HIIT Is The Science-Backed Workout That Can Slash Your Exercise Time

We know you’ve got a busy schedule. It’s probably so busy that you rarely have time to sleep, much less fit in an hour at the gym. But what if you could exercise for a fraction of that time and get the same benefits? Good news: studies show that high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, can get you the benefits of a 45-minute workout in as little as 10 minutes.

No Way? Yes Way.

This sounds like the stuff of grocery-store tabloids, but it has a lot of science to back it up. In 2008, the Journal of Physiology published a study showing that subjects who performed four to six 30-second all-out intervals (we’re talking nearly to the limit of what their bodies could handle), with rests in between, three days per week showed the same muscular and fat-burning benefits as subjects who cycled at a moderate pace for a single 40–60-minute session five days per week. (That’s 90 minutes versus four and a half hours of exercise a week, for those keeping score at home). In 2014, researchers at McMaster University in Ontario published a study in Experimental Physiology showing that 30-second interval training may actually be superior to continuous workouts when it comes to certain improvements in muscle tissue.

 

Perhaps most surprising are the results from another McMaster University study published in PLOS One in 2016. For this 12-week study, scientists slashed the intervals, having subjects perform three all-out cycling intervals of only 20 seconds each with two minute rests in between, three times a week. With warmup and cooldown, the workout lasted a measly 10 minutes. Compared with people who performed the same number of weekly workouts but simply cycled at a moderate pace for 45 minutes (with the same warmup and cooldown), the interval group showed the same improvements in endurance, insulin resistance, and the microscopic muscle structures responsible for energy production and oxygen consumption.

Should You Try It?

Though the science says that the benefits of HIIT are mostly identical to that of steady-state cardio, there are two big differences. The most obvious is that HIIT takes much less time. But there’s another important difference: HIIT requires intense, all-out, “tongue-lolling” (as the New York Times puts it) effort. It’s unpleasant, to put it mildly (that same article says the workouts “inspire truly inventive cursing”). If you already do long, moderate running or biking workouts and you mostly enjoy it, that grueling effort may not be worth it to you. If, however, the time commitment is what’s keeping you from even starting a workout routine, HIIT may be the plan for you.

If you want to try it out, here’s the workout participants followed in that 2016 PLOS One study. They rode stationary bikes, but you can run, use the elliptical, jump rope, or even lift weights at a high intensity—anything that gets your heart pumping hard.

2-minute warm-up at an easy pace

20-second sprint at near-maximum effort

2-minute rest at an easy pace

20-second sprint at near-maximum effort

2-minute rest at an easy pace

20-second sprint at near-maximum effort

3-minute cool-down at an easy pace

Total workout time: 10 minutes

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