First we learned the news from Professor Tabata in Japan that all we needed to do to get leaner and fitter than ever before was just four minutes of a high intensity cardiovascular exercise. Then more recently scientists brought us the seven-minute workout, involving a series of resistance exercises that could be done at home with no more than a wall and a chair. Now new research has emerged from Abertay University in Dundee suggesting that two minutes of high intensity exercise is actually better than 150 minutes steady state.
Participants in this study, published in the journal Biology, completed 10 sprints of six seconds on a bike (with just two minutes rest time in total, not including warm up and cool down) twice a week. After eight weeks there was a significant improvement in their cardiovascular health and insulin sensitivity (the body’s ability to clear glucose from the bloodstream). HIIT in your weekly schedule could improve the way your body metabolises sugar too, according to a study in the Journal of Applied Physiology.
Even current NHS guidelines, which aren’t quite at the point of recommending just twominute workouts, have begun to reflect the rising trend towards HIIT with weekly exercise prescriptions now including three options, with the amount of exercise time required per week reducing as the intensity goes up. Across the pond too, HIIT has its supporters: the American College of Sports Medicine says that 30 minutes of highintensity exercise is as good as an hour at 60 percent effort and a recent study comparing a lower volume of high intensity exercise versus higher volume at lower intensity found that the former significantly improved maximal oxygen uptake.
Performance expert and London-based personal trainer Gus Olds says: “People preparing for endurance events, for example, often undervalue the importance of this kind of anaerobic threshold training and choose instead to just focus on exercising for longer and longer periods of time at the same old intensity. Pushing yourself ‘at threshold’ (ie. at a point you can’t hold for long) regularly, when combined with steady state training, will help increase your endurance far more than just doing steady state training.”
Nike trainer and sponsored athlete Gemma Bailey is also a fan of HIIT and uses it every day with clients. But she admits it does require a little respectful caution, particularly with regards to beginners: “HIIT delivers huge benefits,” she says. “For example, short sprints will build muscle, whereas long distance running burns it. HIIT is also a fast way to burn fat. But it does have its disadvantages. Because you’re doing things at speed, it’s all too easy to compromise on good form (ie. keeping your body positioned correctly and moving well) and form should come first.”
Which training style matches your fitness goals?
Marathon training: Tabata
It sounds counterintuitive, but such intense sessions work well alongside other longer sessions, especially when training for a marathon, says personal trainer, Richard Scrivener: “If you’ve got poor biomechanics and you’re running miles and miles, you’re putting a lot of stress through your musculoskeletal system. Swapping one or two of your four or five runs per week for Tabata training is a great way to unload the skeleton and keep your fitness up.”
Strength: GRIT Strength
Blasting all the major muscle groups, GRIT strength is a 30-minute weight training session that can ramp up your metabolism for up to 48 hours afterwards.
Stay-at-home training: The Seven Minute Workout
12 exercises, seven minutes, a wall, a chair, and a lot of intensity. Devised by scientists affiliated with the American College of Sports Medicine, this workout is all about learning to use your body weight to get maximum results. But you need to know how to push, even when nobody’s watching.
Total-body workout: Virgin Active’s 24
The new high-intensity workout class from Virgin Active, 24, takes exactly that number of minutes from start to finish (including warm up and cool down) and ensures you can blast yourself fit within half an hour. Perfect for a lunchtime session or after work.