Continuous or HIIT?

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So after setting our goals, our next step is to figure out what kind of training we should be doing. Many of us can often become confused with all the different types of training that we read about on the internet or get told about by our friends etc., so here is a quick comparison between continuous training and HIIT.

Continuous training (also know as steady-state) is a popular form of training used for aerobic fitness and weight loss. It has been used by people for years and is probably the first thing you see people doing either in the gym or outdoors.  For example, jogging is a form of continuous training.

I’m guessing most people by now have also heard of high intensity interval training (HIIT). An example of HIIT would be hill sprints. There are a lot of advocates for HIIT, including many PTs, but simply because a trainer says it’s a good thing – it doesn’t mean it’s for everyone. It’s important to know the facts.

Let’s have a look at the evidence:

Fact 1: Continuous exercise can improve aerobic capacity. A six-week, steady state, aerobic training plan has been shown to increase VO2 max up to 11% in untrained males [1].

Fact 2: HIIT has been shown to provide the same broad range of physiological changes as high-volume continuous exercise, and the changes are often achieved in less time [2].

Fact 3: Metabolic benefits of exercising also favour HIIT over continuous training. For example: excess post exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) is higher in HIIT than in continuous training [3]. This means you burn more calories in the time after working out.

So HIIT sounds pretty good! Are there any negatives?

Well the ACSM state that HIIT should only be done after a ‘base fitness level’ has been established. Even after a base level has been founded, the recommendations suggest one session of HIIT per week for beginners [4]. This is because HIIT has been shown to cause significant stress on the musculoskeletal/neuromuscular system, which could result in overtraining [5]. Basically if you are always using HIIT as your training method, you have more chance of burning yourself out. Also, HIIT should not be prescribed to those at higher risk of coronary disease, typically sufferers of diabetes, hypertension and obesity [4].

Another argument against HIIT is that it is a more complex training method than continuous training, meaning those unfamiliar to exercise may require more specific instruction [6].
So it would appear that HIIT is not really ideal for beginners. However, if you do have that ‘base’ level of fitness or good instruction from a trainer, there aren’t many reasons not to use HIIT in your program.

As I like to mix up my training, I would always recommend using both continuous and HIIT sessions in your plan. You could use each training method consecutively, training HIIT for one session then continuous then next and so on. In this way, you would reduce your chances of overtraining and maximise your progress.

Please feel free to use the box below for any questions or comments!

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As a physical education graduate and qualified personal trainer, Mathew is very knowledgable when it comes to fitness. Outdoor training is a personal favourite of Mathew's but he also has a high degree of gym based experience. Location: Carlisle

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