Recently, high intensity interval training (HIIT) has been the hype of the local fitness scene. Basically, you exercise hard for a short burst, take a short period to recover with low-intensity exercises or a quick break, and start again. Periods vary from 30 seconds to a minute for both the high- and low-intensity intervals.
This helps you keep your heart rate up, build lean muscle, increase your metabolism and your excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), which means that you burn plenty of calories both during and after the exercise.
HIIT-only workouts usually run for only 20 to 30 minutes because of how tough they are, but the key isn’t the amount of time you spend on the workout – it’s whether you’re performing the exercises at the correct intensity.
The HIIT principle can be applied to many different sports and activities like running, cycling and swimming, and it’s often combined with functional and strength training to create a well-rounded workout.
It’s favoured by many fitness enthusiasts – especially those with limited time – because you reap maximum benefits from a short period of exercise time.
Anyone can do HIIT workouts as long as they are reasonably healthy. Interval training isn’t a new concept and has been used in athletic training for years, particularly for sports requiring intense speeds and bursts of movements.
The intensity of these workouts corresponds to your fitness levels and I put this to the test by trying three HIIT-inspired programmes in the Klang Valley. All information in the following workout diary is brought to you courtesy of my sore, aching muscles.
Workout One: Mean – HIIT2fit
You know how you try to get away with easing off because “I don’t want to push myself too hard”? Not at HIIT2fit. A heart rate tracker strapped around my ribs displays my vitals on a television screen in real-time at the gym, including – most importantly – my heart rate and what ‘zone’ it’s currently at.
I’m told to keep my heart rate in the orange and red zones for maximum effectiveness; and there’s no cheating since everyone can see how hard my heart is working.
HIIT2fit’s Mean class is 45 minutes of cardio and strength training – no two sessions are ever alike. Expect six minutes of strength training, then six on cardio, rinse and repeat for three rounds. We use dumbbells and the TRX suspension trainer for the former, and treadmills for the latter.
Going by time spent instead of repetitions means that I can go at my own pace as long as my heart is working hard enough – and if the hammering in my chest is anything to go by, it is.
It’s hard not to constantly eye the screens – everyone’s keen to ‘score’ well – but for the strength rounds, our trainer says that as long as your form is good, your exercise will be effective and your heart rate will go up.
Cardio is easier as we’re just running; I’m exhausted but just focus on breathing and keep going. When I find an exercise too hard, the trainer scales it down to something manageable but still tough (i.e. kneeling instead of planking).
It’s a total body workout and my body is jelly when we begin (thankfully!) cool down stretches. The screens show that I’ve burned 143 calories (“About a plate of roti canai,” says the trainer to my dismay) and kept my heart rate high for about 80 per cent of the workout.
It’s not that much, but it’s a start – and when you get more familiar you can burn up to 600 calories in a session. Since it’s my first workout, I’m glad I finished at all!
Photo: F45 Training
Workout 2: Hollywood – F45 Training
One hour. 27 stations. Two circuits. I’m intimidated just looking this class up and arriving at the gym to see all the equipment neatly spread out in the room doesn’t make me feel better. But people don’t just show up at gyms ultra fit, right?
That’s the only thought that keeps me going as the two trainers start demonstrating how to do the exercises at each station (quite a few groan at the sight of pull-ups, including yours truly).
F45’s Hollywood class is known as a ‘super circuit’ and is the only class that combines core, strength and cardio exercises in one session, making it the gym’s most popular class. The formula is 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off.
Getting into the rhythm of making your 45 seconds on that exercise count and scrambling to switch stations takes practise, and since I’m a first-timer, the two watching trainers often stop by to correct my form or show me how to do something.
Otherwise, I’m left in peace to work my way through everything from battle ropes and dumbbells to BOSU balls and resistance bands. Screens in front keep time and play videos of how to do the exercises at each station on loop, which frees the trainers up to motivate (“15 seconds, let’s go! Come on!” is a constant refrain) and help others.
The programme cunningly incorporates ‘rest periods’ in the form of lighter exercises like the bikes, so you recover but never stop.
There’s almost no time to feel tired as I’m too focused on moving; no sooner have I started an exercise, it’s already time to change. This is excellent for people who get bored easily as you only do each exercise twice, and they’re different every session too.
I’ll admit I eased up – just a little – at points, but the short timeframe does motivate me to try harder. Somehow, I get through it all and happily return “we survived!” high-fives from my training partners at the end.
Photo: Fitness First Malaysia
Workout 3: Freestyle Group Training: Fusion – Fitness First
For a working adult like myself, realistically the only time I can spare for exercise is in the evening, and I often skip the gym because I’m just too tired.
The good thing about large gym chains like Fitness First is that they offer a variety of classes to suit all needs; at just 30 minutes long, the Freestyle Group Training class sounds like just the thing for a quick workout.
All the Freestyle Group Training classes are HIIT-based, but I opt for the Fusion class – combining strength and cardio – as I prefer a well-rounded workout. It’s conducted by a trainer in the centre of the gym, and we’re divided into three groups.
The first group starts with a cardio session on the elliptical machine, the second group lifts weights, and the third group does bodyweight exercises. After 45 seconds, we switch stations and grab a 15-second rest.
This class made me take a lot more responsibility for my own training – the trainer taught us how to step up an exercise if it was too easy, but it was up to you to push yourself for an effective workout as trainer supervision was limited.
I already had an idea of my capabilities, so knew how hard I could go. Beginners might find it intimidating, especially if unfamiliar with the correct forms, and may prefer a smaller group for more expert attention.
After two circuits, we round off the session with mini games – two members choose from a pile of cards with exercises and durations written on them, and everyone does them together.
Nobody’s happy when 60 seconds of push-ups appear, but 20 seconds of V-lifts get some cheers – and finally it’s off to the showers. This is a class most suited for those who go to the gym regularly, and need minimal instruction and supervision.