What is High-Intensity Interval Training?

While aerobic exercise is most traditional, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) is increasingly favored for its fat-burning anaerobic power, accomplished in a fraction of the time. A HIIT workout alternates cycles of short, intense energy bursts with longer rest periods, using resistance training.


As perfect as this is for busy professionals, HIIT isn’t for everyone because it is so intense. Preconditioning exercises are needed for those who are sedentary. Since HIIT is anaerobic, cells rely on blood glucose for energy, so a diet that is too low on the glycemic index scale may not be amenable to HITT. No matter which exercise regimen you choose, avoid injury, burnout, and overtraining.

A typical HIIT workout lasts only 20 minutes and is done just 2-3 times per week. Each workout session has about 4 minutes of intensity. Specific heart rate goals and timing intervals are calculated for the point where activity changes from being aerobic to anaerobic.

With HIIT, maximum effort times lead to muscle fatigue and complete utilization of oxygen to the cells, causing an afterburn effect when VO2 Max is achieved.

Exercise physiologists use VO2 Max as a measure of overall fitness, performance, and aerobic endurance. It is measured as the maximum amount of oxygen used per kg per minute. The more oxygen you use, the more energy (ATP) you produce.


The average sedentary adult’s VO2 Max is about 35 ml/kg/min. Elite endurance athletes can reach 70 ml/kg/min. At his peak, cyclist Lance Armstrong’s VO2 max was reported to be 85 ml/kg/min.

Screen Shot 2018-01-01 at 7.07.21 PM
VO2 Max is calculated during resistance training. Jeff Vinnick/Getty Images

Today’s sports performance lab measures you through resistance training with an oxygen mask and breathing circuit, pictured above. A high-intensity workout protocol allows calculation of your VO2 Max.

Target heart rate minimum and maximum are then used to customize your individual HIIT prescription plan.

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