They sound the same, but they’re actually very different.
8 min read
Interval training exploded on the fitness scene in 2014, but written correspondence between two Olympic runners suggests the run/rest/repeat formula was actually used as a training method all the way back in the early 1900s. While training for the Olympics, the two elite distance runners from Finland documented their approach to training and suggested that alternating between fast and slow runs was an effective away to build speed and endurance. This became one of the earliest endorsements of interval training.
Since then, interval training has been adapted and repurposed into countless iterations. Unlike other fitness trends that have come and gone, interval training continues to gain momentum and shows no signs of slowing. In fact, a quick Google search of the term “interval training” yields 300 million results ranging from at-home workouts to scientific studies about its efficacy done by reputable experts like the Mayo Clinic and Harvard Medical School.
There are numerous variations of interval training that exist today, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) remains one of the most prominent. There have been many adaptations that have emerged in recent years, including high-intensity functional training (HIFT). Both HIIT and HIFT are effective methods for building aerobic and anaerobic endurance — which increase overall cardiovascular health. But there are a few key distinctions between them. In this article, we’ll walk you through the differences between HIIT and HIFT so you can determine the best approach for your goals.
Spoiler alert: it is high intensity
If you’ve taken a group fitness class, you’ve already experienced a HIIT workout in some shape or form. HIIT workouts focus on quick rounds of intense exertion followed by short recovery periods. The exercises are usually cardio-based and formatted in repetitive rounds that add up to a 20- to 30-minute workout. In a HIIT workout, the exertion period is intentionally short – like 20-30 seconds — so you can maintain maximum effort for the entire duration. Once your body gets a period of rest after high exertion, it’s ready for another round of reaching a high heart, which is an efficient way to increase endurance and burn body fat.
This type of interval training is fast and furious and packs a lot of intensity in a short amount of time. HIIT is designed to ramp up your heart rate quickly. And even though you’ll have brief windows of recovery, your heart rate will likely stay elevated throughout your entire workout. It’s a great way to exercise if you’re goal is to increase your aerobic and anaerobic baseline. And if done in a group setting, it’s a fun way to build strength.
There’s more than one way to ramp up the intensity
Here are the four most common types of HIIT workouts:
Tabata is an advanced type of HIIT workout featuring lightning-fast rounds that add up to a four-minute workout. The exertion periods are quick, but the recovery periods are quicker. The 2:1 work-to-rest ratio means that you’ll work for 20 seconds, followed by a recovery period that’s 10 seconds of rest. The intensity of a Tabata workout pushes your heart into the anaerobic zone, somewhere around 90 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate, which is when your body isn’t able to find enough oxygen to fuel the muscles. Instead, it relies on breaking down the glucose that’s found in carbs. The end result is a super-fast workout that’s effective for burning fat, building endurance and increasing VO2 max.
Running is another practical, powerful way to do HIIT. Rather than running at a steady pace for a longer duration, HIIT runs alternate between intense bursts of speed and active recovery forcing your body to switch between its aerobic and anaerobic zones. In a HIIT running workout, you’ll sprint at 80 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate and then either slow down to a jog or walk for an active recovery. It’s a fast way to build fat and increase your cardiovascular strength.
HIIT runs can vary in length ranging from 20 to 60 minutes. Incorporating them into your training regimen once or twice a week will help you improve your endurance, stamina and speed.
Jumping jacks, burpees and high knees are all examples of exercises you will meet in a bodyweight HIIT workout. A bodyweight HIIT workout features exercises in circuit format that are rooted in cardio and designed to get your heart rate pumping. Similar to Tabata, you’ll perform exercises at max effort followed by a rest period, but the exertion and rest period can vary depending on the workout. They’re an excellent way to build endurance. If you’re not a fan of running, they’re a great alternative to burn calories and increase strength.
Intentionally building strength through weighted movements isn’t limited to the weight room in a gym. Weighted HIIT movements increase your heart rate, just like running or Tabate workouts. This type of HIIT workout is self-explanatory, but there are a few things you should keep in mind about a HIIT-style lifting workout. First, be selective about your weights. These workouts are designed for max effort, but you should never ever sacrifice form for more reps. That might mean that you start with a lower weight than you would normally. Second, a weighted HIIT workout is not designed to be your everyday workout. It’s important to mix things up.
It’s high intensity built for everyday movements
High-intensity functional training (HIFT) borrows key principles from HIIT but adds functional training to the intensity. Functional training is fitness with a purpose. The purpose of HIFT is to improve the way your body performs everyday movements like walking, sitting, lifting, pushing doors, etc. The goal behind functional fitness is to empower your body to move through your day efficiently and safely using multi-joint functional movements. HIFT workouts feature exercises that engage your entire body and build the stability and coordination you need when you’re outside of the gym. And they do it all while pushing you to keep up with fast-moving intervals, which burn calories and increase your anaerobic and aerobic state.
When you add high-intensity into the functional training equation the end result is a challenging workout that builds strength and cardiovascular endurance. These explosive and dynamic exercises will increase speed, power, flexibility and agility. It’s important to note that they also can be modified to meet any fitness level.
Even though two workouts sound the same, they’re actually very different
HIIT and HIFT workouts are different, but that doesn’t mean they don’t share key characteristics. For one, both workouts include circuits with exercises that are designed to be performed at maximum effort for a specific duration. And two, both HIIT and HIFT are effective workouts to burn fat and boost endurance, making them both great options for cross training and weight loss.
One of the main differences between them is that HIIT workouts always have a fixed period of exertion followed by a fixed rest period. With HIIT, you’ll rapidly transition between work and rest, which causes your body to transition quickly between aerobic and anaerobic states. HIIT workouts tend to favor cardio exercises, though this is not always the case. Exercises are usually repeated throughout the workout.
HIFT, on the other hand, applies a methodology in which both the exercises and exertion duration fluctuate. HIFT workouts don’t necessarily include rest periods, but usually there is at least an active recovery where the effort is less intense. There is significantly more variety in a HIFT workout and a lot of it comes from resistance training.
Both HIIT and HIFT workouts are great in terms of cardiovascular benefits and calorie burn, but because HIFT routines are constructed with strength exercise, they’re a better option to increase power, improve agility and build muscle. HIFT classes will result in noticeable transformation.
We build classes that help you get stronger inside and outside the studio
We aren’t downplaying the benefits of a HIIT-style sweat sesh. HIIT workouts offer incredible results in a short amount of time. But here at SUMHIIT Fitness, functional training is the name of our game. What does that mean for you? Heart-spiking cardio plus muscle-building strength training in a 35-minute workout. It’s the best of both worlds in less than an hour. If that’s not a win, we don’t know what is.
SUMHIIT Fitness delivers the results of a 55-minute workout in 35 minutes. No need to thank us, you’re the one who’s going to pack 55 minutes of hustle into a half hour! Haven’t tried a class yet?
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