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The Fast Track to Avoid Hoilday Weight Gain: High Intensity Interval Training

The holidays are a magical time, spent with family, friends, and food. Memories are made and cheer is spread throughout the land.

With all of the gatherings, decorating, and shopping, time seems to fly by.

An area that often seems to get neglected during the holidays is our fitness. Who has time to sweat it out for two hours in the gym when there is so much that needs to be done? If only there was a way to workout for shorter periods of time and achieve the same, or even better, results.

Sound too good to be true? Well let’s call it a Christmas miracle, because there is! And you have probably heard of it before - High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). The concept is pretty straight forward, instead of exercising at the same pace continually (think jogging) HIIT involves shorter bursts of vigorous activity, followed by a recovery period of less vigorous activity. An example would be sprinting for 30 seconds followed by 30 seconds of walking to catch your breath. Repeat each interval several times and you have one of the most time effective forms of working out.

HIIT enters the anaerobic state, meaning your body cannot not rely solely on oxygen to fuel your muscles. Once your body is operating at a level where oxygen just won’t cut it anymore, it switches over to metabolizing stored carbohydrates into energy. HIIT will also cause you to breath harder, raising your HR, which will also increase the amount of fat you burn during the recovery phases as you switch back to the aerobic state while catching your breath.

All this switching back and forth between the aerobic and anaerobic state during HIIT will help to increase your metabolic flexibility. Over time, your body will become more effective at this transition, helping to improve your overall athletic performance. The more you incorporate HIIT into your training, the less you will ‘feel the burn’ when operating at high intensity, meaning that you can train longer and burn even more fat and carbs.

Also, as you probably know, our bodies respond to stress. By exerting yourself to the limit (high levels of stress), your body responds by increasing the amount of testosterone and growth hormone that it produces. These hormones have a lot to do with muscle growth and fat loss, so workouts that can spur production should be incorporated into any workout routine.

HIIT has been proven to be very effective in terms of results. A 2008 study published in The Journal of Physiology showed that two and a half hours of sprint interval training produced similar muscle changes comparable to ten and a half hours of endurance training. That sounds much more achievable in the busy holiday season, right?

A two group study conducted at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology showed that employing HIIT three times a week for 8 weeks resulted in an average increase in endurance capacity (measured by VO2 max) of 11% among those in that group.

The benefits of HIIT extend beyond just the workout itself. The vigorous nature of HIIT workouts will kick your metabolism into overdrive After a HIIT workout, your excess postexercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) will be elevated for hours, with the length depending on the intensity of your workout.  Studies have shown that this increased EPOC will add up to 15% more calories burned after your workout, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. That’s a big win.

Are you wondering if all of your workouts can be HIIT? In a perfect world, yes they could be. In the real world, probably not. The stress your body endures during HIIT sessions is great for burning calories and getting you in shape, but requires more recovery time than a less intense workout.

Employing HIIT exclusively can actually be counterintuitive. The second group in the study conducted in Norway completed 24 HIIT workouts in three weeks (1-2 HIIT workouts a day). This group experienced significantly lower results (the highest register at 6% improvement), and in some cases a decline in endurance capacity.

What we can take from this is that HIIT is highly effective, when used in moderation. Two to three HIIT sessions a week will let you reap the benefits without over doing it.

If you want to try incorporating HIIT into your holiday fitness regiment, now is a great time to start. Here are are some rules of thumb, according to the American College of Sports Medicine:

  • The high intensity portion of the HIIT workout should raise your heart rate to 80% or more of your maximum heart rate
  • The ‘recovery’ portion should be an activity that will have your heart rate at 40-50% of your maximum heart rate
  • Many HIIT programs use a 1:1 high intensity to recovery ratio (2 minutes of high intensity work followed by 2 minutes of recovery action) or the Sprint Interval Training Method, which involves a 30 second bout of all out effort, followed by a longer recovery period (3-4 minutes).

This winter, when you are crunched for time, why not try out some HIIT? If you know you’ll be at a gathering with foods that you are not able to turn down, get in a morning HIIT workout. It will not take up your whole morning, and you will burn calories all day.

HIIT truly is the gift that keeps on giving. Who wouldn't want that for Christmas?

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