A current debate rages in the fitness industry between high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and endurance training. Each side has strong advocates. Some emphasize the need for variety to "change it up."
Let me make it clear that I have absolutely nothing against HIIT. I use it frequently in my own workouts and have used it when teaching, as well.
Virtually any exercise will trigger the release of beta-endorphin. The more intense the exercise, the more beta-endorphin is released. No doubt that's one reason people enjoy – or even prefer – hard workouts.
When it comes to comparing HIIT to endurance training, though, I've noticed something interesting. Diehard HIIT advocates always seem to measure the benefits of HIIT against the lamest cardio they can find, then proudly proclaim that HIIT provides superior results.
In reality, we do not have to choose between long, slow nothing and HIIT. If you train right, and train hard, you can go hard and long. HIIT alone will not necessarily provide that training adaptation.
I've learned that progressive, periodized training can develop a power / endurance diod, along with a mental discipline that short-duration bursts typically do not. There are mental, emotional, even spiritual benefits of endurance training. I frequently use HIIT as part of a long, structured, "authentic" training.
But I also use HIIT when my day is slammed and I need to resort to my BTN (better than nothing) Workout.
One of the convenient features of HIIT is how little time it takes. At this time of year, being able to fit in a short workout is helpful.
Here's an 11-minute format I devised for the Stairmaster, but it can be done on any piece of cardio equipment. Set the timer, if you have one, for 11 minutes. On the Stairmaster, every workout is divided into 30 vertical rows of a duration that depends on the programmed time. An 11-minute workout yields 30 rows of 22 seconds each.
I warm up for 9 rows. That takes 3 minutes, 18 seconds. Every 3 rows, I increase the intensity by 1 vertical dot. Then I begin my intervals.
The remaining time allows for 7 intervals. The work segment is 2 rows (44 seconds), followed by a recovery of 1 row (22 seconds). The first work interval is moderately hard, a transition between warm-up and HIIT. The other 6 intervals are done as high as the Stairmaster can go. I drop down in the recovery period to the level-3 warm-up, but no lower.
If I start leaning on the Stairmaster during the work segment, I back off one vertical dot until I get back to good, disciplined form. It's rare that I need to back off more than one, but I've dropped 2 once or twice. The goal is not to take extra recovery, just to regain good form and make it harder.
If you're at all like me, you prefer a serious, longer training to something like this. Still, the BTN approach can be used so easily, and it's gotten me through insane scheduling often. I've done it on indoor cycles and treadmills, and it works.
This approach could help anyone who's over-scheduled and missing workouts this season.
Sure, it's just BTN for avid exercise fans, but it's HIIT, which is authentic training. Better than nothing when there's no time. Why skip holiday workouts?