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Take a HIIT!

With the recent incident of Andrew Marr’s stroke in mind I was asked a question by a few of my clients as to whether they should stop doing interval training for fear of the same thing happening to them. This pushed me to look into this in more detail to see if I can find any significant evidence to support the theory that HIIT is the cause of such matters as a stroke. What I’ve found confirms my belief that this is a correct way of training for someone of that age…..


What is HIIT?

High-intensity interval training (HIIT), also called High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise (HIIE) or sprint interval training, is an enhanced form of interval training, an exercise strategy alternating periods of short intense anaerobic exercise with less-intense recovery periods. HIIT is a form ofcardiovascular exercise. Usual HIIT sessions may vary from 4–20 minutes. These short, intense workouts provide improved athletic capacity and condition, improved glucose metabolism, and improved fat burning.


A HIIT session consists of a warm up period of exercise, followed by three to ten repetitions of high intensity exercise, separated by medium intensity exercise for recovery, and ending with a period of cool down exercise. The high intensity exercise should be done at near maximum intensity. The medium exercise should be about 50% intensity. The number of repetitions and length of each depends on the exercise, but may be as little as three repetitions with just 20 seconds of intense exercise.

There is no specific formula to HIIT. Depending on your level of cardiovascular development, the moderate-level intensity can be as slow as walking.[4] The original protocol set a 2:1 ratio of work to recovery periods, for example, 30–40 seconds of hard sprinting alternated with 15–20 seconds of jogging or walking.

The entire HIIT session may last between ten and thirty minutes, meaning that it is considered to be an excellent way to maximize a workout that is limited on time.

Who should be using HIIT?

In my opinion this form of training can be used by anyone. BUT the intensity of the session should depend on the exercise experience of the participant. For example, I wouldn’t expect someone new to exercise to perform sprints on a rower as this would be extremely challenging on their CV system and thus would probably incur a lack of form and technique. Nor would I ask someone to complete a resistance circuit without them first being able to demonstrate good form in full body movement patterns.


That said a complete exercise beginner may find walking uphill on a treadmill in 30 second stints challenging, which isn’t an issue as they can improve in time whilst still performing an interval style way of training.


HIIT v Long Slow Distance Training?

So in the last few days HIIT or Interval training has received some bad press but what about the flip side of the coin- Long Slow Distance Training?


More commonly known as Marathon or Triathlon based training or endurance based sport training this has also received bad press in the past but with the upcoming London marathon that would be poor timing! There is evidence to support the fact that endurance training can cause a rise in blood levels of cardiac troponins (which show up in tests only when the heart muscle is damaged) in up to 60 percent of competitors. Platelets (cells that contribute to blood clotting) activate and are more likely to form the clots that can trigger heart attack after vigorous or lengthy exercise. There have also been numerous stories in the past of people of all ages and fitness levels collapsing, or worst still losing their lives during marathon events.



I have completed the London marathon and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and to some extent the training (apart from long February runs which are awful). But would I do it again?!?…. Probably not, but never say never. I also regularly use HIIT as part of my training and although it is very challenging it does feel very rewarding, and gets efficient results whilst being completed in a small time frame as opposed to endurance training.


There are pros and cons to both types of training as in most things in life, also like most things in life practice makes perfect and a progressive and guided approach to HIIT training is the most advisable approach. If you use that as a guide I believe there is nothing to be afraid of… And hopefully after reading this you are no longer giving the rowing machines a dirty look in passing!!!

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