Understanding the HIIT Hype

Last week we shared an article comparing the benefits of HIIT and steady-state training. This week we follow up with a look at some of the hype surrounding HIIT. As fitness professionals, it’s important for us to understand the science behind the hype, and to use that science to help our customers and clients safely and effectively reach their goals.


  1. Running with the latest thorn in my side…..the Orangetheory theory….I’m surmising that their boasts on on their trademarked workout’s *calorie burn* comes from what their clients’ heart rates tell them. We all know how accurate that is.

    An example of when you start looking you can see stuff you wish you hadn’t, check out *Cyclebar*, folks. This is a new entry into the world of the franchise fitness model……formerly Spynergy of Wellesley. Sometimes it’s hard to not feel like you’re skating uphill.

    1. First, great article and chart Jennifer and replies by all. Vivienne, I just experience CB this past Thurs night. It just opened in my area and a 2nd possibly 3rd and 4th as well. I wanted to experience it before i spoke about it. Instructor with no education but had a see-through black top grinding her way to the to of a hill, cueing pushups, tap backs, hovers, and bicep/tricep curls with a weighted bar. complete nonsense and i was ready to leave after 15:00. Riders busting their bodies with multiple sprint cadences at 140+ on the performance screen.

      1. Renee, you’ve added to my disappointment..

        Up until a few weeks ago I hadn’t given much thought to all these gym-ish start ups. Of course, I was aware of Curves and Cultfit (oooops, Crossfit) etc. etc. but it seems like a whole confluence of circumstances has opened up a whole new world of franchising and trademarking *exercise* to me. The Orangetheory thingie intrigued me as to why, say, there were so many start-ups in the Denver area. Looked into it a bit more and got an education into the franchise business model and how it pertains to the fitness world. Check it out…..not terribly different from McDonalds, Papa Joe’s etc. etc. and it’s entirely possible that the one investor/franchisee who’s opening up the OTs in Denver or the CBs in your area actually have their investment fingers in those other pies (no pun intended……but no joke either)

        You’ll laugh at me here, I thought initially that Cyclebar as a trade name was intended to convey a social image reminiscent of the bar scene (no, not drunken brawls but conviviality etc. etc.) Then I saw the video on their marketing site. I would’ve still been willing to give our local CB a shot (seeing as it’s actually the old Spynergy studio in Wellesley) You’ve saved me.

  2. The current hype surround EPOC (especially as it pertains to weight management or fat loss) has me really shaking my head and wondering. A couple of the very first workshops at the very first fitness conference I attended after my SPINNING cert were Len Kravitz’s workshops on N.E.A.T and E.P.O.C. This would’ve been over a decade now. Even back then, he was emphasising the relatively low *afterburn* for even a quite challenging workout, depending on fitness level.

    Amid all the hype…..and it’s only going to increase as all these franchises spring up with make-believe physiology as their mainstay……is the disregard for all the effects of a workout session/training bout calorie burn, EPOC or no EPOC.

    An hour’s sufferfest might well burn a decent number of calories and close to triple digit calorie burn over 14 hours or so (and you’d need to be pretty fit to achieve this)……but if you’ve burned through your glycogen stores such that you’re starving hungry and end up raiding the refrigerator PLUS are so fatigued that your NEAT expenditure drops, it’s entirely possible you could end up with a net calorie gain over a 24 hour period rather than a deficit.

  3. correction: HIIT, not HITT 😉

  4. Great article Jennifer- couldn’t agree more! As a veteran indoor cycling instructor who’s also been a competitive track cyclist for a number of years, I’ve often felt like I live in two different worlds when it comes to HITT…..the track/velodrome, where it means efforts at or very near maximum capacity, physical sensations that are uncomfortable all the way to unbearable, repeatable only a limited number of times, alternated with recoveries usually far longer than the efforts, done only 2x/wk (and I’m an endurance rider, not a sprinter). In my “other world” (aka the gym), I witness indoor cyclists doing endless repeats of these intervals, chomping at the bit to begin the next one before the short recovery period over,4-5 times per week, 52 weeks per year.…..how is this possible?!? Of course the answer is, it isn’t. And sadly, we as indoor cycling instructors are cheating our riders out of the fitness gains that properly applied HITT can deliver when we adopt this “more is better” mentality.
    My personal opinion is that although we fitness professionals talk HITT a lot…. a minority of our participants are truly experiencing it. And at least in part, that is due to our failure to teach them that “If your Easy Days are Too Hard, your Hard Days will be Too Easy”….too often a continual state of moderate fatigue/staleness renders them incapable of creating the overload necessary to elicit the much ballyhooed benefits of HITT. Of course – those of use that are lucky enough to teach on bikes with measured power and real-time average wattage have an invaluable teaching tool in communicating this to our riders, as the power/HR graphics in Jennifer’s article so aptly illustrates.

    One of the BEST things about cycling – indoors or out – is that the benefits of HITT are achievable for almost anyone, at any age or body size, at low injury risk due to it’s non-weight bearing, low-impact nature….this cannot be said for sports like running, or even swimming, where technique and skill become a limiting factor . But this does not mean that HITT-style training provides the only meaningful health and fitness benefits, nor that more of it will result in a better outcome. Less truly is more!

    1. Author

      Great comment. I completely agree. It’s a bit of a conundrum for us as instructors. Our students have been conditioned to believe that the only good workout is a hard workout, and they often view recovery as wasted time… The result, as you rightly point out, is a string of efforts that feel hard, but aren’t hard enough to elicit the desired physiological response, and result in a near constant state of low-level fatigue that prevents real gains in fitness…

  5. Great article. Great visual chart, too!
    Thank you!!

  6. Loved this information. My profiles have lots of HIT drills with also lots of recovery as well as steady state drills. I have a few outside avid cyclist athletes attend my classes and they’ve commented on how important the recovery time is. It is a must. Thanks again.


  7. Excellent article and at just the right time too as ‘Sprint’ is about to get pushed hard…
    Love hard interval efforts but to my mind they seem to be over used…and at VERY high cadences. ..

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