Six months ago, Friday mornings were something of an institution for me. Fresh from a much-needed sleep in, I’d begin my day with a strong French press coffee sipped from the confines of my duvet while perusing social media or catching up on television shows. Eventually after much procrastination, I’d get up and begin to get ready for brunch at a leisurely pace, before embarking of a day of excessive over-indulgence, resulting in me being bed-bound with a pizza or chicken nuggets for the entirety of Saturday. Within the last few months my Friday morning routine has changed significantly, driven by a promise I made myself to be in the best shape of my life by the time I turn 30, my fast approaching birthday has seen me switch up binge-watching episodes of Orange Is The New Black from my bed to rising early and getting my sweat on a variety of different gym classes and workouts across Dubai. Of these, the ones that I look forward to the most and seem to be having the most impact on my fitness levels and helping contribute to my weight loss goals are the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) classes.
“HIIT has been around for a while, but through fitness influencers and social media it has become a really popular training method in the last five years,” Claire Falconer tells me. An Australian personal trainer and health and nutrition consultant based in Dubai, Claire regularly incorporates HIIT sessions into both her own and her clients’ workout programmes. “HIIT is a technique that requires you to put in 100 per cent effort through quick, intense bursts of exercise which are then followed by short recovery rest,” she explains. “ As the name suggests, HIIT incorporates high intensity training that essentially makes your heart feel like it is exploding, but on an interval basis,” says Marcus Smith, founder of Dubai health and performance company InnerFight. “You work for a short period of time and then get to rest, which allows your heart rate to come back down again so you’re ready to go for another spurt.”
So why is it good for you? “Most importantly, HIIT is a whole load of fun and when we are enjoying ourselves the workout seems easy,” explains Marcus. “The scientific side of training this way has also proven to burn fat efficiently and build muscle.” There are many scientific studies that demonstrate the benefits of HIIT workouts, most recently a study by the University of Alabama at Birmingham published in the American Journal of Physiology, confirmed that when combined with a calorie-restricted diet, HIIT training preserved muscle mass and had a greater impact on the way the body uses glucose for energy, resulting in participants keeping off the weight they lost. According to the American College of Sports Medicine HIIT improves both aerobic and anaerobic fitness, reduces blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, lowers cholesterol profiles and reduces abdominal fat and body weight while maintaining muscle mass.
One of the biggest draws of HIIT training is its convenience. Requiring little or no equipment exercises can be done in hotel rooms or small spaces and an average workout takes 20 to 30 minutes to complete – ideal for those on the go or with little time to spare. “When starting out make your session no more than 20 minutes with 30 seconds on and 10 seconds off,” Claire advises. “When doing HIIT at home you’ll mainly be using your own body weight so exercises such as air squats, push ups, lunges, burpees and mountain climbers are what you should be looking at,” says Marcus. “The part that brings the intensity is the amount of reps related to time frames. This is where this type of training is always good fun as you can do a routine where you work for 60 seconds and rest for 30 seconds one day and then do the same routine working for 40 seconds and resting for 20 the next and it will seem like a totally different workout – the choices are infinite so it never gets boring.”
Like any form of physical exercise, HIIT training does pose certain risks and dangers particularly if you have pre-existing injuries or heart conditions, so it’s highly advisable to seek the advice of a professional before undertaking it on your own. “Even getting help from a personal trainer for one session, so you’re aware of the the movements you are doing and performing them correctly is incredibly beneficial,” says Claire.
- Words by Mary Keenan