Is HIIT Good for PCOS?
HIIT or high intensity interval training has become very popular in the past few years – and for good reason. You can exercise for less time and get more benefits. Not enough time is the number one reason why people claim they don’t exercise. But is HIIT good for PCOS? The info you read on the internet is conflicting. Some say it’s great whereas others say it worsens inflammations and the symptoms of PCOS. Read on to learn more about HIIT and find out what research says. And get the low down from top PCOS exercise expert when I ask them “is HIIT good for PCOS?”
What is HIIT?
First of all, you may be asking what the heck is HIIT? High intensity interval training (HITT) is kind of cardio where you alternate very high-intensity exercise intervals with periods of lower-intensity intervals of active recovery. HIIT workouts are more demanding than steady state cardio – so you accomplish more in a shorter period of time.
HITT workouts can be done in many different ways, depending upon your preference of exercise and fitness levels. An easy way to think about would be one minute of very intense effort followed by a minute of less intense effort. This is usually repeated 10 times. High intensity can be considered anything over an effort level of 7 on a scale of 1-10 perceived exertion. But this can be adjusted to fit the fitness level of the participant.
-Spin classes often have intervals where you work really hard for a minute or so, then recover
-You can do your own intervals where you would run (or speed walk) at more intense pace, then take it back down to a less intense pace for a minute.
-HIIT can also be done using weights. Perform an exercise that really gets your heart rate up (like kettlebell swings) alternating with another weight training exercise that is not as intense.
Health Benefits of HIIT
There are numerous health benefits to all forms of exercise, cardiovascular and weight training. HIIT workouts have some additional benefits, including
- Improved heart health. HIIT can boost cardio-respiratory health with a smaller time investment compared to continuous forms of exercise.
- Get fitter faster. Studies have shown that short intense exercise sessions can have a greater effect of “stressing” the body which causes us to adapt. The major adaption that occurs is that the skeletal muscles grow more mitochondria, which are the powerhouses in cells that burn fuel for energy. This occurs you to get fitter faster in a shorter period of time.
- Burn more calories in a shorter period of time.Researchers have repeatedly shown that people can burn comparable amounts of calories in HIIT routines lasting, say, 20 minutes, compared to longer continuous exercise routines lasting, say, 50 minutes.
- Elevated metabolic rate elevated for a longer period of time after you stop exercising as compared to other types of exercise.
- Shift the body’s metabolism toward using fat for energy rather than carbs.
- Promote fat loss similar to traditional endurance exercise, even with a much smaller time commitment. Can also reduce unhealthy visceral fat. Reference
- Reduce blood pressure and heart rate, primarily in overweight or obese individuals with high blood pressure. Reference
- Improves insulin resistance. A summary of 50 different studies found that not only does HIIT reduce blood sugar, but it also improves insulin resistance more than traditional continuous exercise.
- Improved brain health
- Not sure if this a “health” benefit, but HIIT can be helpful psychologically as you know you can spend less time in the gym!
Studies on HIIT and PCOS
So we know HIIT has health benefits, but what about for PCOS? Since the majority of women with PCOS have insulin resistance and are overweight, most of the benefits listed above would be helpful. But as usual, there have not been many studies done specifically in PCOS and HIIT.
This study assessed the effects of high intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training on metabolic, cardiovascular, and hormonal outcomes in women with polycystic ovary syndrome compared to a control group. The exercise groups (HIIT, ST) exercised three times weekly for 10 weeks and were supervised by an exercise physiologist at least once a week. The control groupexercised on their own 150 minutes a week.
The main findings of the study were significantly reduced IR, as well as improved endothelial function after ten weeks of HIT in women with PCOS, and improved body composition after both HIT and ST. These improvements were seen without changes in body weight. They also found indications of positive changes in reproduction-related hormonal outcomes after both HIT and ST, and improvements in HDL cholesterol and homocysteine after HIT.
This pilot study is the first randomized controlled trial to compare HIT and ST as independent interventions in women with PCOS. It is also one of few studies on effects of exercise training also including normal weight women with PCOS. Bottom line, HIIT provided the most health benefits. This pilot study indicates that exercise training can improve the cardiometabolic profile in polycystic ovary syndrome in the absence of weight loss. Note: this was a small study of 31 women.
On a side note, you may be wondering why these women did not lose weight with exercising 3 times a week. Keep in mind that these women were told not to alter their diet. They did lose body fat and build muscle. It is also quite likely that they would have lost weight if there was a dietary component to the study. Additionally, the average BMI was 26.7 so they were not that overweight to begin with. We know that weight loss will improve insulin levels. But not all women with PCOS need to lose weight. Some lean women can be quite insulin resistant. Adding in 1-3 HIIT sessions a week might be a good way to help them lower insulin levels.
Who should not do HIIT?
HIIT isn’t for everyone with PCOS. If you are just starting out exercising, you may want to wait until you build up some endurance before you try this. Or if you still in “hormone hell” and feel exhausted, you may not want to attempt this. Some women with PCOS are better off with less intense exercise as intense exercise can actually cause more stress and worsen inflammation. If a bout of HIIT makes you want to nap for hours after, then it’s not for you. A little fatigue is natural, but you should not feel exhausted! Read PCOS expert Letisha Bates below for her viewpoint on this.
Is HIIT good for PCOS? Advice from 6 top PCOS experts
This is the third blog post on exercise for PCOS where I’ve interviewed 6 top PCOS exercise experts so make sure you read:
What are the Best Types of Exercise for PCOS?
PCOS and Exercise: Tips to Get Started
Here’s what they have to say:
Ginny Silvestro: HIIT has been shown in studies to benefit patients with PCOS more than a moderate exercise routine. It is known to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time, reduce blood pressure, and increase your metabolic rate for hours past when you end your exercise. What I do encourage is incorporating HIIT into the type of cardio you love to do. There is no need to have to follow a video of aerobic exercises if that isn’t your thing. In fact, I find that some of my clients have a hard time keeping up because many of the videos are created by people who aren’t their size. My clients may need modifications. I know I did at one point. HIIT can be modified to be used on many activities such as walking, running, biking or using an elliptical.
To learn more about Ginny: BodyEnhancingFitness.com Follow my personal fitness journey: Facebook Instagram Twitter
Erika Volk: For cardio exercise, I recommend HIIT workouts because it’s better than traditional cardio at improving insulin resistance. Read Erika’s article on PCOS and HIITT
To learn more about Erika: pcospersonaltrainer.com, or follow her on YouTube, Instagram, Pinterest, and FaceBook.
Maria Horstmann: The most effective and efficient type of exercise is HIIT — a combination of strength training and cardio for improved cardiovascular health, measure of glucose and insulin, bone health, and brain health by maximizing
neurotransmitters and other brain chemicals. In general, intense exercise and especially HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) are the most effective for brain health. As we continue to gain control of our minds, we gain control of our bodies. However, for women with high levels of stress (internal and external), it is important to know their levels of cortisol and adjust the intensity and frequency of their workouts accordingly.
To learn more about Maria: www.BeFabBeYou.com, Facebook, Instagram
Letisha Bates: HIIT workouts are fabulous as you get the benefits from strength training as well as cardio in a time effective workout. It creates an after-burn effect where your body will burn more calories after the workout during it’s recovery process. This is super helpful to women with PCOS as it can improve insulin sensitivity and help you burn fat. Just like everyone is different, not every woman with PCOS responds the same way. For some, HIIT could cause more harm than good. The intensity of HIIT can increase stress on the body, increasing cortisol, as well as increasing insulin- this causes not only weight gain but can exacerbate PCOS symptoms. If you find yourself fatigued, gaining weight or inability to lose weight, increased inflammation such as achy joints or puffiness, increased blood glucose post workout, then HIIT may be working against you and it would be most beneficial to stick to LISS (low-intensity steady state) cardio.
To learn more above Lestisha: Instagram@ bateslovesweights as well as Facebook or my website LiveFreeHealthCoaching
Despina Pavlou: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be a great form of exercise for women with PCOS who suffer from insulin resistance because it can help increase insulin sensitivity.HIIT uses lots of glucose during the intense intervals and therefore, glucose levels in your muscles change. Insulin becomes active again during the rest period and helps deliver glucose back to the muscles to be used as energy. HIIT, therefore, helps the glucose found floating in the blood to enter the muscle cells to be used as fuel.
To learn more about Despina: PCOS Oracle, PCOS and Nutrition Podcast:, Podcast link to iTunes, Instagram: @pcosoracle Facebook: @pcosoracle
Lindsay Martin: HIIT and strength training are the best types of exercise for PCOS. HIIT is going to really kick your fat loss into gear. When you use HIIT, whether it’s cardio or with weights, your heart rate will be consistently up & down, hence being able to burn fat quicker.
To learn more about Lindsay: instagram @lindsayrenemartin
Exercise plays an important role in managing the symptoms and long term health risks of PCOS. The most effective program is one that is balanced and includes a strength training, cardio, and stretching component (as well as yoga!) Many women with PCOS can get numerous health benefits by adding in 1-2 HIIT sessions a week. This can also be beneficial for lean women with PCOS as it helps decrease insulin resistance. But HIIT is not for everyone. Pay attention to your body! If you feel it exhausts you, consider other types of exercise.
Always check you’re your physician before beginning any exercise program, especially HIIT., sensitivity http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4129661/#R278
I’d love to hear if you’ve tried HIIT. What do you think about it?
I especially love problem-solving, whether it’s helping women defeat issues plaguing them for years, helping a busy executive find practical ways to get heart healthy, or providing tips to help you reverse diabetes. That’s why I’m on a constant quest to expand my knowledge by staying on top of the latest research.