High-Intensity Interval Training: Train Smarter, Not Harder


Time is a precious resource that we are allotted only so much of over the course of our lifetime. If we want to make the hours within our day count, it is important to be smart about every choice that me make. With work, school, family and community responsibilities, it can be difficult to prioritize health. Despite the perception that exercise may be too time consuming to consistently fit into a busy schedule, the health benefits are undeniable. Train-ing smarter, not harder is a key concept that should be applied to athletes and everyday exercise enthusiasts of every fitness level and capability. High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a cardiorespiratory training technique that alternates brief speed and recovery intervals to increase the overall intensity of your workout over a shorter period of time.

How does it work?

Most workouts, such as cycling, strength training, running, swimming, and paddling are performed at a moderate intensity or an exertion level of 6 to 8 on a scale of 0 to 10. High-intensity intervals are done at an exertion level of 8 or higher, and are typically sustained for 30 seconds to 3 minutes. Depending on fitness levels, intensity intervals can be as short as 10 seconds or as long as 5 minutes. The speed inter-val time should be inversely related to intensity. For example, the higher the intensity, the shorter the speed interval. Recovery intervals can range from half of the speed interval time to equal or longer. High-intensity interval training is done at a near maximal effort; around 80-95% of your maximal aerobic capacity. The goal is to put a high amount of physical stress on the body over a short period of time and recovery. HIIT requires a motivated effort to reach these intensity levels.

What are the benefits of HIIT?

HIIT workouts will burn more calories than sub-maximal, steady-state exercise, especially after the workout. The post-exercise period is called “EPOC”, which stands for excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. This is the 2-hour post-exercise period where the body is restoring itself to pre-exercise levels. Because of the vigorous nature of HIIT workouts, the EPOC tends to be greater, adding about 6 to 15% more calories to the overall workout energy expenditure.

Additional payoffs of pushing yourself with HIIT include:

  • Significantly increased aerobic and anaerobic fitness
  • Reduced abdominal fat and improved lean muscle mass
  • Improved cardiovascular health, blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol profiles

Choose a mode of aerobic exercise like outrigger paddling. Warm up for 5 minutes followed by alternating speed and recovery intervals. 3 to 4 sprint intervals at maximal effort will be plenty for most. Before you know it, this hard workout is over. With improved fitness, the number and time of speed intervals may be extended while reducing recovery times. Here is an example:

HIIT protocols vary widely. There’s no one best single way to structure them. Experiment with shorter and longer speed and recovery intervals to find what works best for you. Also, consider chang-ing the mode of exercise by doing both land and water sports. Perform HIIT workouts 1 to 3 times a week at most to reduce your risk of injury. Gradually work up to 8 to 10 speed intervals, de-pending on your fitness goals. Common mistakes include improperly estimating maximal effort and making recovery intervals too short. Because of the physical intensity of this type of exercise it is important that you are free of injuries and receive medical clearance from your physician.

The surprising thing about HIIT is that it involves such a small total amount of exercise. Many paddlers are unknowingly already doing this because a downwind run very closely parallels this model. By including HIIT into your exercise program, you can achieve higher levels of fitness, improve your health and optimize your body composition, all in a short amount of time, which is great news for busy people.