.” It concludes that it is “imperative that all individuals be encouraged to obtain vitamin D from either sunlight or supplementation.”
What Are The Best Sources of Vitamin D?
It’s hard to get enough vitamin D from sunshine, but it’s even harder to get it from food—at least the way most people eat. The best source of dietary D is from fish livers, such as cod liver oil, but now ask yourself… when was the last time you ate cod liver oil?
Mackerel, salmon, sardines, swordfish, trout, and tuna all offer D, as do mushrooms and eggs. If you eat them regularly, you’ll meet the government-recommended requirement, but if you’re in the camp that thinks 600 IU is too low, you’ll need to be more aggressive to hit your D goals. Dairy products and cereals are fortified with vitamin D, which helps, but one review, and Harvard University, determined that supplementation with a multivitamin or concentrated vitamin D capsule provides a better insurance policy.
Of course, you shouldn’t completely avoid the sun. According to a report in Alternative Medicine Review, “the health benefits accruing from moderate UV irradiation, without erythema [reddening of the skin] or excess tanning, greatly outweigh the health risks, with skin pigmentation (melanin) providing much of the protection.”
The National Institutes of Health note that getting five to 30 minutes of sun on the face, arms, back, or legs—without sunscreen and between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. at least twice a week—is usually enough to promote sufficient vitamin D synthesis in the skin. However, sun exposure, especially at these hours, can be difficult to get, and particularly during winter time, or during work weeks with a busy schedule. This is why scientists frequently recommend supplementation.
Why Take Vitamin D and K?
Vitamin K has similarities with vitamin D. It’s fat-soluble, found in egg yolks and liver, as well as some plant foods, and, like vitamin D, it assists calcium in promoting strong bones. K works with D to make sure calcium gets where it needs to go without causing a problem.
Here’s what we mean: your blood levels of calcium need to stay at a certain level. When you don’t get enough calcium from your diet, one of vitamin D’s functions is to take it from your bones and move it into your bloodstream. Obviously, this isn’t ideal, but if you generally get enough calcium in your diet, it isn’t cause for concern.
While D takes calcium from your bones, it doesn’t control where it ends up in the body. Vitamin K steps in as a protective measure, seeing that the calcium doesn’t accumulate in places that could be dangerous, such as the blood vessels or kidneys. For this reason, some people believe that any vitamin D you take should be supplemented with vitamin K. In cases where vitamin D intake was too high, some subjects ended up with too much calcium in their blood, suggesting that, if taken, vitamin K might have helped to regulate the buildup and prevent the problem.
But to date, there’s no compelling evidence to show that any of the aforementioned recommended doses of vitamin D are harmful with or without vitamin K in tow. If it turns out that the two should be taken together, however, chances are that you’re already covered. Unlike vitamin D, vitamin K is available in large amounts in many commonly eaten foods, such as spinach, parsley, kale, and soft cheeses. And because K is fat-soluble, it will last in your body a while after each serving.
One major advantage that kettlebells have over dumbbells is that you don’t need a wide range of weight increments to create a workout with them. One 16 kilo weight if you’re a man, or 8 kilo if you’re a woman, will get it done for most people. The following workout requires just one kettlebell and works the entire body. Note that, unlike what you see in most kettlebell workouts, we’re not having you do the Turkish getup and full swing—even though we’re well aware that they’re two of the most popular kettlebell exercises. Rather, we’ve modified these exercises to more user-friendly—but still supremely challenging—versions that will allow someone of any experience level to train safely and with optimal form.
Use this routine to build strength and burn fat now, and develop the requisite stability and mobility to graduate to more advanced exercises at a later date.
Perform the exercises as a circuit, completing one set of each in sequence without rest in between. When you’ve completed the entire circuit, rest 1–2 minutes, and then repeat for 3 total rounds.
Duration 20-25 minutes
Frequency 1-2x per week
Exercise strength training
Rest 1-2 minutes
Hold the kettlebell by its horns and drive your shoulder blades together and downward so your chest is open (think “proud chest”). Tuck your elbows in so your forearms are vertical.
Stand with feet a bit wider than hip-width apart with feet turned out slightly. Take a deep breath into your belly and twist your feet into the ground (imagine screwing them down without actually moving them) and squat, keeping your torso upright. Go as low as you can without your tailbone tucking under your butt.
2. Kettlebell One-Arm Row
Reps: 8 (each side)
Place the kettlebell on the floor and take a staggered stance with your right foot in front. Your foot should be planted just outside the weight. Dig the ball of your left foot into the floor behind you and bend your hips so your torso is angled about 45 degrees to the floor. Rest your right elbow on your right thigh for support and reach for the kettlebell with your left hand. Keeping your shoulders square, complete all your reps on one side and then repeat on the other side.
3. Kettlebell One-Arm Press
Reps: 5 (each side)
Stand tall holding the kettlebell in one hand at shoulder level. Root your feet into the floor as if you were preparing for someone to push you. Take a deep breath into your belly and brace your abs and glutes. Pull your ribs down and think “proud chest.”
Press the weight overhead with a vertical forearm. Note that your chin should be pulled back so that weight has no trouble clearing it. To lower the kettlebell, pull it back down into position—as if you were performing a pullup. Complete all your reps on one side and then repeat on the other side.
TIP: “Don’t get fixated on achieving a full overhead lockout right away,” says John Wolf, Onnit’s Chief Fitness Officer. “Just going to where your elbow is bent 90 degrees and holding it isometrically is a ton of work for most people.” If you need to arch your back, causing your ribs to flare in order to lock out your arm overhead, you’re not training the shoulder effectively. In that case, you may need to regress the movement to a floor press—lie down on the floor with your triceps against it and press upward from there (think of it as a bench press with a shortened range of motion).
4. Kettlebell Chest-Loaded Swing
Stand with feet between hip and shoulder-width apart and hold the kettlebell by its horns, pulling the bottom of the bell into your lower sternum. Draw your shoulder blades together and down (“proud chest”) and cast your eyes on a spot on the floor approximately 15 feet in front of you.
Take a deep breath and root your feet. Then bend your hips back, imagining being able to touch your butt to the wall behind you. Keep a long spine with your tailbone tilted slightly up. When you feel a stretch in your hamstrings, extend your hips and squeeze your glutes, tucking your tailbone under as you lock out.
5. Kettlebell Shoulder Halo
Reps: 8 (each direction)
Stand with feet between hip and shoulder-width apart and hold the kettlebell by its horns upside down—the bell should face up. Screw your feet into the floor and draw your ribs down. Think “proud chest.”
Begin moving the kettlebell around your head, being careful to maintain your posture and not bend your torso in any direction. Move slowly to avoid whacking yourself in the head. Make full circles and alternate directions on each rep.
6. Kettlebell Hip Halo
Reps: 8 (each direction)
Set up as you did for the shoulder halo but hold the kettlebell by the handle at arm’s length and make circles around your hips. Hand the kettlebell off from one hand to the other. Perform eight reps in one direction and then repeat in the opposite direction.
7. Kettlebell Around the Leg Pass
Reps: 5 (each direction)
Perform halos as you did around the hips but with your hips bent back so you move the weight around one knee at a time. Keep a proud chest—ribs down with a long spine. Perform five reps in one direction and then repeat in the opposite direction. Switch legs and repeat.
8. Kettlebell Chest-Loaded Swing
Repeat the swings as described above.
9. Kettlebell Single-Arm Squat to Press
Reps: 8 (each side)
Hold the kettlebell with one hand at shoulder level. Tuck your elbow in so your forearm is vertical. Perform a squat as described above, and then come up and press overhead.
10. Kettlebell Chest-Loaded Swing
Repeat the swing a final time.
While most people know that physical activity is healthy, it's estimated that about 30% of people worldwide don't get enough. Unless you have a physically demanding job, a dedicated fitness routine is likely your best bet for getting active. Unfortunately, many people feel that they don't have enough time to exercise If this sounds like you, maybe it's time to try high-intensity interval training (HIIT).
1. HIIT Can Burn a Lot of Calories in a Short Amount of Time
You can burn calories quickly using HIIT. One study compared the calories burned during 30 minutes each of HIIT, weight training, running and biking. The researchers found that HIIT burned 25–30% more calories than the other forms of exercise. In this study, a HIIT repetition consisted of 20 seconds of maximal effort, followed by 40 seconds of rest. This means that the participants were actually only exercising for 1/3 of the time that the running and biking groups were. Although each workout session was 30 minutes long in this study, it is common for HIIT workouts to be much shorter than traditional exercise sessions. This is because HIIT allows you to burn about the same amount of calories, but spend less time exercising.
2. Your Metabolic Rate Is Higher for Hours After Exercise
One of the ways HIIT helps you burn calories actually comes after you are done exercising.
Several studies have demonstrated HIIT's impressive ability to increase your metabolic rate for hours after exercise. Some researchers have even found that HIIT increases your metabolism after exercise more so than jogging and weight training. In the same study, HIIT was also found to shift the body's metabolism toward using fat for energy rather than carbs. Another study showed that just two minutes of HIIT in the form of sprints increased metabolism over 24 hours as much as 30 minutes of running.
3. It Can Help You Lose Fat
Studies have shown that HIIT can help you lose fat.
One review looked at 13 experiments and 424 overweight and obese adults.
Interestingly, it found that both HIIT and traditional moderate-intensity exercise can reduce body fat and waist circumference. Additionally, one study found that people performing HIIT three times per week for 20 minutes per session lost 4.4 pounds, or 2 kgs, of body fat in 12 weeks — without any dietary changes. Perhaps more important was the 17% reduction in visceral fat, or the disease-promoting fat surrounding your internal organs. Several other studies also indicate that body fat can be reduced with HIIT, despite the relatively low time commitment. However, like other forms of exercise, HIIT may be most effective for fat loss in those who are overweight or obese.
4. You Might Gain Muscle Using HIIT
In addition to helping with fat loss, HIIT could help increase muscle mass in certain individuals . However, the gain in muscle mass is primarily in the muscles being used the most, often the trunk and legs. Additionally, it's important to note that increases in muscle mass are more likely to occur in individuals who were less active to begin with. Some research in active individuals has failed to show higher muscle mass after HIIT programs. Weight training continues to be the "gold standard" form of exercise to increase muscle mass, but high-intensity intervals could support a small amount of muscle growth.
5. HIIT Can Improve Oxygen Consumption
Oxygen consumption refers to your muscles' ability to use oxygen, and endurance training is typically used to improve your oxygen consumption. Traditionally, this consists of long sessions of continuous running or cycling at a steady rate. However, it appears that HIIT can produce the same benefits in a shorter amount of time. One study found that five weeks of HIIT workouts performed four days per week for 20 minutes each session improved oxygen consumption by 9%. This was almost identical to the improvement in oxygen consumption in the other group in the study, who cycled continuously for 40 minutes per day, four days per week. Another study found that eight weeks of exercising on the stationary bike using traditional exercise or HIIT increased oxygen consumption by about 25%. Once again, the total time exercising was much different between groups: 120 minutes per week for the traditional exercise versus only 60 minutes per week of HIIT. Additional studies also demonstrate that HIIT can improve oxygen consumption.
6. It Can Reduce Heart Rate and Blood Pressure
HIIT may have important health benefits, as well. A large amount of research indicates that it can reduce heart rate and blood pressure in overweight and obese individuals, who often have high blood pressure.One study found that eight weeks of HIIT on a stationary bike decreased blood pressure as much as traditional continuous endurance training in adults with high blood pressure. In this study, the endurance training group exercised four days per week for 30 minutes per day, but the HIIT group only exercised three times per week for 20 minutes per day.Some researchers have found that HIIT may even reduce blood pressure more than the frequently recommended moderate-intensity exercise. However, it appears that high-intensity exercise does not typically change blood pressure in normal-weight individuals with normal blood pressure.
7. Blood Sugar Can Be Reduced by HIIT
Blood sugar can be reduced by HIIT programs lasting less than 12 weeks. A summary of 50 different studies found that not only does HIIT reduce blood sugar, but it also improves insulin resistance more than traditional continuous exercise.Based on this information, it is possible that high-intensity exercise is particularly beneficial for those at risk for type 2 diabetes. In fact, some experiments specifically in individuals with type 2 diabetes have demonstrated the effectiveness of HIIT for improving blood sugar. However, research in healthy individuals indicates that HIIT may be able to improve insulin resistance even more than traditional continuous exercise.
The allure of short, intense workouts is obvious. But is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) really the only workout you need for good overall fitness?
By: Brock Armstrong
I was recently investigating a fancy new stationary bike that came on the market not that long ago. It uses a variation of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). It’s a slick-looking bike, which appeals to my fashionista side. It also includes some interesting machine learning, which appeals to my inner nerd. And it boasts some pretty phenomenal health study results, which appeals to my inner coach. But despite all that, I still find myself scratching my head.
This is where the stumbling block starts for me. The bike’s website claims that the device is "clinically proven to give you the same cardio benefits of a 45-minute jog in under 9 minutes, with only 40 seconds of hard work."
Really? On a stationary bike? Where you aren’t using your arms at all, your skeleton is supported by a seat, and your legs are only moving through a biomechanically repetitive and limited range of motion? I find that claim dubious at best.
Before we get into some of the problems with HIIT, let’s clarify what it is.
WHAT IS HIGH-INTENSITY INTERVAL TRAINING (HIIT)?
HIIT involves alternating brief bouts of high-intensity exercise (30 seconds to five minutes) with shorter rest periods during a single exercise session. For most people, the allure of this type of training is that it promises shorter workouts, which still provide results that are equal to (or greater than) more traditional moderate-intensity training. HIIT is versatile enough to be used in all types of settings. It also packs a punch that can take some extra time to recover from.
Arguably, the most popular form of HIIT is the Tabata method. I wrote about that in an article called How to Use Tabata Training for More Than Just HIIT Workouts. Although the article you’re reading right now may seem like it’s putting HIIT down, I stand by my previous claims. Tabata training, if done correctly (and that’s a big if), is very demanding. The body responds to the stress of this workout by rapidly increasing its capacity to increase oxygen uptake, which is an important measure of fitness.
As I hinted at earlier, you do not need to do HIIT more often than once or twice per week. Doing it more often than two or three times a week can actually be counterproductive. If you are doing these workouts correctly, your body will need time to recover between sessions. The key to making any interval training effective is in the intensity. Which leads me back to the problems with HIIT.
HIIT Problem #1
"Cardiovascular fitness based on one particular activity is not the same as cardiovascular health in everyday life."
In biomechanist Katy Bowman’s book, Move Your DNA, she explains that “cardiovascular health comes when the entire circulatory system is used in a variety of ways to deliver oxygen to 100 percent of all cells of the body.” So, with that in mind, let's think about this bike. A stationary cyclist's cardiovascular fitness may allow them to pump a lot of blood to their legs for several hours (or just a few minutes on this device.) But at the same time, that cyclist's body may be providing lower blood supply to other parts of the body that remain still and supported during this short-but-intense exercise session. And that's a problem.
HIIT Problem #2
Most people aren't doing it right.
And by that I mean they're not working out hard enough.
I just did a search for HIIT and found a list of tips that I think are quite typical. Without pointing any fingers, here's what the website said:
The problem is that these aren't the same techniques used in the lab where all those amazing (and slightly hard to believe) stationary bike results were seen.
If you don't have enough PGC1a built up in your muscle, your body will not provide the necessary signal to improve your fitness. Building up that extreme amount of PGC1a requires a drastic depletion of glycogen (or storage carbohydrate) in the muscles. To induce that type of state, it takes a "fight or flight" type of sprint. That's the exact opposite of what tip #2 told us, which was to "leave some gas in the tank. "
So, if we follow the hype behind HIIT and also try to rely on it as a way to boost our fitness in only 9 minutes, done a few times per week (with only 40 seconds of hard work) but we also take the advice of leaving some gas in the tank, well, we'd likely be better off going for a walk.
HIIT Problem #3
It shouldn't be done in isolation.
When you read statements like "Implementing our protocol has been independently proven by the American Council on Exercise to smash government exercise guidelines," you could easily believe that riding your fancy new stationary bike, every second day, is all you need to do to be fit. That's not the case.
Only doing HIIT workouts for exercise is the equivalent of eating only broccoli for all of your meals. Sure, broccoli is yummy and good for you, but you'll miss out on lots of other enjoyable and nutritious foods if that's all you eat.
For this analogy, I am obviously asking you to think of providing movement for your body in the same way that you think of nourishing it with food. Think of HIIT like broccoli—it's a valuable source of nutrients, but it shouldn't be viewed as the one and only nutrition source necessary to be healthy.
I am not disputing the various scientific studies that show increases in oxygen uptake, drops in blood pressure, and increases in fat oxidation after using a device and protocol like the bike I mentioned earlier. But there is much more to fitness and health than just improving your blood test results.
There's much more to fitness and health than just improving your blood test results.
As I explained in my article Why Cross-Training Is Essential (and Improves Your DNA), including varieties of movement (or cross-training) in your fitness program allows you to vary the stress placed on specific muscles and your cardiovascular system. It has also been known to reduce the possibility of an overuse or repetitive movement injuries that can come from doing a single sport or a single intensity for every workout.
And how can you stay excited about your workouts if they're always done the exact same way, on the same piece of equipment, in the same location? You can't.
HIIT definitely has a place in my exercise regimen, but it's on an equal playing field with walking, strength training, mobility or flexibility, and recovery days.
HIIT can take your training and performance to the next level. Here’s everything you need to know about the popular exercise technique.
High-intensity interval training, or HIIT for short, was named one of the top fitness trends in the world for 2019, based on an annual survey by the American College of Sports Medicine.
This super hard, super effective style of training isn’t just the “it” workout of the moment—of the 13 years ACSM has been conducting this survey, HIIT also topped the list in 2014 and ranked in the top three for five consecutive years.
Why? Because it works, and it works fast. Whether you’re coming straight off the couch, training for a marathon, or even if you race for a living, HIIT training is good for your health and makes you fitter and faster.
What Are the Benefits of HIIT?
New studies on the benefits of HIIT make the news on a regular basis. Take, for example, this one from the November 2018 issue of American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology. Researchers found that just two minutes of sprint interval training (in this case, four 30-second max-effort sprints followed by four and a half minutes of recovery for a total of 20 minutes) improved mitochondrial function—when your cells can change fuel to energy quickly, a benchmark for good health and exercise performance—just as well as 30 minutes of moderate exercise in a group of active men and women. In other words, busting out two minutes of really hard running can give you the same fitness benefits as slogging through 30 minutes at a steady, moderate pace.
What HIIT Means for You
Most of us already run a lot because as endurance athletes, that’s our thing. But even if you’re already fit, you can still reap measurable benefits from adding HIIT to your training regimen, says exercise physiology professor and coach Paul Laursen, Ph.D., endurance coach, author of The Science and Application of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), and contributor to HIITscience.com.
For runners who like to go long, HIIT can be part of a smart base-building strategy. “Your base comes down to your mitochondrial capacity,” Laursen says. “Longer, lower-intensity exercise increases the number of mitochondria in your cells, which is why people perform long, steady endurance exercise to build base. But high-intensity training makes those mitochondria more powerful,” he says, noting that research also shows that high-intensity exercise performed regularly can stimulate the production of mitochondria, as well.
“Our research found that when well-trained cyclists performed two interval sessions a week for three to six weeks, their VO2 max, peak aerobic power output, and endurance performance improved by 2 to 4 percent,” he says.
Plus, recent research out of Australia suggests that doing your HIIT workouts in the evening won’t mess with your shuteye—and it could even curb your appetite after a session.
To help you get started, try any of these high-intensity interval run workouts.
On the Track
High-intensity track sessions move the muscles through the full range of motion, improving elasticity and enhancing coordination between your nervous system and muscles. With time, you’ll develop a more efficient stride at all your paces, says Joe McConkey, M.S., an exercise physiologist and coach at the Boston Running Center.
Begin with two 100-meter accelerations that include 40 meters at top speed, with 2 to 3 minutes of walking or jogging between. Build to 6 x 150 meters hard, including 80 meters at top speed, with 3 to 4 minutes jogging or walking rest. Over time, increase the number of repeats to 10, lengthen reps to 300 meters (running nearly the entire distance at top speed), or reduce the rest interval to 1 minute.
On the Trails
It adds to the challenge, but running fast over softer, less-groomed terrain like bridle paths, trails, or grass can increase agility and athleticism—or your ability to run with the “precise amount of power, speed, and coordination needed for efficient movement,” McConkey says.
Because of the terrain and potential strain on your leg muscles, ease into off-road workouts. Do five 30-second pickups at a moderate intensity during an easy 20-minute run, and build up to ten 60-second near-all-out bursts during a 40-minute run. From there, progress to running five cycles alternating 30 seconds of all-out running with 90 seconds jogging, then to 10 cycles alternating one minute easy with one minute super hard. Just be careful not to trip.
On the Hills
Inclines are a great venue for super fast speedwork. Compared with a flat surface, hills reduce the impact on your legs and limit your range of motion, thereby lowering the risk of strains and pulls. Plus, hill repeats build muscle power, which helps you run more efficiently on level ground, says McConkey.
On an incline, start with three 30-second moderate repeats and walk down the hill for recovery. When this becomes comfortable, progress to 4 x 1 minute near all-out efforts with a downhill jog and an additional 30 to 60 seconds jogging or walking rest. Over time, add additional reps, extend effort length up to two minutes, and aim for steeper hills, says McConkey.
What is high intensity interval training?
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is when you alternate between high and low intensity exercise(s) or between high intensity exercise and a short period of rest.
For example, a short sprint up a flight of stairs followed by a walk back down is interval training. Or a set of burpees followed by bodyweight rows.
If you’ve ever participated in HIIT, you know that alternating bodyweight conditioning exercises for 15 minutes can be a lot more challenging than a walk around the block.
Why is high intensity interval training so important?It’s physiologically impossible to sustain maximal intensities during exercise for an extended amount of time. This is because of how our bodies use fuel.
Let’s say I tell you to go outside and run as fast as you can for 20 minutes.
Stage 1 – Phosphocreatine
OK! The first 10 to 20 seconds are going great! You’re sprinting like the wind! That’s because you’re using a high-intensity energy source known as phosphocreatine.
Stage 2 – Lactic acid and anaerobic glycolysis
After about 20 seconds, your phosphocreatine start to run low, and anaerobic glycolysis would predominate. At this point, more lactic acid would be produced and used as a fuel source.
You’re still be running as hard as you can, but you’d be slowing down, and your lungs are working overtime.
If you were a member of the Canadian Olympic Hockey team or an elite speed skater, you could probably maintain this for up to 10 minutes. But those who are not well conditioned would need to slow down and even stop. If this is your first time off the couch, you might even consider throwing up, thanks to the change in blood pH levels.
Well, it looks like the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak. 20-minute sprint challenge: FAIL.
So why can’t you work at maximal intensity for an extended amount of time?
Oxygen: The molecule that makes the magic
One reason is the supply and demand of oxygen when working so hard.
Nature is full of trade-offs. In this case, we trade efficiency for intensity.
When you work at a lower intensity (such as during a brisk walk), aerobic metabolism predominates.
Your body uses oxygen to break down carbohydrate and fat for energy. This is very efficient, but you can’t work at top speed. With aerobic metabolism, you gain efficiency but lose intensity. Evolutionarily, this would be useful for traveling long distances while foraging for food or water.
On the other hand, when you work at a higher intensity (such as sprinting), anaerobic metabolism predominates.
Your body can’t get oxygen to where it needs to go fast enough. This is very inefficient, but it lets you produce short bursts of speed or high energy — very handy when you’re running away from a sabre-toothed tiger or a rock-wielding Grok.
So, we have these two systems, both of which have their own advantages and disadvantages. What if we could have our cake and eat it too? (Or, in this case, lose the fat we gained by eating the cake in the first place.)
With HIIT, you alternate short bursts of very intense exercise (such as 10-20 sec of sprinting) with periods of lower intensity (such as 1 min of walking).
HormonesIn addition, hormone release during exercise depends on exercise intensity.
Gentle movements such as yoga, tai-chi, or a pleasant stroll outside can lower stress hormones.
But when you approach 85 to 95% of VO2max, growth hormone, testosterone, endorphins, epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), cortisol, and aldosterone all increase. These hormones all have effects on body composition and anabolism.
What you should know about HIITExercise can range from gentle movements to maximal efforts. HIIT and heavy weights can elevate stress hormones.
Most every high intensity physical activity is a state of “crisis” in the body. It endangers oxygen supply to tissues, increases body temperature, reduces body fluids and fuel stores, and causes tissue damage.
Intense exercise creates endocrine and defense reactions that are similar to those elicited by low blood oxygen, high blood carbon dioxide, acidosis, high body temperature, dehydration, low blood sugar, physical injury and psychological stresses.
Hormonally, your body basically freaks out. Then it brings out the big guns to deal with the problem. High intensity exercise stresses the body so much that it’s forced to adapt.
As Nietzsche gasped during a 20-rep squat set, “That which does not kill me makes my quads bodacious.” (It makes more sense in German.)
HIIT is excellent for:
How to do HIIT
There are many ways to do HIIT. All you need to remember is the basic principle: Alternate short bursts of very high intensity with periods of recovery/low intensity.
The longest 4 minutes of your life: The Tabata studyOne of the most famous studies of HIIT is known as the Tabata study. In this study (see abstract below), subjects performed rowing intervals: 20 sec of ultra-fast rowing alternated with 10 seconds of relaxed recovery rowing, for a total of 8 intervals, or 4 minutes.
At the end of the study, participants showed a 28% increase in anaerobic capacity along with a 14% increase in V02max. Pretty impressive!
The “Tabata protocol” — 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off — has become one of the most common methods of doing HIIT.
Weighted circuitsUsing resistance exercises can be a very effective method of doing HIIT.
To use resistance training, choose compound exercises that are good “oxygen suckers”, such as:
Combo exercises are also good choices. For instance:
You can also combine resistance exercises with “cardio” type exercises.
Customizing HIIT for your goalsYou can mix up your HIIT choices to avoid overtraining and overuse injuries, and to keep things fresh and interesting.
If you’re a competitive athlete who needs energy systems work for your sport, incorporate some sessions of sport-specific HIIT work. For example:
You can also vary the length of your intervals.
If you’re new to HIIT, opt for shorter high intensity periods and longer low intensity periods.
And note: “high intensity” means “high intensity for YOU”. If you’re a beginner, a fast jog or uphill walk for 10 seconds is a better start than trying to handle an all-out sprint workout.
Don’t forget: Perform an adequate warm up and cool down when performing HIIT.
For extra credit
The benefits of HIIT are exercise specific. If you do squat jumps and running, you get better at squat jumps and running.
You can maximize your HIIT performance by using non-competing exercises. Instead of doing split squat jumps alternated with squat jumps, which use the same muscles, you could pair up bodyweight rows and squat jumps.
With really intense bouts of exercise, the body’s energy requirement can increase 2 to 20 fold!
During the first 1-2 hours after intense exercise, your body’s energy requirements remain high.
So what is high intensity? Well, during your next sprint, envision a crazy grizzly bear chasing you. That should suffice.
HIIT will not only improve body composition, it may extend your life. The Harvard Alumni Health Study, a 4-year study of more than 17,000 men, found that only vigorous – not moderate — exercise reduced risk of death.
In the fitness world, the word “miracle” gets thrown around like a two-pound dumbbell. But when it comes to high-intensity interval training (HIIT), a very short workout, the benefits you’ve heard about are both legitimate and—we’ll say it—miraculous.
HIIT is a combination of brief, very-high intensity bursts of cardio exercise followed by equal or longer periods of rest. Think 30 seconds to a minute of sprinting, followed by a minute or two of walking or slow jogging. Repeat this cycle for just 10 minutes, and you’ll complete a HIIT workout.
“We now have more than 10 years of data showing HIIT yields pretty much the exact same health and fitness benefits as long-term aerobic exercise, and in some groups or populations, it works better than traditional aerobic exercise,” says Todd Astorino, a professor of kinesiology at California State University, San Marcos, who has published more than a dozen study papers on HIIT.
Whether your goal is to improve your fitness, lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, lose weight, strengthen skeletal muscle or help get your blood sugar under control, a few minutes of HIIT seem to be as effective as much longer periods of moderate-paced running, cycling, swimming or other forms of traditional cardio. For well-trained athletes, HIIT may be the best way to elevate your physical performance.
One small study of healthy but sedentary people found just one minute total of HIIT performed three days a week for six weeks was enough to significantly improve blood sugar scores and aerobic capacity, a measure of physical fitness. The study participants completed 10- to 20-second bouts of “all-out” cycling on a stationary bike, each broken up by a couple minutes of rest. The total workout time, start to finish, was 10 minutes.
Other research finds that HIIT may outperform traditional cardio when it comes to fat loss. A HIIT-induced surge in your body’s levels of growth hormones and other organic compounds “can increase fat burning and energy expenditure for hours after exercise,” says study author Stephen Boutcher, an associate professor of medical sciences at the University of New South Wales in Australia.
It doesn’t just work for the young, fit and healthy. Among people with heart disease, HIIT improves cardiorespiratory fitness nearly twice as much as longer stretches of moderate-intensity running, cycling or other aerobic exercises, one review study concluded.
How can HIIT do so much good in so little time? During very intense exercise, “the heart cannot pump enough blood to satisfy all the muscles,” says Ulrik Wisløff, a HIIT researcher and head of the cardiac exercise research group at the Norwegian School of Science and Technology. This lacking oxygen delivery to the muscles starts a “cascade of molecular responses in most organs of the body” that produces a greater training response than more leisurely bouts of exercise, he says.
Exercise of any intensity switches on genes that increase the growth of mitochondria—the power generators of the cells—and triggers all of the other beneficial biological changes linked with physical fitness, says Astorino. “But to activate these genes with traditional cardiovascular exercises, you have to do fairly large or long bouts,” he says. With HIIT, it appears that even very short bouts of training can switch on those genes, so it’s an efficient workout.
HIIT can work for a wide range of people. But how you should practice it depends on your fitness level.
The key to HIIT is pushing your heart rate up above 80% of its maximum, Astorino says. “Subtract your age from 220 to estimate your maximal heart rate,” he says. (A heart rate monitor can provide an accurate assessment. But if you’re really sucking wind after pushing yourself, you’ve probably hit your target, Astorino says.)
If you’re fit, try sprint interval training. After walking or slow jogging for a few minutes to warm up, sprint as hard as you can for 30 seconds, then recover for four minutes by walking or jogging slowly. Complete four to six sets of this sprinting-recovery program. (For an even faster version, keep the warmup, then complete three sets of 20-second sprints, each separated by two minutes of recovery, Astorino says.)
If you’re overweight or obese and you haven’t exercised in months, sprinting isn’t necessary (or safe for your joints). Instead, 30 seconds to four minutes of brisk walking on an inclined treadmill or hill should be enough to push your heart rate up into the HIIT zone, Astorino says.
You can also practice these programs with a stationary bike, rowing machine or in the pool. Any form of cardio can push your heart into the HIIT zone, Wisløff says. (This fact sheet from the American College of Sports Medicine offers more in-depth details on how to design a HIIT program.)
And yes, HIIT is safe. Wisløff and colleagues analyzed nearly 50,000 hours of HIIT data collected from cardiovascular disease patients in Norway. In seven years of data, he turned up just two instances of (non-fatal) cardiac arrest.
He says people with unstable angina or serious heart issues should speak with their doctor first. But, in general, “it’s much more dangerous not to perform HIIT than to perform it,” he says.
A simple guide to high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, the fitness trend du jour.
Modern life has a way of making us feel time-crunched and pressured to find the most efficient ways of using the precious hours when we’re not sleeping. The trendy fitness regimen high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, epitomizes this feeling.
HIIT promises the best workout in the least amount of time. Runners have used interval training for more than 100 years, alternating between sprints and jogging to improve their endurance. But HIIT didn’t really go mainstream until about a decade ago, when exercise physiologists started to come out with study after study demonstrating that intervals could deliver the biggest health improvement for your exercise time. In 2013, the seven-minute workout, popularized by the New York Times, appeared on the scene, and by 2016, the one-minute workout.
Recently, fitness professionals voted HIIT one of the top fitness trends for 2020 in a survey by the American College of Sports Medicine. And interval-based workouts are now popping up seemingly everywhere: at chains like Shred415 and Orangetheory, in group classes at YMCAs, on apps and YouTube, even in the routines outlined in Oprah’s O magazine. Often they promise to burn fat and “metabolically charge the body,” as Orangetheory puts it, in a short time period.
But there are some important nuances scientists have learned about HIIT that have gotten lost in the hype. The proven benefits of these workouts relate to a very particular type of interval training, and they’ve got nothing to do with weight loss. Here are six basic questions about HIIT, answered.
1) First things first: What is HIIT?
HIIT workouts generally combine short bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise. At fitness studios and online, these workouts often mix aerobic and resistance training.
To be clear, most of the interval workouts researchers have studied focus solely on aerobic exercise. Which means the scientific understanding of interval training is based on a more specific routine than what’s appearing in most gyms, videos, and magazines. And the researchers’ definition matters because when we’re talking about the evidence of benefits, we need to be specific about the kinds of workouts that science was based on.
When researchers talk about HIIT, they’re referring to workouts that alternate hard-charging intervals, during which a person’s heart rate reaches at least 80 percent of its maximum capacity usually for one to five minutes, with periods of rest or less intense exercise. (It’s not easy to know that you’re working at 80 percent, but a Fitbit or heart rate monitor can help.)
“There’s a strict definition of HIIT in terms of heart rate,” explained Todd Astorino, a professor in the department of kinesiology at California State University San Marcos.
There are also SIT studies, which include all-out bouts of intensity (working at 100 percent of your heart’s capacity). The SIT research, also focused on intervals, reveals similar benefits, so I’ll draw on it too.
2) What does a HIIT routine look like?
What differentiates HIIT (or SIT) from the steady-state, continuous types of exercise — jogging at an even pace or walking, for example — is the intervals, those periods of heart-pounding intensity. If you want to try it, you can simply take a HIIT class, or run or even walk in a way that involves higher-speed and higher-incline bursts.
If you want a routine that’s been lab-tested, there’s the 4-by-4 from Norway. It involves a warmup, followed by four four-minute intervals (again, where your heart rate reaches past 80 percent of its maximum capacity), each interspersed with a three-minute recovery period, and finished off with a cool-down.
So, for example, you’d jog for 10 minutes to warm up, then do four four-minute intervals of faster running, with three three-minute intervals of moderate jogging or brisk walking in between, and a five-minute cool down at the end. And you can substitute jogging with other aerobic exercises, such as biking or swimming. The whole routine should take 40 minutes.
A shorter, and also heavily studied, example of an interval routine is the 10-by-1, which involves 10 one-minute bursts of exercise each followed by one minute of recovery.
Again, these routines look pretty different from what’s on offer at chains like Orangetheory, CrossFit, or even the seven-minute workout. Even though they’re often referred to as HIIT, they combine cardiovascular exercise with strength training.
3) What are the benefits of interval training?
The single most well-established benefit of interval training has to do with heart health. Intervals can boost cardio-respiratory health with a smaller time investment compared to continuous forms of exercise. So we’re not talking about superior fat-burning capacity (more on that later) or bigger muscles. We’re talking about improved VO2 max, a measure of endurance that calculates the maximum volume of oxygen the body can use.
“Scientists have found that [VO2 max] is one of the best predictors of overall health,” according to the recent interval training book The One Minute Workout, co-authored by Martin Gibala, one of the world’s leading interval training experts, who’s based at McMaster University in Canada. “The more aerobically fit you are, the better your heart can pump blood, the longer it takes you to get out of breath, and the farther and faster you’re able to bike or run or swim.” And that, in turn, can help prevent heart disease.
Consider this 2016 SIT study, in which Gibala and his co-authors followed two groups of participants for 12 weeks: One group worked out for 10 minutes (including several intervals that added up to one minute), and the other for 50 minutes (at a continuous pace).
The most remarkable finding in the study was that the two groups of exercisers saw the same improvement in their oxygen uptake, despite their varying time commitments.
In a 2014 study, Gibala and his fellow researchers got a group of overweight and obese sedentary adults to do three workouts per week, for a total of 30 minutes of exercise. Each workout included three 20-second intervals of fast pedaling on an exercise bike. Even in that short period of time, the study participants saw improvements in their VO2 max.
Reviews of the research have come to similar conclusions: Interval routines lead to greater gains in VO2 max compared with other forms of training in a shorter period of time.
“HIIT is a time-efficient strategy to get the benefits typically associated with longer bouts of traditional cardio,” Gibala told Vox.
Of course, the more you put into a HIIT workout, the more heart health benefits you get out. In this 2013 meta-analysis, researchers evaluated the effects of high-intensity interval training studies, separating out nine studies that showed the largest improvements in VO2 max and nine studies that reported the smallest gains.
The findings were telling: Less intense training programs with shorter intervals carried the least health benefits, while interval training studies reporting the greatest increases typically used longer (three- to five-minute) intervals.
For this reason, athletes have long used the interval technique to up their game, Mayo Clinic exercise researcher Michael Joyner told Vox in 2016. “There’s observational data in athletes going back almost 100 years showing the benefits of a few bouts of really high-intensity exercise in people.” He added: “If you want to get people to their biological maximum, they need to be doing four to five times of three- to five-minute intervals.”
4) Why does HIIT improve cardio health?
Researchers still haven’t figured out exactly why HIIT works to improve aerobic fitness more than continuous types of exercise. But one key hypothesis, Gibala explained, has to do with the heart’s ability to pump blood.
One measure for blood pumping is something called stroke volume, or the volume of blood that comes out when the heart contracts. And a major determinant of VO2 max is stroke volume.
“The maximum amount of blood that comes out of the heart is improved by exercise training,” said Gibala, “and there’s evidence that when you do interval exercise training, the stroke volume increases even more.”
5) Is HIIT the best exercise regimen for weight loss?
There’s no doubt that interval training can be a time-efficient way to burn calories. Researchers have repeatedly shown that people can burn comparable amounts of calories in HIIT routines lasting, say, 20 minutes, compared to longer continuous exercise routines lasting, say, 50 minutes. The reason for that, Gibala said, is that higher-intensity exercise, like intervals, results in a greater disturbance of the body’s homeostasis, “and it literally takes more energy and oxygen to return it to normal basal levels.” (We’ll get to the related “afterburn” effect in a moment.)
But the question is whether that calorie burn translates into weight loss, and that’s where HIIT falls short. A 2019 systematic review of the trials comparing HIIT and SIT with moderate-intensity continuous training found all workouts performed about the same on fat loss. (Side note: The journal hyped the review’s findings, leading one of the study authors to put them in context in this Twitter thread.)
“Many people overstate the potential for interval training to cause you to lose weight,” said Gibala. But that’s a problem with exercise in general, not HIIT specifically. As we’ve explained, it’s much easier to lose weight by cutting calories in your diet than trying to burn excess calories.
That’s especially true if your workout is only 20 minutes long, said Jeffrey Horowitz, a kinesiology professor at the University of Michigan. To burn a lot of calories, “you need to exercise [for] a more prolonged period of time. HIIT routines, by definition, tend to be shorter. So if your goal is weight loss, you might consider a longer interval routine, and you definitely want to look at your diet.”
Gibala summed up, “In terms of the overall magnitude of calorie burning, it tends to be small relative to what you can achieve by dietary changes.”
6) What about the “afterburn” effect?
Many HIIT gyms tout exercise programs that will lead to an “afterburn” or “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” — a period of elevated calorie burn after you exercise.
“This revs your metabolism and makes you burn calories long after your workout is over,” Orangetheory claims.
“The afterburn effect is real — but it’s often overstated,” Gibala said. “When we’ve measured it in a lab, we’ve shown that a 20-minute session of intervals can result in same calorie burn over 24 hours as a 50-minute bout of continuous exercise. So that means the afterburn effect is greater after the intervals — but it peters out after a while.”
It’s also marginal, he added, not the kind of calorie loss that would lead to lasting weight loss. (I saw the same effect when I entered a metabolic chamber to measure my metabolism. In the periods after I hit the exercise bike, my metabolic rate ramped up — but only by a few more calories each minute, and the effect wore off within half an hour of exercising.)
Building more muscles, however, can be a little more helpful for the afterburn. Here’s why: One of the variables that affects your resting metabolic rate is the amount of lean muscle you have. At any given weight, the more muscle on your body, and the less fat, the higher your metabolic rate. That’s because muscle uses a lot more energy than fat while at rest.
So the logic is if you can build up your muscle and reduce your body fat, you’ll have a higher resting metabolism and more quickly burn the fuel in your body. But that takes work — a lot more work than a short aerobic HIIT workout. And even a short HIIT workout may not be for everyone.
“Intervals can be demanding mentally and physically, so some steady-state continuous is nice once in a while,” Gibala said. “[But] for those who truly are super time-pressed and can tolerate intervals almost exclusively, it’s the most efficient way to train.”