If you’ve spent much time working out, you’ve doubtless tried (and probably hated) the gung-ho exercise known as high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. HIIT workouts has been a major fitness trend for the last several years because of its proven ability to help people get much fitter using workouts that take much less time. While HIIT workouts sound great in theory (and is beloved by serious athletes) those super-intense intervals make most people miserable, so they back away from boot-camp-style interval drills as soon as they have the chance.
Enter Jens Bangsbo, Ph.D., an exercise physiology professor in Denmark, who went searching for ways to make HIIT exercises less hateful. He came up with a plan that’s highly effective and a whole lot more fun. Dubbed 10-20-30 training, it calls for exercising at a gentle pace for 30 seconds, a moderate pace for 20, and then a fast sprint for 10 seconds. (For the first two weeks, he suggests that the 10-second sprints be just slightly higher than your moderate level. After that, use those 10 seconds to go as fast as you can.)
Repeat the 60-second cycle five times, then rest for two minutes. Do five 60-second interval cycles again, completing the whole workout in just 12 minutes. (If you’re already relatively fit, try adding a third round of five 60-second intervals.) His research showed that using this shorter workout routine twice a week not only significantly reduced the amount of time people exercised—they lowered their blood pressure, improved heart health and shaved time off their average 5K run time. But perhaps most encouraging is that after the eight-week experiment, many of the participants kept it up on their own, reporting that it made their workouts more enjoyable.
The 60-second cycles of these high intensity workouts are effective, Bangsbo says, for the same reason that other HIIT exercises are: “The heart rate becomes much higher than during normal running, which stimulates the heart, and muscle fibers not normally activated are used during the training. But participants feel it is less demanding.”
While his study focused on those in midlife (runners in his research were aged 35 to 55), Bangsbo expects the results would be the same with any age group.
The high-intensity interval training (HIIT) method isn’t just a health-changer for new exercisers, says Bangsbo. “I always use the sprints during my running, and it has improved my performance, too. It actually also lowers the blood pressure and blood cholesterol even for experienced runners, which is quite surprising since they have been running for a number of years and the total volume of training is markedly reduced.”