Enough with the hour-long gym slogs! You only need five minutes of exercise to burn fat and get super-fit, according to the latest fitness trend. Just be prepared to sweat!

What if we told you that you could get stronger, fitter and slimmer in the same time it normally takes for a post-gym shower?

You’d better believe it, because the latest fitness research quashes everything you thought you knew about the rules of working out. Half an hour three times a week? Long, moderate-intensity workouts to slim down and get fit? All out the window, thanks to the discovery that five minutes of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) or, as we like to call it, fitness snacking, can have the same strength and toning benefits as a workout six times longer. Just think what that could do for your motivation, your fitness, your body…

Can you really get fit in five minutes?

But what exactly is HIIT? In a nutshell, speed work. You alternate between bursts of fast and slow intensity – for less than 20 minutes overall. A study by Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University found that performing just four 30-second all-out sprints on an exercise bike two or three times a week can reduce blood sugar levels, improve insulin function and reduce your risk of developing type 2 diabetes. In addition, a Canadian study discovered that 20 seconds of full-pelt pedaling, followed by four minutes’ rest, repeated four to six times, resulted in the same aerobic fitness improvements as slogging through 90 to 120-minute bike workouts. No contest, right?

And the benefits don’t end there. ‘HIIT is a fantastic way to lose weight because, unlike endurance workouts where you’re working out for long periods (think marathon trraining),it increase lean muscle mass and burns fat even when you’ve finished, so your body looks trim and defined in quick-smart time’, says Zest’s fitness expert and celebrity trainer Jane Wake. Indeed, studies show it burns nine times more fat than similar cardio workouts. ‘Plus, it boosts general fitness, which is invaluable for any other exercise you might do’, she adds.

Description: HIIT is a fantastic way to lose weight

HIIT is a fantastic way to lose weight

So, faster, fitter, stronger – is there a catch? Well it’s fair to say that HIIT isn’t for the faint-hearted or the unfit. ‘HIIT workouts – such as Tabata sprints (what those crazy-fit people you see jumping on and off super-fast treadmills are up to) – are designed to pull your body out of its comfort zone,’ says Jane. They might be over very quickly but they’re painful and punishing. ‘Yes, they’ll save you sometime,’ she adds, ‘but don’t expect an easy ride. Nausea, discomfort and muscle burn are all common side effects of this type of training because you’re pushing your body’s cardiovascular and metabolic systems to the limit. So, if you’re going to attempt HIIT, you need to start from a bit base.’

That’s not to say that only the super-fit can have a go, though. ‘The theory is that the longer the interval, the lower the intensity is going to be and the lower the rewards,’ says Jane. ‘But research shows that even those raise your metabolic rate for up to 24 hours afterwards. If you’re starting from a more basic level of fitness, try two-minute intervals: work as hard as you can for two minutes, then recover for two, and repeat for at least six rounds.’

As you get fitter, you can begin to reduce the intervals of effort and to reduce the intervals of effort and recovery down to 90 seconds, then 60,and then 30 as you increase the effort. Eventually, for a true HIIT-style workout, you need to make your rest times shorter than your hard intervals – you’ll find that the fitter you get, the quicker you’ll recover. Although you should be working as hard as you can, the key is to listen to your body and what it can cope with.

And remember, with fitness snacking, not having time to exercise is no longer an excuse.

Zest tip

Remember, the whole point of HIIT is that you give it your all – it’s a tough workout, so expect to feel totally spent afterwards.

Zest tip

To avoid injury, make like an athlete and allow time for a proper warm-up – a 100m sprinter warms up for over an hour before that 10-second run.

5 Minutes To Fit

On Foot

This works equally well on the treadmill or pavement. Warm-up for 5 minutes with a brisk walk.

o   Sprint for 30 seconds.

o   Walk for 20 seconds.

o   Repeat 6 times.

o   As you get fitter, reduce your sprint to 20 seconds and your rest to 10 for a traditional Tabata sprint workout.

With Weights

‘Weight-based HIIT workouts are all about power,’ says Jane. ‘So choose whole-body moves and aim to heavier weights than you would normally. Make sure that your technique is spot-on before you start. Do as many moves as you can for each 20 seconds.’

o   Wood-chops for 20 seconds.

o   Rest for 10 seconds.

o   Kettlebell swings for 20 seconds.

o   Rest for 10 seconds.

o   Medicine ball squats for 20 seconds.

o   Rest 10 for seconds.

o   Rotational lunges with medicine ball for 20 seconds.

o   Rest 10 seconds.

o   Repeat 3 to 5 times.

By Bike

Choose a moderate hill or, if you’re using a stationary bike, add resistance to simulate gradient.

o   Warm up for 5 minutes.

o   Attack the hill at full-speed and intensity.

o   Cycle slowly downhill.

o   Repeat for between 5 and 15 minutes, as long as your fitness allows.


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