Health & Wellness

A Big HIIT

High-intensity interval training is everywhere. But is HIIT all hype?

THE “ORANGE” IN ORANGETHEORY is not in reference to the persimmon-hued lighting or the rowing machines or the lines of bright water bottles in the lobby of the Fort Collins fitness studio.

True, all those things are Crayola orange at the newest, trendiest exercise spot in town. But the fast-growing chain is actually named after the orange zone—when you work out at 84 to 91 percent of your maximum heart rate. That is to say, it’s when you push your body nearly to its limit.

Reaching this zone for a more than 12 minutes during an hour-long Orangetheory workout compels the body to burn calories 24 to 36 hours after the workout, giving their sweat-soaked, Lycra-covered, heart rate-monitor-wearing participants a bigger burn for their considerable effort.

“You might see a longer block on treadmills or bikes or the water rowers,” says Kylie Chrisman, manager at the Fort Collins Orangetheory studio, describing what a workout might look like. However, they keep their daily workouts secret until participants arrive. “And then they may switch to weights with longer reps and lower weight. It’s like circuit training, bringing the heart rate up and down.”

In fact, Orangetheory is the newest and possibly techiest example of high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. HIIT is a broad term for intense effort interspersed with rest. It means pushing your body and heart for anywhere from 30 seconds to two minutes followed by a minute or two of lower intensity effort.

HIIT is everywhere in fitness. Every gym now has at least one type of HIIT class. Most personal trainers weave HIIT workouts into their clients’ regimens. And shops like Orangetheory are finding business success pushing their participants to their max. Well, almost to their max.

Jeanie Sutter of Mind Body Design says HIIT’s popularity has to do with a few different factors. First, you can do a HIIT workout with any piece of equipment or no equipment at all. From treadmills and bikes to free weights and body weight, intervals can include running, biking, lifting, squats, push-ups and beyond. It can be done in a circuit style, combining different exercising and blending strength and cardio, or it can be a single exercise with varying intensity.

“You can do it anywhere with anything,” Sutter says.

Another benefit, Sutter says, is that HIIT workouts are short. Short and intense. Similar to Tabata Training, high intensity intervals give you a lot of bang for your buck. There are even HIIT workouts that last only eight minutes and claim to be just as effective as a longer, less intense workout.

And those claims may even be true, Sutter says.

“The reason HIIT is so trendy right now is the science behind it,” she says.

Studies have shown that HIIT training may improve aerobic fitness up to 10 times more than moderate endurance training. It can improve speed and endurance. It can mean more fat and caloric burn.

Research has also shown that high-intensity exercise is not just for elite athletes. It can be better-than-normal exercise for people with diabetes, heart disease or Parkinson’s. It’s great at helping to prevent and even reverse the deficits caused by chronic disease.

Pushing your body and your heart is good for you. But that’s advice that should be taken mindfully, Sutter says, especially when promises of weight loss and muscle gain are so alluring.

“We want fitness to be fun and safe, and we want people to do exercise indefinitely,” she says. “That’s the goal. But with some of these fitness trends, people who are inexperienced or under-conditioned jump into something intense, they either end up injured or they cannot do it for the long term, so they stop.”

Instead, she suggests, there should be a foundation of fitness and a focus on form to ensure that people don’t get hurt (or end up sick. . . all over the weight room floor).

At Orangetheory, Chrisman says, they, too, focus on safety. Correct form is sacrosanct. The coaches keep an eye on participants, and the heart rate monitors project their heart rates on a TV where they can me observed.

She says they have students from 15 to 80, from brides-to-be trying to lose 20 pounds before their weddings to cyclists who want to add cross-training to their routine. Chrisman says Orangetheory often gets lumped in as a “weight-loss program.” But she sees it as a venue for a wide variety of people to come together to push themselves, their bodies and their hearts and experience the benefits of that effort.

“It’s a community-based workout,” she says. “Our coaches know everyone by name, and it becomes much more of a community feeling than a box gym.”

A community based on a common bond of working through the pain—with the hope of increased and prolonged gain.

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