HIIT vs. Running: How to get the most bang for your buck

Hope you're enjoying your long weekend! It's back to reality tomorrow, and I know that it's hard to fit workouts into your busy schedule. 

I'm at a gym most of the day, and between training and working on 38Plank, it can even be hard for me. So, I wanted to do some digging for us and see how we can get the highest possible ROI on our workouts.

If you follow different fitness trends, you have most likely heard the terms HIIT and SIT. High-Intensity Interval Training and Sprint Interval Training are performed by alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. 

Although High-Intensity Interval Training has been around for quite awhile, the popularity of the 7-minute workout, classes like Barry’s Bootcamp, and programs like p90x have launched HIIT into the spotlight.

As with most things that come into the spotlight, there are rather strong opinions on the subject and a debate has formed on whether or not HIIT has rendered traditional steady state cardio useless. 

Before we get started, I do have to admit that I have a bit of a bias. If you’ve read my other blog posts, you’ve probably realized that I believe there is a workout for each person and you just have to test new ones to see what you really like. I’ve tested a lot of workouts and have found that steady state cardio just isn’t my jam. And, as much as I dislike steady state, I LOVE sprint work. So, naturally I am partial to HIIT workouts, but I will obviously do my best to keep the article unbiased.

HIIT

High-Intensity Interval Training is a style of training where short bursts of all out effort are followed by short recovery periods. The HIIT vs. Steady State Cardio argument has stemmed from multiple studies comparing the two forms of exercises. Three of the most credible studies by Dr. Izumi TabataKirsten Burgomaster and Martin Gibala have shown that you can achieve the same improvements in muscular development and exercise performance with HIIT workouts with a 5x smaller time commitment than Steady State cardio. 

Although HIIT workouts are extremely time efficient, there are some pros and cons we should go over before you dive right in. 

PROS

Saves you time - The main advantage of HIIT workouts is that you definitely get the most bang for your buck. It also makes it harder for you to skip workouts, no matter how busy you are, you can fit 4 minutes into your schedule.

Builds Endurance - The improvements in VO2 max and muscular development from the HIIT workouts in the studies listed above correlate with endurance. Although you might only be working out for a couple of minutes with the HIIT protocol, it will adapt your body to also perform better in endurance exercise. 

Speeds up your metabolism - HIIT workouts result in excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) or informally called "afterburn." EPOC is the increased rate of oxygen intake following strenuous activity intended to erase the body's oxygen deficit. This excess oxygen helps boost your rate of metabolism up to 144 minutes after a HIIT workout. On top of the metabolism boost, your body can burn extra calories up to 24 hours after a HIIT workout while it is in the repair cycle.

Pushes you - This could be a con for some, but I love pushing myself and testing my limits when I workout. I am also willing to work for a higher ROI on my workouts. I'd rather do 4 minutes of all out effort than spending an hour at the same mundane pace. If you push yourself and put in the work you will reap the reward.

It's fun - Okay, this is my bias talking, but as I stated earlier I love sprint work. It's fun to be able to switch up your workout and surprise your body. I always see better results in my endurance, performance, and physique when I integrate different forms of HIIT. 

CONS

It's not for beginners - The sprint intervals of HIIT workouts should be balls to the wall. You should feel like you absolutely can't go anymore at the end of a HIIT workout.w If you're a beginner, you might not have the endurance to keep up this level of intensity.

It's taxing on your central nervous system - any form of high-intensity exercise will wear you out. If you don't give your body enough time to recover in-between HIIT workouts it could result in injury.

You might be doing the wrong kind of HIIT - A lot of mainstream HIIT workouts are comprised of a variety of bodyweight exercises. Most of these are great workouts that will get your heart rate up, but if you want to get the full benefits of the scientific studies, you will have to perform some form of sprints. In the case of all three of these studies, participants performed their sprints and rest intervals on exercise bikes. Yes, planks and push-ups are great exercises, but you won't be able to reach the necessary energy output doing those exercises. Bikes are ideal because you can precisely measure performance and easily switch between the sprint and rest states. 

All in all, the results you get from HIIT and Steady State Cardio turn out to be pretty even. You are able to save a whole lot of time integrating HIIT workouts, but there are pros and cons. In the end, it all depends on personal preference. Some people love long distance running or hopping on the elliptical for an hour, and some people hate it. Same goes for HIIT workouts. As always, I suggest trying to create a well-balanced workout program that integrates a bit of both. It will help prevent injuries, fix imbalances, and get over frustrating plateaus.

Lastly, if you're interested in mixing up your HIIT workouts, or doing the workouts from the actual studies, check out the 38Plank app :)