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HIIT or SIT: Which of these popular fitness trends is best suited for you?

Over the past decade, HIIT has become the most popular form of fitness training. However, there's a new kid on the block, called Sprint Interval Training

What will you choose, HIIT or SIT?
What will you choose, HIIT or SIT? (Istockphoto)

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If one was to choose the most popular workout, then High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) would probably take home the award. Over the past decade, HIIT has become so popular that it is now successfully ingrained into fitness culture. Even someone who has only dipped their toes into fitness will know that HIIT is the system where you train in intervals. For example, do an exercise for 40 seconds, and rest for 20 seconds, before resuming the movement again. 

A BBC article from a few years ago, HIIT Is Changing The Way We Work Out, Here’s The Science Why It Works, states that proof of the popularity of any fitness trend usually comes from the annual survey of such trends done by the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM). HIIT has regularly been in the top five for the last ten years. But the 2022 ACSM survey saw it drop to 7th place as the top three positions were taken by “Wearable Technology”, “Home Exercise Gyms” and, thankfully, “Outdoor Activities”, in that order.

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This doesn’t mean HIIT does not work or has become less popular. It probably means that it is not new anymore. Its effectiveness, though, is backed by multiple research saying that it helps in maintaining muscle mass (or even improving it); losing fat (both abdominal and visceral); and in stabilising blood sugar levels. All of these lead to better heart health and improved fitness. There is a certain ease in doing it as well: One can easily (but carefully) design an HIIT workout, and perform it either without any equipment or even with the most sophisticated equipment. 

Workouts have endless combinations, but the latest one making inroads into HIIT is called Sprint Intensity Training or SIT. While it doesn’t make sprinting mandatory, the name is derived from the fact that one gives everything in a sprint and that equates to short bursts of maximum intensity training. That means exercises will be amped up in an SIT workout. A pushup might become a clap pushup and a squat a jump squat. The key is to achieve maximum effort. 

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But there is a correlation to sprinting in its literal sense as well. An SIT workout using sprinting as the method might look like this: four to six 30-second sprints (for example, at a treadmill intensity of 10), with a rest period of two to four minutes after every sprint. The rest can be spent doing active recovery (walking) or fully resting. A similar HIIT workout will look like this: four to six sets of two to four minutes of running (at a treadmill intensity of 6-8). Since running isn’t for everyone, the same principle has been applied to other exercises that will take the body to the same intensity of work as a sprint does. You can apply the same methods using a bike or a rowing machine as well.

If you have been into running, then using the sprint method has shown remarkable results in terms of fat loss. A brilliant RunRepeat article called Sprint Interval Training: Burn 40% More Fat Than HIIT in 60% Less Time has used data from 75 studies that compared SIT vs HIIT with running as one of the modes of training. “SIT resulted in a 39.59% higher reduction in body fat percentage than HIIT. SIT significantly outperformed HIIT in Body Fat Percentage (BF%) reduction while requiring 60.84% less time spent exercising than HIIT,” it states.

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It is important to not get pulled into these impressive numbers. “HIIT does not require maximal training intensities, in fact, most studies show very welcome improvements in fitness, and reductions in body fat can be achieved with training intensities around 80-85% of maximal heart rate, which for many is very achievable on an ongoing basis,” says an article titled HIIT vs SIT on 

When you research SIT and its benefits, you will come across how it pushes an athlete’s VO2 max. That is basically the maximum amount of oxygen that an individual can use during intense exercise. Another article, titled HIIT vs SIT: Will Either Of Them Make You A Better Triathlete says that VO2 max should not be a big worry for most fitness enthusiasts: “SIT’s claim to fame seems to arise from its ability to improve VO2 max to about the same degree as longer bout HIIT. The problem is that higher VO2 max does not necessarily correlate with improved performance, which is the goal of most athletes.” 

So while HIIT might be sliding down the pecking order of popular fitness trends, it is still a tried and tested method, as long as you don’t get too comfortable in the workouts. As for SIT, it might be another excellent way to do the same, but not at the cost of more doable HIIT workouts as well. Use both forms carefully for the best results. 

Pulasta Dhar is a football commentator and writer.

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