A few years ago, I had a life-changing encounter with a Czechoslovakian chick.

Her name – Zuzka Light. But don’t be fooled by the name. She is not ‘lite’ in any way. She is Hardcore, and she claimed to only work out 15-20 minutes per day.

This  longtime distance running addict found that concept hard to believe; Largely because we’ve all had it drilled into us at some time or another that the only path to fitness nirvana is the tried and true beige-coloured cardio+weights programme. No beelines to hot booty.

But it turns out she Zuz was on-trend before her time, recording what later became known as HIIT* workouts long before gyms dedicated to this style started springing up, one giant bleeping digital clock at a time.

But while the initially renegade HIIT trend has spilled over into every mainstreet gym, I have not been able to find a really good summary of why it works which I can share with people who want to know. In less than a couple of minutes. So here goes my effort at a summary.

Using short (30 seconds to one minute) long bursts of intense (anaerobic) exercise, interspersed with 10-15 seconds rest, or simply going hard through a set of exercises as fast as you can in a set time (now commonly known as an AMRAP, widely used in CrossFit), you achieve the same results as an hour of weights at the gym (minus chit-chats, mid-workout shake-breaks or stopping for a selfie).

Given that this style of workout doesn’t require heavy weights – only your bodyweight plus minimal equipment of you have it (like a kettlebell, sandbag and some dumbells), how is this possible? Here are the three main reasons:

  • Intensity counts more than the length you workout: a properly done half hour HIIT session with weights can easily burn more than an hour-long run.
  • You burn more fat: you are working your muscles intensely at the same time as getting an intense cardio effect. Done properly, a HIIT workout should push your cardio boundaries into that place where you’re focused on sucking in enough O2 to get you through the next rep.
  • The burn keeps going: the reason why you burn more fat, faster, is also due to the “afterburn effect” – you’re metabolism remains elevated for hours after the workout, wheras with long cardio, it returns to normal pretty quickly.

All this would make you wonder why anyone would bother with long stretches of cardio.

Notsofast with ditching your longer, slower sessions. They still have many benefits, building your endurance, still burning fat, plus all the mental health benefits of being able to clear your head at the same time.

Plus, doing exercise that intensely everyday is a recipe for burnout.

Enjoy a paddle board on a Saturday, a bike ride, or active rest watching The Project on the cross-trainer.

For me, I still love my running, and in adding my morning HIIT sessions have found that they compliment each other – I am stronger up hills due to HIIT. In turn, the mental and physical endurance gained by long runs helps my brain endure a heavy HIIT session.

I would love to know, have you tried HIIT? Do you think it’s the ultimate workout, or do you still enjoy mixing it up? Comment below.

*high intensity interval training

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