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Short intense workouts: Are they for you?

Published: December 22, 2017

HIT increases cardiac output
HIT increases cardiac output

For people who have difficulty in fitting physical activity and exercise into their hectic schedules and for people embarking (willingly or unwillingly) on an exercise program, the notion of exercising for short periods of time just a few times a week may seem appealing.

However, do the benefits of high intensity interval training meet your personal physical activity or exercise goals?
High intensity interval training (HIT) has been and is a valuable cardiovascular training mechanism for athletes wanting to improve their cardiac output and ability to exercise at very high intensity levels.
For athletes, HIT involves short very intense bouts of exercise interspersed with less intense exercise. During the intense exercise bouts, athletes exercise “all out” for 30 seconds often reaching their maximum heart rate (or higher).
In recent years, research in which non-athlete populations engage in HIT training has provided some interesting insight into cardiovascular improvement and decreased risk of morbidity.
A major outcome of HIT training in the general population, and populations with cardiovascular disease, is that modified HIT training performed 3 times per week improves cardiac output as effectively as endurance cardiovascular training performed for longer periods of time on more days of the week.
The main attraction here is that for people who need to improve their cardiac output, but for whatever reason cannot fit the necessary amount of cardiovascular endurance training into their daily routine, exercising for 20 – 30 minutes, just 3 times per week may be manageable.
In addition, working more intensely increases your cardiac output, which increases you energy output or calorie usage.
Some research has focused on glucose and insulin response to HIT with an indication that HIT may increase the uptake of glucose from your blood which has the potential to benefit blood glucose control.
This is great research, but the conclusions which the researchers themselves make often become distorted when reported as health news items by the media.
HIT may not trim your waist line
HIT may not trim your waist line
How the consumer receives and interprets this information may distort the results further such that high intensity interval training is perceived as the only cardiovascular training you need to do.
Not only improve your cardiac output, and also burn mega calories and prevent diabetes!
HIT is a training method that can benefit athletes and improve their performance, and under appropriate conditions may benefit many non-athletes with a view to improving cardiac output and health.
However, if you have exercise and/or health goals other than improving your cardiac output high intensity interval training may not, on its own, be adequate to meet your needs. Link to the full article to learn more.


Corbin, C.B. & Lindsey, R. (1994). Concepts of Physical Fitness. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Communications Inc.
American Council on Exercise (1996). Personal Trainer Manual. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise
Whitney, E. & Rady Rolfes, S. (2005). Understanding Nutrition. Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth
Gibala. (2013): CSEP: Extreme human physiology-Pathology to performance: Hit to get fit: Physiological adaptations to high intensity training in health and disease
Gibala (2012, December), CSPI Nutrition Action Health Letter
CSPI (12/2011, 05/2010)
BBC News (29/10/2009) Short fast sprints cut diabetes