Welcome to the world of high intensity interval training (HIIT), where you build strength and lose weight in half the time of your normal gym session.

What is it

Alternating bursts of lung-busting anaerobic exercise and active recovery periods. Sessions last between four and 20 minutes. These concentrated workouts pimp your fitness, metabolism and fat burning efficiency. “HIIT is one of the best things you can do when looking for results in a short period of time,” says Jobst Olschewski, Level 2 Crossfit Coach and owner of Cape Crossfit.

What you need

Time protocols. An HIIT session starts with a warm up period of exercise, followed by six to 10 reps of high-intensity exercise, separated by medium-intensity exercise, and ends with a period of cool down exercise. The high-intensity exercise should be performed at near maximum effort, while the medium-intensity exercise should be done at 50% intensity. The goal is to complete a minimum of six sets. Johan Pretorious, the head consultant the high-performance centre at the Sports Science Institute of South Africa explains that “the Tabata method is the most frequently used protocol; and it definitely works.”

Benefits

“This particular technique works especially well for weight loss,” says Pretorious. The major reason that HIIT works so much better than continuous steady-state cardio in the quest to drop body fat, is due to the greater increase in resting metabolism following HIIT. “HIIT helps you to both gain muscle and lose weight, but it is more effective in aiding fat burning,” explains Olschewski. Our research however suggests that HIIT can be just as effective as a muscle builder. A study in the Journal of International Society of Sports Nutrition reported that male subjects following a six-week HIIT programme, gained one kilogram of muscle – despite no weight-lifting during the program.

Tabata method

The popular regimen based is on a 1996 study by Izumi Tabata. Do 20 seconds of ultra-intense (about 170% of VO2max), followed by 10 seconds rest. Repeat for four minutes (eight reps).

Launch pad

The beginner-to-advanced eight-week HIIT program

You can do these workouts using tools, such as a jump rope, stationery cycle, or simply sprint. Use your imagination. Just follow the work-to-rest intervals as indicated.

Weeks 1-2

15 seconds: High-intensity exercise.
60 seconds: Rest or low-intensity exercise.
Repeat another 10 times, followed by a final 15-second high-intensity blast.
Total time: 14 minutes.

Weeks 3-4

30 seconds: High-intensity exercise.
60 seconds: Rest or low-intensity exercise.
Repeat another 10 times, followed by a final 30-second high-intensity blast.
Total time: 17 min.

Weeks 5-6

30 seconds: High-intensity exercise.
30 seconds: Rest or low-intensity exercise.
Repeat another 11 times, followed by a final 30-second high-intensity blast.
Total time: 18.5 minutes.

Weeks 7-8

30 seconds: High-intensity exercise.
15 seconds: Rest or low-intensity exercise.
Repeat another 25 times, followed by a final 30-second high-intensity blast.
Total time: 20 minutes.