Health & Fitness

Jason Wanlass: HIIT is all the rage for a reason

The split jump is part of the body weight circuit of high-intensity interval training.
The split jump is part of the body weight circuit of high-intensity interval training.

Once upon a time, experts suggested 30 minutes of moderate cardiovascular exercise three to five times a week along with resistance training two to three times per week.

But that was then, and this is now.

Most of us simply don’t have that much time to commit to the gym. But there is good news — we may not have to.

There has been a lot of buzz over the last several years about the effectiveness of high-intensity interval training (aka HIIT), which is a 20- to 25-minute workout using strength and conditioning exercises that are performed in a quick, all-out intensity for 20 to 60 seconds followed by a 10- to 20-second recovery.

And, thankfully, there has been tremendous research showing it can be just as effective for burning fat, increasing strength and improving cardiovascular endurance as the experts’ traditional time-consuming recommendations.

For Fat Loss and fitness benefits

Canadian researchers in 2008 found that in just six weeks of HIIT, participants had an increase in fat oxidation and decreased dependence on carbohydrates during exercise. In other words, the body is more likely to burn fat as fuel instead of carbohydrates.

More recently, researchers from the city of Eugene’s FitCity Wellness Center completed a 10-week study in 2013. Twenty-one people participated in HIIT three times per week with workouts finishing in just under 30 minutes. Participants showed reductions in body weight, body fat percentage and circumference measurements.

Another study published in The European Applied Journal of Physiology that year showed metabolism to be in an elevated state for up to 16 hours following intense exercise.

In 2012, researchers observed body fat changes taking place in HIIT studies in a fraction of the time than with with steady-state cardio.

If that wasn’t enough to get your attention, the fitness benefits are pretty remarkable as well.

Physiologically here’s what happens:

▪ HIIT has been shown to increase muscles’ ability to use oxygen more efficiently to burn stored and circulating fuel for work.

▪ It boosts mitochondria biogenesis, a cellular process in the body where the breakdown of fat occurs.

▪ The short- to medium-duration high-intensity work sessions with brief rest periods stimulate both our anaerobic and aerobic systems.

▪ It improves our body’s ability to buffer (tolerate) the buildup of lactic acid during exercise — essentially “feeling the burn” less over time.

That is a lot of bang for your buck in a short amount of time. So the question is, how do we set up the workouts?

Formatting your HIIT circuit

One of the more popular approaches to hit is the “Tabata” method. These HIIT workouts typically involve total body strength and/or cardiovascular conditioning exercises performed in a quick, all-out intensity for 20 seconds all followed by a 10-second recovery. This cycle is repeated for a total of four minutes, with workouts usually lasting between 15 to 25 minutes (4-6 cycles), not including the warm-up or cool-down.

But HIIT circuit intervals can also range from a short to medium duration with high-intensity work sessions lasting anywhere from 20 seconds to 5 minutes. Rest intervals are usually the same length or shorter than the work intervals.

A Quick Note

While the goal is to work as quickly as possible, you don’t want to do it if you are compromising form. Because of the intense nature and speed of the workout, it’s recommended to use lighter weight on strength exercises. However, you can also include body weight exercises, resistance tubing, medicine balls, sandbags, cardio drills — pretty much anything.

HIIT workouts should be self-paced and adjusted to your fitness level. If you are just starting an exercise program, I recommend at least 12 weeks of aerobic base conditioning, muscular endurance training and mastering the exercise technique before adding HIIT to your routine.

Now that you’re ready, here is a sample circuit that is guaranteed to get your heart pumping and your muscles burning for more. You can watch video showing how to perform this circuit, as well as three more, online.


3 rounds

1 round = 2 sets per exercise @ 20 seconds of work/10 seconds of rest

Rest 1-2 minutes between rounds

Thrusters: Begin in a standing position, holding a pair of dumbbells at shoulder level with your palms facing in. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the floor. Return to the starting position and press the weight overhead by fully extending your arms in unison with the extension of your legs.

Ice skaters: Stand and balance on your right leg. Hop sideways to your left side, squatting down and touching the ground across your body with your right arm. Stay low with your chest out, and quickly spring back to your right side, repeating the same move, touching down with your left arm. Repeat the sequence with quick and controlled movements.

Renegade row: Begin in a pushup position with your feet wider than hip-width apart and a dumbbell in each hand. Engage your core and pull the dumbbell in your left hand just past the outside of your body with a rowing motion using minimal to no rotation of your torso. Lower the weight back to the floor and then repeat the same motion on the right side and repeat. For modification, perform the exercise from the knees. For an advanced option, add a push-up after each row.

High knees: Run in place landing on the balls of your feel while driving your knees high and explosively. The goal is to keep your thighs parallel to the floor.

Jason Wanlass is the owner of Champion Fitness Training in Meridian. Contact him at or

Try the Tabata

The four-medal performance by the Japanese speedskating team in the 1992 Winter Olympics inspired the head coach to ask associate Izumi Tabata to analyze the training methods that led to their success. In short, he found that four minutes of extremely intense exercise four days per week improved VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity) at almost the same rate as 60 minutes of medium intensity five days per week. And that is why you often hear HIIT also referred to as Tabata.