Brian Schmitt gripped the black resistance band hooked around April Varela’s torso. Varela ran as hard she could inside the fitness room at the Harris YMCA, trying to pull Schmitt with her. She had to run past a row of treadmills before she could rest – for 10 seconds.
Then Varela would repeat the exercise four more times. Varela would run as hard she could with Schmitt adding resistance followed by a 10-second break. The resistance sprint was one of six exercises Varela completed in a 25-minute workout that incorporated high-intensity interval training, known as HIIT in the fitness world.
A survey by the American College of Sports Medicine found HIIT is the top fitness trend of 2014.
Schmitt says the American lifestyle is one of the reasons HIIT has become so popular. “We’re getting busier and busier. We’re looking for more efficient ways to exercise in the short amount of time that we have available,” Schmitt said.
Performing 10 to 15 minutes of intense HIIT training three days a week is equivalent to performing 30 to 45 minutes of steady-state exercise, such as using a treadmill or stair climber, three days a week.
Experts say HIIT is an effective and more productive workout than longer, continuous workouts. It burns carbohydrates and fat more efficiently than steady-state exercises. HIIT builds endurance, experts say. It is a type of training that can be done in a gym, at home or in a park. It doesn’t require equipment.
Schmitt’s been using HIIT personally for more than a decade, and for several years with his clients. At its core, HIIT involves performing an exercise intensely followed by a brief period of rest.
For example, execute squats as fast as possible for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds for eight rounds. Fitness DVDs such as “Beach Body’s Insanity” and “P90X” have helped popularize the training style.
Fitness Factory’s Eileen Jones credits P90X and CrossFit for HIIT’s popularity. She said when she integrated P90X into one of her group fitness classes she actually got men to take the class. HIIT prevents boredom, she said.
Many Charlotte-area trainers use it exclusively; others incorporate it into a workout program for their clients. HIIT training also burns calories for up to eight hours after a workout, experts say. Compare that to traditional exercise regimens, which burn calories only during the workout, Schmitt said.
Many elite athletes and fitness enthusiasts, such as those who train for extreme races such as mud runs, are familiar with HIIT, but the training style is now being used by people at a variety of fitness levels.
‘I don’t get bored’
Fabiola Mullins, 41, of South Charlotte says she trains twice a week to stay in shape, get stronger and lose weight. She started training with Schmitt in October. Until then, she typically used the elliptical machine and hand weights at the gym.
“I feel a lot stronger,” said Mullins, who’s lost 34 pounds. “I don’t get bored. It’s challenging. Each time you think you mastered something, something new comes.”
Trainers caution that with any workout proper instruction is critical, and a doctor should be consulted before starting any workout. Trainers also counter the notion that if a person isn’t “half-dead” after an exercise, it means they aren’t working hard. The intensity, trainers say, doesn’t have to be maxed out to be effective.
Schmitt says a couch potato can benefit from HIIT, and so can older adults. Examples are performing 20 seconds of biceps curls at a fast pace followed by rest – or using an interval-training setting on stationary equipment.
At K.O. Fitness + Bootcamp in South Charlotte, Dayron Booth Uses HIIT training with his clients, who range from avid runners to women who are just getting into shape. Booth, a former boxer, said HIIT is a great way to increase heart rate and endurance. “Everyone needs it, no matter what fitness level,” he said.
Laura Hawkins, 37, of Fort Mill, trains with Booth and likes HIIT. Hawkins says she is more toned, has dropped 10 percent of her body fat and that it’s helped her boost her speed when she runs.
“It’s more effective,” she said. “I’ve seen more of difference in my performance.”
Schmitt’s client Varela agrees. Her 25-minute workout at the Harris YMCA left her tired but energized. She says her endurance is better and she gained more upper body strength and mobility.
Varela, 59, likes HIIT, but she does it a only couple of days a week.
“It’s OK once in a while,” she said. “ I get too tired.”
She is training for the Race To The Top, in which climbers ascend the stairs to the 50th floor of the Duke Energy Center tower in uptown. Even more importantly, she is training so she can keep up with her future grandchildren.