We are often asked by patients which exercise approach is best for them, should it be a high intensity approach either through their own training or part of a group or lower pace longer workouts. The Shannon Clinic Melbourne Chiropractic and Sports Care is here to educate you on what the literature tells us about high intensity interval training (HIIT) and moderate continuous training (MCT) so you can determine what works best for you.
The Benefits of Exercise
There is a wealth of research available today showing the benefits of exercise on health resulting in a raft improvements including;
- Improved cognition
- Improved sleep
- Reduced risk of chronic preventable diseases including diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular disease, certain cancers
- Improvements in osteoarthritis pain and symptoms
- Improvements in depression and anxiety
- Improved bone health
- Improved quality of life
The current physical activity guidelines for good health recommend at a minimum 150 mins per week of moderate to vigorous exercise or 75 mins per week of vigorous exercise. The question then becomes what type of exercise is better, high intensity interval training (HIIT) or moderate continuous training (MCT)?
What is HIIT and MCT?
True HIIT is often a variation of what is known as a Wingate test where an individual is asked to go “all out” in a 30 second sprint and then has a 3 to 4 minute slow recovery before going all out again for 30 seconds. This is usually repeated 4 to 6 times. During the “all out” sprint the individual needs to keep their heart rate (HR) above 85% of their maximum. This entire workout might take 12 to 15 minutes to complete and is performed 2 to 3 times per week.
MCT involves an individual operating at a lower level of intensity around 60-70% of their maximum heart rate however, they need to continue to exercise for longer, usually around 60 to 90 minutes. An example of this would be to go for a steady ride on a push bike. Unlike HIIT, MCT needs to be undertaken 4 to 5 times per week.
Purely on face value there are pros and cons to both; HIIT although very time efficient can be very unpleasant for those who don’t like working at such high intensities. Whereas MCT is more comfortable in terms of the effort required however, it is more time consuming.
What Are the Benefits of HIIT and MCT?
Overall the consistent findings within the literature indicate HIIT is as good and probably superior to MCT in terms of improving cardiovascular fitness, especially V02max in a variety of cohorts including young athletes, adults, obese and diabetic individuals. For body composition, reduction in blood lipids (fats) and % of body fat, HIIT and MCT achieve similar results. In respect to weight loss, exercise is important however, diet is the key to long term sustainable weight loss. For long term glucose metabolism MCT appears superior to HIIT.
What Exercise is Right for You?
On the face of the findings it could be argued that MCT is as effective overall as HIIT, therefore we should all be training at moderate intensities for longer; however, time is a factor that is omitted in this argument. Similar health benefits can be achieved through HIIT to MCT in a fraction of the time. This means for athletes they can focus more on sports specific skills training, while for those who are busy or do not enjoy exercising can still gain meaningful health benefits without needing to dedicate hours a week exercising.
The important message to take away is that neither HIIT nor MCT are vastly superior to the other; both provide meaningful health benefits in terms of body composition, cardiovascular fitness, blood lipids, glucose metabolism. At the end of the day, it is about making sure you find an exercise approach that works for you which allows you to achieve at least 150 mins of moderate to vigorous exercise or 75 mins of vigorous exercise per week of to improve you overall health and life expectancy.