High Intensity Training: The Best Exercise for Heart Health
High Intensity Training: The Best Exercise for Heart Health
It’s 2022 and high time we expand our definition of what “cardio” exercise is.
High-intensity training (HIT), and our approach to exercise, stimulates healthy changes in our heart and cardiovascular system. As a result, we become increasingly protected against heart disease.
In this article, we’ll talk about the specific research-proven cardiovascular benefits of HIT and what makes this approach so effective.
What Happens During and After a HIT Workout?
Your workout is about to start. The leg press is waiting for you. You sit down, get into starting position, and start to drive your heels against the footplate.
As your quadriceps, glutes, hamstrings, and calves work to keep the weight moving on the leg press, your heart is also working intensely. Your leg muscles need oxygen to continue. That oxygen is delivered via blood, which your heart is pumping out.
To meet the oxygen demands of your leg muscles, your cardiovascular system makes a few adjustments (Umpierre & Stein, 2007).
First, your heart beats more frequently. Your stroke volume, or the amount of blood pumped per heartbeat, also increases. Your blood vessels contribute by expanding, allowing for more blood to pass through. The combination of the two heart changes, plus the blood vessels dilating, lead to a much larger amount of circulating blood.
As you progress through the rest of this session, this process repeats itself on every exercise. However, after the first exercise, your heart rate and stroke volume only recover a little between each exercise. They don’t normalize in the 15-30 seconds between each exercise (this is a good thing, we’ll get to it in a minute!).
For a few hours after the workout, both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, along with overall blood flow, are elevated (Umpierre & Stein, 2007).
Heart rate returns to a normal non-exercise rate within a half hour. More importantly, beyond the day of the session, what are the long term changes to the cardiovascular system? How do these brief exercises impact our heart in the big picture?
Cardiovascular Benefits of HIT
Strength training is “cardio.” Read that again.
Strength training stimulates the cardiovascular system to change in several ways. When performed in the high-intensity training style we use at The Perfect Workout, exercise is even more beneficial for the heart.
Below are a few of the many ways in which HIT improves your heart health:
Strength training increases overall blood flow. This is especially true when pushing to “Muscle Success,” the point when you can no longer move the weight on the lifting phase. Pushing to Muscle Success leads to a bigger increase in overall blood flow (Steele et al., 2012).
As a result, more oxygen reaches your muscles which allows the muscles to work harder, thus improving workout performance.
Another benefit of performing exercises to the point of Muscle Success is artery function. Artery function, also referred to as endothelial function, improves after a few months of HIT (Rakobowchuk et al., 2005). This improvement manifests in the arteries’ ability to expand more when blood flow increases.
A heart attack can simply be avoided if the artery can expand enough to let the necessary amount of blood pass through. Therefore, having an artery that can dilate well above its normal size is a significant way to avoid both heart attacks and strokes.
Risk Factors For Heart Disease
A person’s risk for developing heart disease is most commonly determined by measuring risk factors. When these risk factors are elevated, a person is more likely to eventually develop heart disease.
Strength training helps maintain or improve the following risk factors:
- hemoglobin A1c
- blood pressure
- oxidative stress
(Church et al., 2010; Gacitua et al., 2018; Kolahdouzi et al., 2019).
The Perfect Workout’s HIT-style training is especially beneficial for risk factors and blood flow due to the lack of rest between exercises. In studies where exercisers spent less than 30 seconds between exercises, the cardiovascular benefits were greater (Waller, Miller, & Hannon, 2011).
Heart Disease Mortality
Considering all of the previously-stated benefits, it’s logical to think that strength training should protect us from heart disease. Research confirms this: long-term strength training reduces the risk of developing and dying from cardiovascular disease (Saeidifard et al., 2018).
Best Exercises for Heart Health
The best exercises for maximizing muscle efficiency and ultimately, arterial blood flow are compound exercises. These movements target the biggest muscle groups in the body like the glutes, legs, back, and chest muscles.
In theory, you can hit all major muscle groups with just 4-5 exercises:
- Leg Press: Glutes, Quadriceps, Calves
- Chest Press: Pectorals, Shoulders, Triceps
- Lat Pulldown: Lats, Biceps, Abdominals
- Leg Curl: Hamstrings
Strength training is a “heart healthy” activity. Performing strength training in The Perfect Workout’s method is especially beneficial for cardiovascular health.
Pushing to Muscle Success on each exercise and moving quickly between exercises both provide an additional stimulus to the cardiovascular system.
As a whole, through two safe yet challenging sessions per week, strength training can improve your blood flow, endothelial function, and risk factors for heart disease.
As a result, you develop a healthier cardiovascular system and reduce the risk of ever developing heart disease.
- Church, T. S., Blair, S. N., Cocreham, S., Johannsen, N., Johnson, W., Kramer, K., … & Earnest, C. P. (2010). Effects of aerobic and resistance training on hemoglobin A1c levels in patients with type 2 diabetes: a randomized controlled trial. JAMA, 304(20), 2253-2262.
- Gacitua, T., Karachon, L., Romero, E., Parra, P., Poblete, C., Russell, J., & Rodrigo, R. (2018). Effects of resistance training on oxidative stress-related biomarkers in metabolic diseases: a review. Sport Sciences for Health, 14(1), 1-7.
- Kolahdouzi, S., Baghadam, M., Kani-Golzar, F. A., Saeidi, A., Jabbour, G., Ayadi, A., … & Zouhal, H. (2019). Progressive circuit resistance training improves inflammatory biomarkers and insulin resistance in obese men. Physiology & Behavior, 205, 15-21.
- Rakobowchuk, M., McGowan, C. L., De Groot, P. C., Hartman, J. W., Phillips, S. M., & MacDonald, M. J. (2005). Endothelial function of young healthy males following whole body resistance training. Journal of Applied Physiology, 98(6), 2185-2190.
- Saeidifard, F., Medina Inojosa, J. R., West, C. P., Olson, T. P., Somers, V. K., Prokop, L. J., & Lopez-Jimenez, F. (2018). The Effect of Resistance Training on Survival and Cardiovascular Outcomes: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, 11(suppl_1), A20-A20.
- Steele, J., Fisher, J., McGuff, D., Bruce-Low, S., & Smith, D. (2012). Resistance training to momentary muscular failure improves cardiovascular fitness in humans: a review of acute physiological responses and chronic physiological adaptations. Journal of Exercise Physiology Online, 15(3), 53-80.
- Umpierre, D., & Stein, R. (2007). Hemodynamic and vascular effects of resistance training: implications for cardiovascular disease. Arquivos Brasileiros de Cardiologia, 89, 256-262.
- Waller, M., Miller, J., & Hannon, J. (2011). Resistance circuit training: Its application for the adult population. Strength & Conditioning Journal, 33(1), 16-22.