'HIIT' workouts growing in popularity in Western Pa.

Doug Gulasy
| Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

Chris Labishak often sees people in his gym running on a treadmill or using an elliptical machine at a steady pace, and thinks they could get more out of a workout.

“They're cruising along there and burning calories, and that's good,” said Labishak, co-owner of Club One Fitness, which has locations in the East End, Castle Shannon and Fox Chapel.“But if you take that same half-hour that they might be doing (a steady pace) and put it in a high-intensity program, they could end up burning 150 to 200 more calories in the same amount of time.”

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is picking up interest across the country. The American College of Sports Medicine named it the No. 1 fitness trend for 2014.

“It's definitely become more of a trendy thing,” said Patrick Donley, co-owner of Body Rockin' Fitness in Squirrel Hill.

HIIT workouts fluctuate between periods of intense, anaerobic exercise and lower-intensity recovery periods. Each period typically lasts a minute or less. In the high-intensity period, the goal is to push the heart rate to more than 70 percent of its maximum, and in recovery periods the heart rate goes back down.

Donley said HIIT workouts could incorporate cardiovascular work, strength training and body-weight exercises. Examples include sprinting, jumping, running up stairs, Olympic-style lifting and burpees, or squat thrusts.

For example, a HIIT workout could feature a minute of sprinting, followed by a recovery minute of jogging.

“Anything that you could go longer than a minute (doing) is not really high-intensity,” Donley said.

Because of their intensity, HIIT workouts typically don't last long; Labishak said most can be done effectively in about 30 minutes.

Dr. Victor Prisk, an orthopedic surgeon at Allegheny Health Network, said HIIT workouts improve cardiovascular fitness, increase strength and endurance and boost testosterone levels.

He said the higher-intensity portion of the workouts amounts to “shocking the system” in order to improve cardiovascular fitness.

“It's like building callouses; if you don't try to get a blister now and then, you're not going to form thicker callouses,” Prisk said. “We're trying to do the same thing to the heart. We're trying to improve the heart's strength, your cardiovascular fitness, by making it work to its limit.”

Ron DeAngelo, director of sports performance training at UPMC's Center for Sports Medicine, said fluctuations between high- and lower-intensity in HIIT can make it a more effective workout than training at a steady pace.

“When you do intervals, you're actually working different energy systems,” DeAngelo said. “When you're putting a demand on your body to work harder, you develop an energy system to actually have a reserve to tap into.”

Donley and Labishak touted HIIT's benefit of “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption,” or afterburn, which means people burn calories and fat long after the workout is over.

Because of its intensity, Prisk said, HIIT comes with an inherent risk for people who might not be conditioned enough to participate. He said people should check with doctors to make sure they have the proper cardiovascular fitness before beginning HIIT.

Most HIIT workouts shouldn't last much longer than 30 minutes, even for high-conditioned exercisers, he said.

Although the highest levels of HIIT are best for high-conditioned people, DeAngelo said those with lower conditioning could still take part by adapting their current workouts.

“If you have a person who is not very fit and they want to do it, they could walk faster than they normally walk and then slow down,” he said.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or dgulasy@tribweb.com.

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