Get Fit Quicker: High-Intensity Interval Training

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on July 21, 2016
From the WebMD Archives

If you're short on time, we've got a workout for you. High-intensity interval training mixes short bursts of intense exercise with periods of rest. You can complete a workout in as little as 10 minutes. And with breaks built in, you won't feel winded for very long.

"Recent research has shown that HIIT can promote improvements in blood glucose control and cardiovascular health in individuals with type 2 diabetes," says Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, a professor of exercise physiology and nutrition at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, VA. But it's not a match for everyone, so clear it with your doctor first. Ready to try HIIT? Follow these guidelines:

Mix It In

Think of HIIT as just one element of your exercise program. Try doing it on alternating days, when you don't have time for a long workout or when you crave variety. To keep your insulin working to lower your blood glucose, exercise at least every other day, Colberg says.

Make It Right for You

Tailor HIIT to your fitness level. If you're a beginner, start with a gentle activity, like walking. Simply pick up the pace for 40 to 60 seconds, then return to a more moderate speed for a couple of minutes before your next interval. If you're a walking pro, go uphill at a fast pace for a minute or so.

Be Creative

You can use HIIT for almost any workout, like cycling, walking, swimming, circuit training, or resistance training. Even team sports are fair game.

Start Small

"If you're just starting out, doing shorter and less intense intervals is likely better," Colberg says. "Aim for an intensity that feels hard to you, and you'll likely be in an intense range." If you can't finish an interval, scale back on the intensity. Instead, stretch it out so the burst lasts longer to get the same benefit.

Dial It Up as You Get Better

When you're used to HIIT, ratchet up the time or intensity level of each burst. "Try to get up to 60 seconds of near-maximal work, with a minute or two of active rest in between," Colberg says.

Be Safe

Add a warmup and cool-down to every workout. Increase your intensity just a little at a time. "The last thing you want to do is get injured by progressing too fast," Colberg says.

Before You Gear Up, Run These Questions by Your Doctor or Diabetes Educator:

  • Is HIIT safe for me?
  • How might it affect my blood glucose?
  • Is it a good idea to exercise if my blood glucose level is high?
  • What's the best time of day to work out?
  • What should I do if my blood glucose goes too low?
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Sheri R. Colberg, PhD, Old Dominion University.

Little, J. Diabetes Spectrum, February 2015.

American Diabetes Association Diabetes Forecast: “Exercise: Good Questions (and Answers).”

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