Why you donít have to do HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) to get results

If you can work hard enough, you can have anything you want - Thatís the American dream. This idea of the grind permeates society so much that itís led to a surge in high intensity interval training. Itís become THE way to get six-pack abs. Gyms and online promotions promise ďonly 10 minutes a day to lose 10 lbs in a month!Ē, and other ridiculous claims.

Most of these are completely wrong.
Not only do they not work, but lots of these high-intensity workouts promote a yo-yo style of fitness. Youíre work until you drop, you get hurt, and then youíre forced to take time away from exercise. Now donít get me wrong - thereís a time and place for hard work. And some people love their HIIT class. As an athlete, Iíve been using intervals as my primary form of conditioning for years, so Iím not trying to knock it completely.

But anyone who says you absolutely must do HIIT to get results is wrong. There are plenty of other ways to successfully reach all kinds of fitness goals. But first, letís consider what we mean by HIIT.

What is HIIT?
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training, an exercise method involving alternating levels of effort. In contrast to steady-state exercise, HIIT requires varying periods of work and rest. Thereís no ďoneĒ way to do it, and as such, itís become a sort of catch-all term for short, intense workouts of any kind. Boot-camp style workouts of 20 second sprints with 20 seconds of rest and CrossFit AMRAPís count as HIIT. Both weight training circuits and spin classes fit the bill, depending on how theyíre prescribed. As long as your workout pushes your limits towards a brief respite, youíre training high intensity intervals.

Why HIIT has become so popular
To be frank - it works! For most, itís mentally easier to work hard knowing a break is just around the corner. The harder you work, the more calories you burn, and the fitter you get. If you only have 30 minutes to spare, you can get a lot more done by packing it all in. Plus, most of us are more willing to change our workouts than our diets. As a lot of fitness goals come down to calories in vs. calories out, if everything else stays the same, HIIT puts you closer to a deficit.

However, does working harder always trump working smarter? The single determinant of lifestyle change is consistency, and if you donít like high intensity training, then you wonít be consistent. Bottom line. So letís take a look at some of the most common fitness goals, and how you can benefit from alternative training methods.

Fat loss
When people say they want to lose weight, they typically mean losing fat. Unless you compete in a weight class sport, you probably arenít too concerned about gaining lean muscle mass in the process. In fact - a toned, athletic figure is often the goal.

As I mentioned previously, high intensity intervals are a great way to burn calories. But even the most intense workouts donít hold a candle to what happens during the other 23 hours of your day. During that time, youíre adding calories through food, but youíre also burning them by simply existing. It takes energy to be a human, and your body uses fat stores to fuel daily activity.

Unfortunately, if youíre stuffing your face with more calories than you can burn (yes, even with HIIT), youíre going to add fat. The quickest way to fat loss is to fix your diet. Period.

In addition to diet adjustments, use regular old strength training. By building lean muscle mass, you shift your body composition. Muscle tissue houses mitochondria, the cellular organelles responsible for fat metabolism. More muscle = more mitochondria = more fat-burning potential at rest. Plus, you can still move at a steady clip during your workouts. No oneís saying you have to do one rep every 5 minutes. Work through your sets and reps efficiently, and youíll still burn calories at the gym. Only now, youíre also melting that fat away while you watch Netflix.

Strength gain
When trying to get stronger, you need to lift heavy. If you want to get injured, rush through it.

Not only does rushing your big lifts increase injury risk, but adequate rest contributes to greater force output. According to a comprehensive review in the journal Sports Medicine, the best rest period for strength lies somewhere between 3-5 minutes. Researchers found that with heavy loads between 50-90% of one rep max, resting 3-5 minutes between sets increased the amount of reps people could do at a certain weight. People were able to do more volume at a higher intensity. Over time, this correlated with an increase in absolute strength.

Long story short - if your goal is maximum strength, avoid high intensity interval training.

For hypertrophy, research suggests 6-12 reps and between 30-90 seconds rest between sets. Theoretically, you could make this interval training, but people tend to rush through high intensity intervals. They ďcheatĒ on movements and avoid muscle isolation. While itís great for calorie burning, itís not necessarily hitting the target areas. Training at high intensities also triggers a stress response. While this is great in the moment (and allows us to push beyond our limits), a chronic stress response limits muscle growth. Therefore, if you want to build muscle, and HIIT is your go-to, make sure to spend a good chunk of time on nutrition and recovery. Or, you could focus on time-under-tension, stimulate growth hormone, and make muscle-building easier.

Final thoughts
The most important aspect of reaching fitness goals is consistency. So if you love your boot camp workouts, stick to them! But if you absolutely hate everything about interval training, you donít need it to get results. Instead, choose an alternative that you enjoy, and trust the process.