Get healthy in less time: High Intensity Interval Training (AKA Burst Training)

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As a Chiropractor and Athletic Therapist I see a number of people with varying degrees of fitness levels.  It doesn’t take much energy to convince someone who works out that exercising helps with your health and pain levels. It’s the sedentary people who experience chronic pain and ill health that are more difficult to convince that an exercise program is required for improving their health, injuries, and aches and pains.  Most often the excuse is that they don’t have time but with Burst training there is no excuse.
Burst training is the newest buzz in the fitness/health industry.  Another name for it is High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).  I prefer calling it Burst Training. It is quicker to say and it sounds less harsh than High Intensity Interval Training. This is not a new method of training but it has definitely been getting more press because of the health benefits that are being revealed in the research journals.
The Training Method
The premise behind this system is to train hard (greater than 80% of your maximum heart rate) for a short time and then have a recovery period.  Researchers have used three different approaches to burst training.  Some have used 4 sets of 4 minute high intensity exercise followed by 3 to 4 minute recovery periods. This has been used most often with the elderly population.  Others have used 8 to 12 sets of one minute exercise followed by one minute recovery.  The most popular method has been 4 to 6 sets of 30 seconds of high intensity exercise followed by four minutes of recovery. Recovery, in the research typically has beeb lower intensity activity such as light cycling or walking.
This method of training stresses the anaerobic energy system. This is the energy system which predominantly uses glycogen, the stored form of glucose, and does not use oxygen to aid in the production of energy. Using this energy system results in the formation of lactic acid and also an increase in hydrogen ions which results in that burning feeling in the muscles.  The added benefits of burst training are that more calories are required to recuperate from the training session.  This is when the aerobic system works more using free fatty acids as energy and this explains the heavy breathing which occurs after the workout. Despite being relatively short duration, Burst training’s effects are starting to show better benefits than continuous moderate intensity aerobic exercise (CME) programs which last much longer.
Why would anyone want to perform such a gruelling program, feeling exhausted and having your muscles burning?  My question to you is, “Would you rather spend an hour in the gym or 20 minutes in the gym and get the same, if not better,  benefits?!”
Similar benefits to Aerobic training
Burst training has been shown to have similar benefits in improving your V02max than CME. VO2 max is the gold standard for rating our aerobic energy system. The higher your VO2max the more efficient your body is at using oxygen for energy.  So the person who exercises for 60 minutes on the treadmill could have received the same benefits in aerobic endurance as the person who sprinted on a bike for a total of 3 minutes (6 sets of 30 seconds). 
Improving Your Whole Health.
Burst training takes your health beyond the benefits of improving your aerobic endurance. It maybe an important piece of the puzzle in helping with a serious health condition called “Metabolic Syndrome”.  This is a syndrome where you have elevated cholesterol levels and triglycerides, elevated blood pressure, abdominal obesity and insulin insensitivity resulting in higher blood sugar levels (Diabetes Type II).  This is not an uncommon occurrence in our society.  It is also a major strain on our society and we are see a growing number of people with these signs and symptoms.  Both as a whole and individually each of these signs and symptoms can affect your overall health.
Burst training appears to be part of the solution for many of the health conditions that are common in our Society.  I have listed here some of the benefits that Burst Training has shown to improve.
  1. Reduced waist circumference –  Burst training has been shown to have 4.7 times greater effect on abdominal circumference than continuous moderate exercise
  2. Similar weight loss to CME, likely due to its icrease in lipid oxidation, even though the volume of exercise is significantly less.  This is also due to more calories being burned because the body needs to use energy to recover from the more intense workout.
  3. Significant decrease in abdominal, visceral, cutaneous fat.
  4. Increases insulin sensitivity – The higher the intensity the greater the effect on insulin sensitivity. Increased sensitivity means better control of blood sugar.
  5. Decrease in blood pressure – There is a 13.3 times great improvement of systolic blood pressure and a 2.7 times greater improvement in diastolic blood pressure.
  6. Protects the lining of the blood vessels by increasing nitric oxide (expands the blood vessels), which is not seen in CME and causes an exercise intensity dependent production of antioxidants.  Researchers have concluded that it is the intensity and not the duration that protects the body from cardiovascular disease
  7. Reduced LDL, the bad cholesterol, and increases HDL, the good cholesterol, especially HDL-C which is association with protecting the blood vessels from arteriosclerosis.
  8. Increase in muscular strength, compared to CME which is likely due to it causing an increase in Growth Hormone and Testosterone. Growth Hormone and Testosterone are both associated with muscle growth and thus muscular strength
  9. 46% of those with Metabolic Syndrome were no longer diagnosed with metabolic syndrome after one research study on Burst Training.
How to Get Started
I must first preface this with a warning. This form of training can be very intense.  Make sure you contact your health care professional before starting such a program. 
Here a few ways you can perform a Burst Training program. Choose an exercise that will be safe even as you fatigue.  Using a stationary bike is one of the most preferred tool for the researchers but swimming, running hills, skipping, burpees, kettlebell exercises or even speed squats can be used. Personally, I am not a big fan of running on treadmills especially if fatigue becomes a factor. One false step can trip you up and off you go off the back on the treadmill. I recommend this only for someone with experience with burst training.
For those who are sedentary, begin with going as fast as you can for a short time, say, 10 seconds and then go slowly for about 50 seconds.  Perform this for about 6 to 10 times.  As you feel comfortable build yourself up to the 30 seconds with 4 minutes or recovery.

Here is an example of Burst Training being performed by Dr. DelRae Messer, a Chiropractor, from Northwestern Health Sciences University.  It looks like she is performing 1 (one) minute of high intensity sprinting on the treadmill and one minute of rest in this video.

Like any exercise program it is best to start out slow and then build up once you get used to a new form of training.
I highly recommend this form of training especially for those who have little time but want to maximize their gains. 
Remember, it’s not the volume of work performed but the intensity at which it was performed that matters.
Until next time
Dr Notley,
Winnipeg’s only Chiropractor/Athletic Therapist
References
http://jap.physiology.org/cgi/content/short/107/1/128
http://jp.physoc.org/content/575/3/901.short

3 thoughts on “Get healthy in less time: High Intensity Interval Training (AKA Burst Training)

  1. Pingback: Protect your spine: Reminders to change positions and sit up straight – http://www.drnotley.com/

  2. Pingback: Managing Diabetes with Exercise – http://www.drnotley.com/

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