Woman looking suspiciously at laptop while exercisingPhoto: Southworks (Shutterstock)

High-intensity interval training hit the headlines in the 2010s with one particular claim: Brief bursts of hard work can provide the same aerobic benefits as longer jogging or cycling lessons. But the HIIT videos you can stream today have very little to do with the original model, and a lot of them are not worth your time.

Before we break down the difference, let me make one thing clear: if you enjoy making videos called “HIIT” and those are part of an exercise routine that makes you really happy, keep doing them. I’m not trying to take away something that you love.

But if you do them because you think they are the best way to achieve your goals, or because a trainer or influencer tells you they are burning a lot of calories or building your loot, we have to go for one put little intervention.

What is real HIIT?

High-intensity interval training was born as a buzzword after exercise scientists discovered that people were getting better at exercising Wingate test every time they took it. The Wingate protocol asks people to pedal with high resistance for 30 seconds. Then you can rest for four minutes and do it again.

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After further experimentation, the researchers found that the benefits they saw, including increased aerobic fitness, could be triggered by other rest / work combinations. The Tabata The protocol, which is performed again on a research-quality exercise bike (“bicycle ergometer” as they call it), includes 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest and is repeated for a total of only four minutes.

These are not workouts that people do for fun. Everyone I’ve seen narrate the experience said it was like that utter agony. Scientists often find that humans can rarely strain enough to replicate these protocols on their own.

So Martin Gibala, one of the researchers who popularized the concept of HIIT, worked to find a version of the protocol that normal people could do on their own and that wouldn’t poop them so badly that they were afraid to come back. His conclusion: A minute of work / a minute of break was the sweet spotand you can do it while cycling, jogging, or other aerobic activities. Interval workouts became increasingly popular and used a variety of work / rest intervals.

How do recent HIIT videos compare?

The term HIIT has not just been watered down; it mutated.

When it started, HIIT was about getting more results in less time, and that’s how it built a reputation for being more efficient, maybe even superior to things like jogging. And since you don’t need a bike for HIIT, the trainers embraced that idea and applied the term to literally anything they could think of. Body weight squats? Bicep curls? Sure, why not. As a result, HIIT these days is more like “a workout with a timer that counts down in the corner”.

HIIT’s popularity had been growing for years when lockdown hit, and from then on it exploded. If you’re a trainer or influencer trying to find something that you can easily film, you will likely be interested in home training without equipment. And to make them sound exciting, call them HIIT.

The label “HIIT” for body weight training should, I suspect, be translated as “good enough”. Yes, you do a few lunges in your living room, but the trainer wants you to think it’s as good as anything you can get from a boutique studio or fully equipped gym. Maybe better.

Illustration for article titled Most 'HIIT' workouts aren't actually HIIT

Empty promises

You can tell how far these workouts are from true HIIT by judging the promises they make. Are you saying they will improve yours? VO2maxwhat was one of the benefits originally mentioned? You won’t – usually not. Let’s give a quick overview:

Are you burning a lot of calories? Not necessarily, but it depends on the training. The longer you exercise and the more out of breath you are, the more calories you burn. The truth is that 20 minutes of “HIIT” often doesn’t burn more than 20 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise like jogging.

Do you burn more calories after exercising? In theory, your body continues to burn calories after a tough workout. However, there are two limitations: First, this is only important if the training is very intense. Second, after a hard workout, your body often wants to save calories for the rest of the day so that everything balances out while you’re on the couch. Even Gibala said the afterburning is overrated.

Do they help you lose weight? Diet is more important for weight loss than the amount of exercise you do, let alone the specific type. Exercise can help a little with the “calories burned” side of the equation (as long as you don’t get hungrier, which sometimes you do), but now let’s get back to Back to reality, HIIT workouts don’t have any particular benefit in burning calories.

Do you build muscle? Maybe a little, but they don’t bring you the booty / arms / whatever from your dreams. High reps of light weights only build muscle when you fail. This means that you need to rest for a minute before doing another exercise on the same part of your body. If your “HIIT” training allows it, great! But pretty soon you will be strong enough that exercising isn’t challenging your muscles enough to grow. You really have to Pulling harder and harder if you want to build muscle.

Illustration for article titled Most 'HIIT' workouts aren't actually HIIT

How do I know if a HIIT video is really good?

First, ask yourself why you are doing the video. Do you want to improve your aerobic fitness? Then, evaluate whether following the video actually gets you out of breath and gives you a reasonable break so you can do it again. Do you want to build muscle? Then evaluate whether the video is actually challenging your muscles.

As I mentioned above, sometimes we do “HIIT” videos not for a specific result, but because it feels good to move our bodies and we like the movements in the video. That’s fine and good, and it definitely counts to them You should get 75 to 150 minutes of exercise weekly. However, once you have specific goals, start looking for the best ways to achieve them. There is probably something out there that is better for you than another “HIIT” video.