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HIIT or Traditional Endurance: Which is Better?

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There’s no doubt that running is one of the best cardiovascular exercises you can do.  It has the potential to improve both your physical and mental health, strengthening muscles, bones, and even your brain.  For anyone seeking a healthy lifestyle, incorporating a running regimen can be a fundamental way to maintain a more youthful physique, but with our busy schedules, it isn’t always easy to find the time for a lengthy session.  If you would like to maximize the benefits of your runs without having to sacrifice other parts of your life, interval training may be the time-saving workout you need to make the best of both worlds.

So which is right for you, a shorter run with bursts of intensity, or traditional endurance training?  The answer depends on what you want to gain from it.  High-Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, describes a workout designed to alternate short but intense bouts of cardio with even shorter moderate ones.  This is a routine that has achieved popularity in the last few years for its ability to improve endurance and overall fitness while decreasing the amount of time spent exercising.  An example of a HIIT session might be a warmup, then a repeated interval of a minute of running as hard as possible, followed by thirty seconds of fast walking, and ending with a cool down.  This interval circuit needs to be performed only a few times to yield benefits, and can result in an athletic performance as proficient as though you had put in the work of a longer routine.

The science behind interval training can help you decide whether or not it’s a good decision for you.  For instance, we all know that exercise improves your metabolism, but HIIT can rev it up even more.  This is because of the increased oxygen consumption caused by the intense cardio intervals.  Excess oxygen not only speeds up the metabolism after a workout, but it also allows you to achieve your VO2 max, which allows for greater lung capacity.  The VO2 max is a sign of high cardiovascular fitness and measures the greatest amount of oxygen you can consume while engaged in physical exercise.  With a faster metabolic rate and more oxygen circulating through your body, a HIIT workout can therefore burn more fat than regular exercise.  In addition, it can improve blood sugar, and has the ability to lower your resistance to insulin, unlike longer running sessions.  Because of this, HIIT is recommended for diabetics and those sensitive to hypoglycemia.

 It can also be an easy way to incorporate some strength training into your cardio routine.  While the program entails intervals of maximal effort, it’s a good idea to provide some variety, targeting more muscle groups.  Like other athletes, runners can benefit from resistance exercises, which build stronger muscles and reduce the risk of injury.  If your HIIT session only includes intervals of running, you can modify it to include moves that target your legs and core, all in one short workout.  Some of the best exercises you can do to improve your running are pushups, lunges, squats, planks, and calf raises.   Supplementing your cardio with resistance is a method known as cross-training, and though some may see it as unnecessary, it may provide you with the extra tools you need to reach your fitness goals.

Of course, high-intensity exercise may not be suitable for everyone.  It is important to speak to your doctor before beginning any new fitness program to make sure you are up for the challenge.   HIIT is best for those who are regularly active and know how to utilize proper form when running.  It does contain certain risk factors, such as heart complications, so if you have any history of coronary disease, a milder routine is probably best.  Another side effect may be musculoskeletal issues such as stress fractures, and for runners, the tibia in particular is vulnerable.  If your workout is causing pain, swelling, or tenderness to your shins, this may be a sign of an overuse injury.  This kind of physical effort isn’t meant to be done every day, as it can make the chance of side effects even greater.  Play it smart whenever trying something new, and never push yourself through the pain, as this can lead to an even longer stint of recovery.

Also, despite the advantages of a shorter workout, there are still plenty of reasons you may want to stick your old routine.  While with a HIIT session, you need to be watching the clock, keeping an eye on the intervals and rests that separate them, a traditional run can be meditative and relaxing.  You can let your mind wander, listening to music and adjusting your speed to match your energy levels.  An endurance run lets you focus on other things besides the exercise, providing an escape from the more stressful parts of your life.  Taking the time to exercise in any form is a fantastic way to improve your health, so if a long trail run is the workout you love, go for it!

This is all you need to know to try incorporating HIIT into your lifestyle.  The regimen is easy to follow but can have profound results on your personal fitness, not to mention your health.  Whichever option you choose, just be sure it’s something you enjoy, because the workout you love is the one that will keep you motivated and on the right track.

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