Is HIIT the elixir of life? It might just be…

Want to maximise your training in less time and with more recovery? Dr Peter Herbert, a physiologist from the University of Wales Trinity Saint David, reckons HIIT could be the answer.

As well as being a top physiologist – Herbert has worked with the Scarlets and the Welsh Rugby Team – he is also an extremely successful cyclist, having recently won a bronze medal at the World Masters Track Cycling Championship in the 500m sprint at 70.

With age Herbert realised that his fitness levels weren’t increasing, even though he was training harder than ever. It was also taking longer for him to recover and so he decided to change the way he trained, doing fewer sessions but at higher intensity. Noticing an improvement in his fitness levels, strength and performance, he decided to look scientifically at why this was so and whether older males could tolerate high intensity training.

“In a unique study that started in 2012, we looked at two groups of male participants with very different fitness levels, all aged between 56 and 74,” says Herbert. “The first group was sedentary and hadn’t exercised for thirty years so they first did moderate training for six weeks to prepare them to take part in the study. The second group comprised of athletes who had trained throughout their lives and who were still training intensively and were competing in a range of sports. These master athletes continued to train in their usual way for the first six weeks of the study.”

After various tests Herbert then set about working with both groups on a HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) programme over six weeks. The men trained once every 5 days, doing 6 x 30-second bike sprints with 3-minute recovery periods. Over six weeks, this amounted to just 27 minutes of work.

“The results at the end of the research period were overwhelming,” says Herbert. “HIIT training caused significant increases in the oxygen capacity (VO2max) of the master athletes – all of whom were previously exercising at a high intensity at least three times a week. There were also increases in leg power, a positive effect not only for the master athletes but also for the more sedentary.”

The HIIT exercisers also lost fat, gained muscle, experienced greater testosterone levels, improved performance and derived greater general health benefits.

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