I’ve added an interesting final set to my daily workout regime.

Whether its cardio, weight-training or stretching, I’ve got into the habit of capping off my regular routine with some serious masochism. I’ll head to the assault air bike, or the “devil’s tricycle” as it is commonly known, and go as hard as I can, for as long as I can – which isn’t long.

The assault bike, which utilises arm and leg motion simultaneously, is a self-propelled fan bike, meaning the harder you go, the harder it gets. The result: you can burn up to 80 calories in one minute of exercise.

Sometimes I’ll do one set (or three depending on my energy levels), much like a VO2 max session (a maximum oxygen uptake test designed to calculate aerobic fitness), basically running myself to the point of exhaustion as quickly as possible.

CrossFit workout with Hong Kong’s fittest brothers, the Haynes boys of Coastal Fitness

Turns out I’m doing something other than getting to within seconds of blacking out and puking, I’m also “promoting the expression of brain-derived neurotropic factors” at a much better rate than “continuous moderate-intensity exercise”.

A new study released in November, lead by Florida Atlantic University, found that “High-Intensity Interval Exercise”, more commonly known as HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training), could be much more beneficial than regular cardiovascular workouts.

A few max sessions where your heart rate spikes well out of its comfort zone, is potentially better than half an hour of treadmill running. Essentially the study found that obese people benefited more from small bursts of exercise than prolonged sessions when it came to warding off cognitive decline.

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Turns out, as well, this is just one of a long line of studies backing up high-intensity training over moderate exercise. In 2017, a study published in the Journal of Diabetes Research found that HIIT was just as good at burning abdominal visceral fat in obese young women as moderate-intensity continuous training.

Basically a four-minute max session on an exercise bike was comparable to spending almost 45 minutes on an exercise bike going 60 revolutions per minute.

If HIIT is too intense, try Liss, the low-intensity option for beginners, the injured and the overweight

One of the interesting benefits is time management. Going to the gym can be eat up a few hours if you factor in changing, showering and getting to and from the place. So, if you’re pressed for time, it might be better to do some HIIT rather than pounding out a half-hour or so on a treadmill, elliptical machine or exercise bike.

An American Journal of Physiology study also came to a similar conclusion, discovering that those who did HIIT had higher levels of mitochondria (which are vital to a body’s health on a cellular level). The authors noted: “A total of only two minutes of sprint interval exercise was sufficient to elicit similar responses as 30 minutes of continuous moderate intensity aerobic exercise.”

Shape Up with Hong Kong's HIIT this Summer

Another study, published in the Journal of Sports Science & Medicine, found that HIIT was superior to what they called “steady-state training”. This study found that 20 minutes of steady state on the bike was comparable to 13 sets of 30 seconds maxing out, with rest periods in between.

Now, here’s the kicker, the study also found that HIIT was “significantly less enjoyable”.

Nobody likes that feeling of lightheadedness after taking on an unusually long flight of stairs, or the gasping, wheeziness caused by sprinting for the bus or a connecting flight.

But maybe a mindset shift is all you need? I use HIIT at the end of my workout to make sure I feel like I got a good exercise session in and sufficiently punished my body enough.

Feeling exhausted should be a post-workout requirement, and maybe hitting the devil’s tricycle, or a flight of stairs somewhere in Hong Kong could unlock new fitness levels from within your pain cave. Your mitochondria would agree.