HIIT Training: The Cure for Insulin Resistance, Type 2 Diabetes, Metabolic Disease and Obesity?

Art by Bill Hall - billhall.com
Art by Bill Hall - billhall.com

It’s official:

HIIT training is AWESOME!!!

Researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland have concluded that:

The efficacy of a high intensity exercise protocol, involving only 250 kcal of work each week, to substantially improve insulin action in young sedentary subjects  is  remarkable.

This novel  time-efficient  training paradigm can  be  used  as  a  strategy  to  reduce  metabolic  risk  factors  in  young  and middle aged sedentary populations who otherwise would not adhere  to  time consuming traditional aerobic exercise regimes.

And for those of you that don’t know, here are the risk factors of Metabolic Syndrome that HIIT training is so effective at reducing:

  • Abdominal obesity (excessive fat tissue in and around the abdomen)
  • Atherogenic dyslipidemia (blood fat disorders — high triglycerides, low HDL cholesterol and high LDL cholesterol — that foster plaque buildups in artery walls)
  • Elevated blood pressure
  • Insulin resistance or glucose intolerance (the body can’t properly use insulin or blood sugar)
  • Prothrombotic state (e.g., high fibrinogen or plasminogen activator inhibitor–1 in the blood)
  • Proinflammatory state (e.g., elevated C-reactive protein in the blood)

People with the metabolic syndrome are at increased risk of coronary heart disease and other diseases related to plaque buildups in artery walls (e.g., stroke and peripheral vascular disease) and type 2 diabetes.

It’s estimated that over 50 million Americans have it.

And I am 100% sure that you don’t want it.


So, what do you need to do?

  1. Go to your doctor and get checked out – Max intensity sprints combined with a sky high B.P. is just asking for trouble.
  2. Go through my HIIT resources
  3. Find an exercise bike, set of stairs, outdoor track or even a carpeted area in your home to do burpees
  4. Schedule 3 x 15 minute HIIT workouts per week
  5. Get HIITing

And I am serious about the doctor. I don’t mean to sound like your mother, but a visit to your doctor at least once a year for a check-up is a very, very, very good idea.


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  1. Much as I love the HIIT and Tabata workouts, for people with the metabolic syndrome, it would be impractical to start off with it, simply because these people would likely be unable to do it or would injure themselves trying. Going for a check up is good, but I doubt many doctors know what HIIT is all about. Seriously.
    In this specific population, I would say it is better to start off gradually with mobility, bodyweight workouts and aerobic cardio, with someone constantly raising the ante for them, as they are likely to be kind to themselves on the cycle or treadmill. After a few months, go for HIIT!

  2. Rambodoc,

    I agree with your assessment…to a point.

    One of the things that I love most about HIIT/Tabata/Interval training is that because it is based on intensity, each and every rep/set/workout is relative to the trainees individual capacity for work.

    For example, let’s say that we are going to use hill sprints as our exercise. Because you are in fantastic shape, you are able to go up that hill faster, more often and with smaller rest periods than I can at 90-100% of your maximum intensity.

    I may still be giving my all, but because of my love affair with all things deep fried, my maximum effort is a very slow walk up that hill. Sad, I know, but it’s the best I can do at the present time.

    However, because I am in such pathetic shape, if I continue to work hard, and eat better and address any medical issues, etc, etc…I will improve quickly and dramatically. But you, because you are bumping up against your ultimate genetic potential, will see only teeny tiny improvements in anaerobic endurance, body comp, etc.

  3. Aaaaahhhh, hill training.

    If it wasn’t for the 5 ft tall snow banks outside my front door, I would join you in some hill sprints.

    I guess that the recumbant bike sprints will have to do…again

    Have fun

  4. Right now I’m only able to get in one HIIT workout per week. Any more and I find it compromises my weight lifting workout. I’m not sure how to get around that.

    For someone doing weights 3 times a week, would you recommend doing HIIT on the off days? Is there any value in doing shorter sessions of HIIT (right now I do 20 minutes on the stair stepper)? And is there any way to help recovery so my legs don’t fall off? 🙂

    Sorry for all the questions, but I’m definitely convinced of the benefits of HIIT only I can’t quite make it as regular a part of my fitness routine as I’d like.

  5. Attrice,

    Unless your main goal for weight training is hypertrophy, I would start by replacing 1 or more of your traditional weight lifting workouts with a HIRT style workout – High Intensity Resistance Training.

    You can also add in mini HIIT workouts whenever you find time – 5 min HIITs are better than 0 minute HIITs

    You can also modify your cardio workouts – ex. warm up with standard steady state cardio training for 10 or 20 minutes, then do 10 minutes of sprints, then finish off with more steady state cardio – or 1/3 cardio / 1/3 sprint / 1/3 cardio

    Regarding recovery, the best thing I have found for recovery during a HIIT session is some sort of deep breathing / meditation technique. I know it sounds a little “new-agey” but if I focus and try to control my breathing, my heart rate slows down and I recover better in between sprints – I really should write about this in more detail

    Now, recovery between workouts is another story.

    The main stress on your body from HIIT training should be on your energy systems. Your leg muscles shouldn’t get very sore from this training (as opposed to hypertrophy training)

    But to help your recovery, I would recommend alternating hot and cold showers post workout. You will hate me during the cold part of the shower, but it really helps with muscle soreness. You can also do an post-workout ice massage on the muscles you just worked. Freeze a paper cup filled with water and rub the ice in the direction of your muscle fibers – down your thighs, across your chest, etc…

    Once again, you will hate me during the ice massage, but it helps with soreness.

    Let me know if you need more help with the HIRT program

  6. DR,
    Thanks for the comments. I agree with how awesome cold and hot compresses (I use my shower) work on the leg muscles after HIIT sprints that make you feel like you want to return your legs to the manufacturer.
    I would love to know about the meditation trick in between sets. This is the time that really kills me. The ultrashort recovery time allowed between sprints. Somehow, jumping ropes doesn’t kill me anywhere near as bad as sprints. Wonder why?!

  7. Thanks so much for all the info. I’ve been doing super sets and compound movements for strength training, but I really like the fusion idea. Plus, I know I haven’t been maximizing intensity which is all on me.

    I took your advice and snuck in some HIIT during my usual steady cardio workout. I was surprised that I managed a full 10 minutes of it so maybe part of my issue with HIIT was mental and I was just psyching myself out.

    Thanks again for all the good ideas.

  8. Rambodoc,

    I love HIIT. The crazy thing is how few people I see in the gym doing it! It works so well and the results people get are outstanding.

    Even nuttier is how none of the personal trainers in my gym recommend it to their clients. I guess they are too busy messing around with the stability boards and Swiss balls, etc.

    Lifting weights is easy compared to HIIT. I love it when I see a guy doing bench presses and taking 5 minutes in between sets and acting like he is working out hard. That guy would cry like a baby if he did my sprint interval workout!

    Good Post,


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