High Intensity Training: Why It Works

High intensity training seems to be all the rage as of late.  From videos to classes to small exercise studios, it seems as though it’s all I’ve been hearing about the last few years.  What I want to focus on here is not what’s “new” about it (it’s been around forever).   What I’d rather talk about are two important things related to this topic.  The first is “the why”.  Why is it that everyone is so interested in it?  The second, and arguably the most important part, are the mistakes people are making.

I will start with the first of these two parts here: Why has this form of exercise gained so much traction as of late?

It torches calories DURING your workout.  This is far and away the biggest reason people stick with high intensity training. They see weight loss, inches reduced and overall changes in their body.  A large percentage of people who exercise do so to lose weight or maintain a healthy weight.  Working at high intensities burns more calories than at low intensities.  More calorie burn means faster weight loss.

It torches calories AFTER your workout.  This is something that most who exercise don’t realize. After you get done exercising, your body continues to consume oxygen at higher levels than at rest.  This is known as Post Exercise Oxygen Consumption. The body must also work to reestablish baseline body temperature and metabolic processes. The more intense your workout, the more energy it takes to get back to baseline which means you are burning and working more after a higher intensity session.

It can improve body composition.  A study conducted by Arthur Weltman took 27 middle-aged obese women with metabolic syndrome and split them into three groups.  Seven of the women did not change their activity levels; 11 performed low-intensity exercise five days per week; and nine performed low-intensity exercise two days and high-intensity exercise three days per week.  The high-intensity group reduced total abdominal fat, subcutaneous abdominal fat, and visceral abdominal fat during the 16-week exercise period.  Since this study a few years ago, there have been many more to support this finding.

It can help with glucose regulation:  A recent study published in the Annals of Internal Medicine indicates that higher intensity exercise protocols showed improvements in blood sugar regulation over those who exercised at lower intensities.

It’s the opposite of boring.  You can’t really “zone out” when you are exercising at a high intensity. You need to be focused and paying attention, especially if you are performing multiple types of exercises.  Many people use running, body weight training, light and heavy weights, stairs, jump ropes – you name it.  You have to be paying attention and mentally sharp while you are doing this type of training.  It’s a dynamic form of exercising that can keep things interesting.

It’s challenging.  The name gives it away:  high intensity!  You can’t just be going through the motions here.  Completing something that is actually hard-to-do leaves people with a feeling of accomplishment – and wanting more!  Gaining confidence in your abilities around exercise improves self-efficacy which is key to exercise adherence.

It’s fun (at least for some).  Steady state exercise – that is, performing an exercise for a prolonged period of time at submaximal or lower intensity – is good for you, but let’s face it, it can get boring sometimes.  While it certainly serves a purpose for some days of the week, it’s nice to throw in some days that are a little more interesting.

You can gain fitness in less time.  Gains in cardiovascular and overall fitness can be made in less time!  This is the number one reason cited for why people don’t exercise, “I don’t have time”.  When you crank up the intensity you can shorten the exercise session and still walk away with the gains that would take much more time at a low or moderate intensity.

As great as high intensity exercise might be, I see some common mistakes that people are making.  That will be the second part of this topic that I will address in my next blog post.  See you then!


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