Exercise HIITS the Spot

Graphic by Chiamaka Mgobji | Mercury Staff

Short workouts are key to a healthy college lifestyle

Between going to class, completing assignments and participating in clubs, college students have a lot on their plates. With so little time, spending hours at the gym to keep tabs on our health simply isn’t possible. But before you decide to quit exercising altogether  to save time, I’d like to introduce you to the fitness scene’s  leading trend: high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. Completely free and able to burn over 100 calories in just 10 minutes, HIIT workouts are the perfect solution for college students seeking to squeeze some exercise into their hectic schedules. 

 We’ve all been told to study smarter, not harder. The same concept applies to HIIT: exercising as effectively as possible in a limited amount of time. HIIT workouts feature short bursts of intense exercise followed by rest periods. The actual activities being performed can range from running and jumping to biking or lifting, so it’s really just a matter of personal preference.  A typical routine might consist of doing cardio-intensive exercises like high knees, jumping jacks or burpees for 20-40 seconds then resting for 10-15 seconds, alternating between activity and recovery for a total of 10 minutes. The exact amount of time you spend exercising and resting depends on your skill level and how intensely you’re seeking to workout, though. 

 According to the American College of Sports Medicine, the high-intensity intervals are performed from 80 to 95% of your maximum heart rate, and the recovery periods are 40 to 50%. Your hard work in the intense intervals is rewarded with a comparable amount of rest. Despite how short the routines last, a study from McMaster University found that HIIT workouts can yield similar gains in cardiovascular fitness as compared to lengthier, more traditional cardio routines. In the experiment, people who performed a HIIT workout three times a week for 12 weeks improved just as much as those who did traditional 50-minute cardio sessions three times a week. 

 Most strikingly though, HIIT’s popularity can mainly be attributed to what’s called the afterburn effect. Since highly intense workouts require you to consume more oxygen, there’s a greater need for the body to repair muscle, remove lactic acid and replenish itself with oxygen and ATP post-workout. Essentially, what this means is that you can still burn calories shortly after your workout by binge-watching “Black Mirror” (or doing your homework like a good student). HIIT can also be done without any equipment in the comfort of your own home.  A yoga mat may make it more comfortable, but as long as you have access to a routine on YouTube, you’re pretty much all set. 

 Even though some fitness experts advise novices to avoid HIIT due to its strenuous nature, it’s been my experience that there are tons of beginner-friendly routines out there. Everyone has to start from somewhere — it’s just a matter of knowing your limits. It’s also important to note that HIIT shouldn’t be considered a remedy for a bad diet, but rather a supplement to a good one. Clean eating is a precondition to being able to work out effectively, so typical college student meals like sugary cereal and packaged ramen noodles probably aren’t going to cut it.  

 However, such physically demanding exercise isn’t meant to be done every day, but rather alternated with days of rest or less intense activity.  It’s been my experience that doing HIIT 3-4 times a week and spending the other days either walking or resting is plenty satisfying. Like everything in life, the key is to find balance, so staying within your limits  is essential.  While at first glance the whole 10-minute workout idea sounds like one typical of an infomercial, HIIT can help even the busiest of college students HIIT their day off on the right note. 

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