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    Fitness trends

    What’s the best HIIT workout for health clubs?

    As research reveals that adding a dose of HIIT to members’ fitness programs can dramatically improve their results, we explore how clubs can break down the barriers around high-intensity workouts and reap benefits for their bottom line.

    Jak Phillips

    60-second summary

    • New research has found adding HIIT cycling to a standard workout program can significantly improve CV, metabolic and musculoskeletal fitness.
    • These findings suggest low-impact interval cycling can achieve similar results to weight-bearing HIIT– making it an effective, low-impact alternative.
    • HIIT can serve as a gateway for bringing beginners into the studio and HIIT classes, helping newbies unearth a fun fast means of achieving results.
    • Recent research has shown indoor cycling to be the most popular class category among members, a trend also identified by group fitness Instructors.

    It’s often said in our industry that health clubs don’t sell fitness, they sell motivation. After all, no one owns the patent to the press up, and there’s no finer treadmill than the great outdoors.

    Just as members seeing their sweat and hard work go unrewarded can leave them disengaged and deflated, there’s no greater driver of motivation than a gym-goer feeling like they’re making serious progress. Ours is a results game, so the members making headway will be less likely to leave and more likely to bring their friends along.

    Which begs the question, how can we bring the feelgood factor to a club’s bottom line by helping more members get faster results?

    One of the obvious answers has to be high-intensity interval training. HIIT has been hot for several years now and it’s been a key factor in the recent boutique studio boom. Bringing remarkable fitness benefits through short, intense bursts of maximum effort, it’s easy to see why HIIT has struck such a chord among time-poor, experience-hungry Millennials and Gen Z consumers.

    But not everyone’s been invited to the party. The intensive combos of burpees, lunges, squats and tuck jumps found in a typical HIIT class are often too high impact for the large swathes of members nursing foot, joint or back pain, meaning many find themselves shut out from the studio.

    So the question for operators remains: how can we help more members to save time and ramp up their results by unlocking the myriad benefits of HIIT? According to recent research, we don’t need to reinvent the wheel, we simply need to spin it more.

    Saddle up for success

    New research by Professor Jinger Gottschall at Penn State University has found that adding high-intensity interval cycling to a standard workout program can significantly improve cardiovascular, metabolic and musculoskeletal fitness – making it an effective, low-impact alternative to traditional high-intensity interval training.

    In a six-week long study, 36 physically fit adults ticked off at least three 60-minute sessions of cardiovascular exercise a week. Half replaced a single 60-minute cardiovascular training session with two 30-minute high-intensity LES MILLS SPRINT™ indoor cycling sessions on non-consecutive days.

    Researchers measured blood pressure, peak oxygen consumption, fasting blood profile, body composition and leg strength at the start of the study, then again at six weeks. According to Bryce Hastings, Les Mills Head of Research, the improvements were striking.

    Both groups enjoyed better physical fitness across nearly all variables, but the group that did LES MILLS SPRINT saw a substantial uplift in their results. “We saw reduced body fat mass, blood pressure, total cholesterol and triglyceride concentration,” says Bryce. “There was also enhanced cardiovascular fitness, lean body mass, glucose tolerance and strength.”

    A HIIT with all members

    These new findings suggest that low-impact interval cycling can achieve similar results to weight-bearing HIIT – enabling participants to achieve up to nine times the fat loss of regular cardio training as the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) effect burns calories for hours after the workout.

    The significance here is that not only can high-intensity interval cycling bring these benefits to members with orthopaedic restrictions, it can also serve as a gateway for bringing many more beginners into the studio and particularly HIIT classes, helping newbies unearth a fun fast means of achieving results.

    “With indoor cycling, there’s no complex technique to master, and you manage your own resistance,” adds Bryce. “It allows you to safely push your body through high-intensity intervals and swiftly amplify your fitness level.”

    The sheer simplicity of indoor cycling compared to more complicated forms of HIIT certainly seems to be a factor in its growing popularity. Several new research reports have shown indoor cycling to be the most popular class category among members and this has also been identified by group fitness Instructors.

    “I think people are drawn to cycle and it's a growing trend because of the simplicity of it,” says Mike Trott, a Les Mills cycle Instructor at West Wood Clontarf in Dublin.

    “You don't have to go left or right all the time, you don't have to go forward or back, you're sat on a stationary bike. They don't need to worry about choreography, they can focus on drawing inspiration from the Instructor, allowing them to push harder and enjoy a better workout.”


    The Penn State research results show that replacing just one session of moderate intensity exercise with two HIIT classes per week significantly improves the health, fitness and strength of members. With 58% of members stating they are highly motivated by the social aspect of attending the gym (TRP 10,000 Report), the group setting for these HIIT classes and faster results means more satisfied members who will stay with you for longer. Time to spruce up that cycle studio and get more members in the saddle!

    A link to the published abstract in the Journal of Fitness Research is available here.