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Turns Out Intense Exercise is a HIIT with Inactive People

If you were to ask an inactive person or overweight person why don’t they exercise, the answer would probably be: ‘it’s just too hard’.

Indeed, people tend to avoid any changes or activities that are in any way difficult to them – that’s just human nature. Everyone knows that eating healthy and exercising has amazing benefits not only to our appearance but, much more importantly, to our overall health as well. However, it’s not that people don’t want to get results, it’s that they don’t want to go through a lot of pain to get them.

The number one reason why people stray off their workout routine or meal plan is because often times they’re not sustainable. People don’t find that cutting out pasta forever and spending 2 hours in a gym 3 times a week is worth it. 

But how would physically inactive people respond to doing high-intensity interval training? Sure, it is intense, but does that make it too hard and, ultimately unsustainable?

There hasn’t been a lot of research dealing with the way inactive people perceive HIIT and whether they would be willing to do it on a regular basis. 

However, a study titled Psychological and behavioural responses to interval and continuous exercise from May 16th 2018 showed some surprising results. The goal of the study was to examine the responses of inactive adults to three different kinds of exercises and see how those responses affected the subsequent exercise behaviour during the 4-week period.


The Relationship Between Feelings and Exercise

Matthew Stork, a PhD candidate in the School of Health and Exercise Sciences at UBC's Okanagan campus, along with other scientists that were involved in the study, found that people with no prior experience with HIIT actually preferred this type of workout, compared to moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT).

Stork went on to state that „the number one cited barrier to physical activity is a perceived lack of time, and research has shown that as little as 10 minutes of HIIT, three times per week can elicit meaningful health benefits. The concern is that short bursts of intense exercise may be perceived as unpleasant, especially for those who aren't physically active to begin with."

„We wanted to learn more about people's perceptions towards HIIT and ultimately determine if even inactive people are willing to do these types of exercises on their own free time,“ says Stork. „There's research evidence showing that negative feelings experienced during traditional forms of exercise, like going for a long run, can lower your likelihood of completing that exercise again in the future. We anticipated the same would be true for HIIT, but as it turns out, it's not so simple.“

So, how was this study done and what exactly has it shown?


The Study

Well, the study was done with 30 inactive men and women, aged around 22 years old, that had no prior experience with neither HIIT (which is a workout regime that consists of short bursts o high-intensity energy followed by a low-intensity recovery period) or SIT (sprint interval training, a subcategory of HIIT). 

The participants were given three workouts to do on separate days in no particular order; every workout was done on a cycle ergometer, which is a type of stationary bike. The workouts included MICT (which consisted of 45min of continuous cycling done at around 70-75% of maximum heart rate), HIIT (which included 10x1 min bouts of intense cycling done at 85-90% MHR followed by 1-min recovery periods) and SIT (which included 3x20-s of “all-out” or 95-100% MHR sprints with 2-min recovery periods).

As we can see, MICT lasted for 45 minutes, HIIT lasted for 20, and SIT lasted just under 10 minutes in total. After finishing each exercise, the participants were questioned about their enjoyment towards the protocols and were asked to rank them by preference and log their exercises during a 4-week follow up period.  


The Results

Despite the fact that the feelings of displeasure were higher while doing the HIIT and SIT protocols, participants reported that they preferred it to the MICT protocol. Even though the participants finished more MICT protocols than HIIT, and more HIIT than SIT during the 4 week period, those differences were not that significant. What’s more important is that 79 per cent of participants reported completing HIIT on their own, outside of the lab, says Stork.

Although small, this study has provided an interesting insight into what makes a workout protocol attractive to people and why do people decide to stick (or not to stick to) a certain workout. Given the encouragingly high percentage of previously inactive people that willingly did high-intensity workout again after trying it only once, it seems like HIIT might be the answer the busy and/or inactive people have been searching for. 

It may be intense and hard but on the flip side, it’s effective, quick and it makes you feel energized almost instantly after working out. With that kind of benefits, HIIT is worth breaking a sweat for.