How to fit significant exercise into your busy week, with Dr Niels Vollaard.

How to fit exercise into your busy week


Dr Niels Vollaard


Dr Vollaard completed an MSc in Human Movement Sciences at the University of Maastricht, followed by another MSc at the University of Aberdeen (in Sports Nutrition). He then returned to Maastricht for a one-year spell as a research assistant, looking at the validity of bioimpedance for assessing body composition.

Dr Vollaard subsequently completed a PhD in Exercise Physiology at the University of Essex, investigating the effects of oxidative stress in exercise, endurance training, and tapering. His first lecturing position was at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh (2003-2011), after which spending 5 years at the University of Bath, before joining the University of Stirling as a Lecturer in Health and Exercise Science in October 2016.


HIIT is often cited as the exercise protocol for those with minimal time in their day. Could you explain what HIIT is?

HIIT (high-intensity interval training) or SIT (sprint interval training) are time-efficient exercise routines that make use of sharp, short bursts of exercise rather than long durations of moderate-intensity exercise such as walking, jogging, running, cycling, swimming, etc.

If you do enjoy any of these exercise modalities, you may be interested in our sports holidays

By increasing the intensity to very high levels, but keeping the duration short, this type of exercise can provide health benefits in a much shorter time than with moderate-intensity exercise. There are many possible combinations of intensity and duration of sprints, number of sprint repetitions, duration of recovery intervals, and number of training sessions per week. Not all of these are equally effective, or time efficient.

Our own work has identified the ‘optimal’ protocol: i.e. the protocol that is shortest and easiest, while retaining the same health / performance benefits. This protocol is termed ‘reduced-exertion high-intensity interval training’ or REHIT.


In your research, what has been the most exciting discovery regarding HIIT?

Most HIIT and SIT protocols use a remarkably low volume of sprint exercise to achieve health and/or performance benefits. However, the need for relatively long recovery periods after each sprint means that the total training time commitment per exercise session is not actually that much lower than with common aerobic exercise training programmes.

In our own work, we have focused on why HIIT and SIT are so effective with very low volumes of sprint exercise, and how this information can be used to design genuinely time-efficient exercise routines. Based on the likely mechanisms of adaptation that cause the health and performance benefits with HIIT / SIT, we have designed what we believe is the ‘optimal’ protocol, called REHIT: a 10-minute session involving low-intensity cycling on a stationary bike, but including two brief cycle sprints of a very special type (called ‘Wingate sprints’).

The duration of these sprints is increased from 10 seconds to 20 seconds over a period of 3 weeks. Just 2 training sessions per week are needed for the optimal benefits, resulting in a total time-commitment of just 20 minutes per week.

REHIT provides the same benefits as other, much harder and longer HIIT / SIT protocols, but is far less strenuous, it is generally perceived as manageable, and it does not result in much sweating. It is truly exciting how little exercise is needed to get substantial health and/or performance benefits.


As with most things, once we get started there is usually the temptation to do more. Is this beneficial with REHIT, or is it a case of ‘less is more’?

We have shown that doing more than two 10-minute REHIT sessions does not provide additional benefits. For REHIT, ‘more pain’ is not ‘more gain’.


As HIIT, or REHIT is characteristically higher impact and exertion, is there a greater chance of injury to be aware of?

Not as long as the exercise is done on a stationary bike. I would not recommend running-based HIIT / SIT for people who are just starting out after having been inactive for a long time. If you have pre-existing joint problems, then it will be good to discuss your new exercise routine with your GP.


REHIT may be a level of exertion people are not accustomed to. In which case, how many sessions per week do you suggest, and are there any other recovery tips you could share?

We have recently demonstrated that for REHIT, 2 sessions per week is sufficient. You do need to build up the sprint duration, from 10 seconds in the first 2 sessions, to 15 seconds in the next 2 sessions, and 20 seconds from then onwards.

In terms of recovery: it is essential to complete the full 10-minute session, including the recovery period after the second sprint. Getting off the bike straight after a sprint can result in light-headedness and feeling dizzy.


Could you suggest 3 training protocols that people could start right away?

I recommend people to do ANY exercise they manage to fit into their life. ALL exercise is beneficial, there is not one type of exercise that is ‘better’ than others. Generally, the more you can do the better. Try to do different types of exercise: some aerobic, some strength and stability. As different benefits can be gained, whether you’re aiming for weight loss, improved cardiovascular fitness, or to gain strength.

If you are aiming to lose weight, our weight loss holidays might be for you.

If you want to do REHIT, we have demonstrated that REHIT is an ideal workplace-based exercise routine: just two 10-minute sessions per week in your work-clothes, no need to wear exercise clothes or to have a shower afterwards, no need to travel to a gym or pay for a gym membership, and it will give you a boost in energy that may even improve your productivity.


What is one thing you know about HIIT that you wish everyone else did?

Our 10-minute REHIT protocol is just as effective as much longer / more strenuous HIIT / SIT protocols.


Want to experience a fitness holiday? Contact us here, or talk to one of our Travel Specialists on 0203 397 8891 to make it happen.