Can you really see results with just 20 minutes of exercise? Zoe Belhomme looks at how High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT, is helping Hong Kong get fit in a fraction of the time. 

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In busy Hong Kong, where so few of us can afford to spend hours in the gym, time-poor health enthusiasts are looking to fit in their fitness in as little time as possible. HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, allows you to get reap high returns on your workout in half an hour or less. While the acronym might sound intimidating, HIIT simply describes any workout that alternates between intense bursts of activity and fixed periods of less-intense activity or even complete rest – common regimens include Tabata, workouts that take place in four-minute intervals; or Les Mills GRIT classes. The idea is that by pushing yourself to the max for short bursts, interspersed with recovery periods, you can get a more effective workout in a shorter period of time. 

Over the past few years HIIT has increased hugely in popularity and in 2014 was even named the hottest fitness trend of the year by the American College of Sports Medicine Survey. But while some exercise fads go out of fashion as quickly as they came, it’s likely that HIIT is here to stay, especially in Hong Kong, where classes across the city, from spin classes to bootcamps, are starting to incorporate elements of its principles. 

How does HIIT work?
When you work out at a high intensity, it increases the body’s need for oxygen. During each rest period your body asks for additional oxygen to compensate for the shortfall that’s amassed during the workout time. This uses up energy and in turn burns fat. As a bonus, HIIT creates an after burn effect known as EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). This fires up your metabolism so you burn additional calories for up to 24 hours after interval training, increasing your burn from 6 to 15 percent. Compare this to say, going for a jog, which burns almost no calories post-workout. 

TORQ spinning studio offers HIIT classes with on and off-bike exercises. Founder Margaret Kao launched the class for its efficiency and effectiveness. “You can achieve the results of a one-hour cardio workout in just 20 minutes. HIIT is also accredited with the preservation of muscle mass, increased fat burn, weight loss and increasing metabolic rates, so it is great for toning the whole body”, she says. “With so many people complaining that they are too busy to fit in a proper regular workout, HIIT really is the perfect exercise. You don’t even need any special equipment – just 20-30 minutes and a bit of space to blast out a session”.

Linds Russell is the founder of ApeFit, one of Hong Kong’s leading outdoor bootcamp classes. Her group sessions regularly incorporate HIIT principles. She says, “I incorporate movements such as bear crawls or burpees at an intense pace for 20-30 seconds and then allow the trainees to recover for 5-10 seconds before pushing them to do another energetic burst”, she says. “There are unlimited possibilities with HIIT just using the great outdoors of Hong Kong: squats, stair runs, frog jumps, sprints, crunches and planks – none of them require specialist gym equipment. We scale the exercises depending on ability which allows for anyone, beginner or advanced, to get involved”.

Hear it from the converts

Julia Wood has been a fitness enthusiast her entire life, but over the past 18 months has attended classes at CrossFit Cavaliers in Happy Valley. She says “Both the crossfit and bootcamp workout programs are broad and include elements of weights, cardio and gymnastics. Most importantly, my performance is measured and progress over time is tracked, which makes a huge difference compared to jumping on a treadmill and jumping off again when I get bored or tired. The results that I have seen in my strength and physicality have been unparalleled to any other fitness I have done before.”

Sophie Forsyth, a young professional working in Hong Kong, has also noticed a difference in her performance during sports matches since she has started incorporating HIIT into her gym sessions “I tend to work out on my own in the gym so I have to make sure I push myself to the limit during each effort period. I play sports so I find HIIT the best way to keep up my fitness up and ensure I perform my best during matches”.

But while there are undeniable benefits of HIIT, due to the increased intensity there is a greater risk of sustaining an injury. It’s also generally acknowledged that by doing too much you’ll get adrenal burnout and potentially experience a lack of motivation. 

The healthy approach is to mix up the type of exercises you do each week. Lifting weights is amazing for shaping your body but a good run in the open air does wonders for your mood, hormones and the health of your connective tissue. For flexibility and core strength try yoga and Pilates, while dance, boxing and martial arts can improve reaction time and coordination. 

HIIT at Home
The beautiful thing about HIIT is that it requires no equipment. Pete Fisher from Ultimate Performance Studio gives us a set of drills that anyone can replicate. 

“This is a circuit called The Escalator. the most complex movements come early in the workout so that form can be maintained.”

Step 1
Burpees: 5 reps

Begin in a standing position

Drop into a squat position with your hands on the ground

Keep your arms extended and kick your feet back

Return your feet to the squat position

Jump up from the squat position

Rest 10 seconds

Step 2
Push-ups: 10 reps

Make it easier: Drop the knees to the floor to make the movement easier

Make it harder: Slow down your movements to three seconds each way

Rest 10 seconds

Step 3
Alternating Lunge: 20 reps (10 each leg)

Make it easier with a split squat. Assume a stationary lunge position; this will make the movement less dynamic

Make it harder with a jump split lunge. Assume the lunge position and dynamically jump in the air switching your lead leg so that you land in a lunge position on the other leg

Rest 10 seconds

Step 4
Squats: 15 reps

Make it harder: perform an extra ¼ at the bottom position. It it’s still too easy then perform 2 extra ¼ reps at the bottom position

Rest 10 seconds

Tip: If you have trouble maintaining an upright torso then elevate your heels  with 

a couple of books

Step 5
Glute Bridges: 20 reps

Lie down on your back and bend your knees so that your knee is at a right angle

Drive through the heels of your feet, lifting your hips up to the ceiling. Ensure that you are squeezing your glutes hard to initiate the movement. Hold for 10 seconds at the top

Rest 10 seconds

Step 6
Mountain Climbers: 30 reps (15 each leg)

Assume a push-up position. While maintaining tightness through the abs and lower back, dynamically bring your right knee towards your chest

Return to the start position and repeat on the other side

Make it easier: Elevate your hand position

Rest 90 seconds

The HIIT List 

A few local gyms that offer HIIT training:
Pure Fitness Offers group classes in GRIT and Tabata. 

TORQ TorqHit combines bursts of spinning with off-bike drills. 

CrossFit Typhoon Bootcamp classes. 

ApeFit Outdoor bootcamp that incorporates HIIT elements. 

Flex Studio HIIT Cardio Body class to get your heartrate up. 

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