What is HIIT?
HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is increasing in popularity and for good reason. People are just too busy to commit hours and hours to the gym. They are looking for alternative workout options can both fit into their busy schedules, yet still yield solid results. Most HIIT workouts are 45 minutes or shorter, any longer than this will prevent you from truly giving your full maximum intensity. Intervals can range in length, but are typically in the 20 – 45 seconds range for the “work” intervals, with 10 – 60 second “rest” intervals between exercises. For example, 20 seconds of work alternating with 10 seconds of rest is a very common interval pairing, and comprises what is called a Tabata when done 8 times in a row (4 minutes total). The exact structure of a HIIT workout can really vary, along with the many options of exercises available. Many exercises performed during HIIT workouts can be done using only body weight (no equipment) providing an effective workout that can be performed by anyone, anywhere.
By bringing super high intensity for a short amount of time, you can increase your strength, improve heart health and tone up your body. It is not easy to complete a really high intensity workout, your mind and body may tell you to stop – but if you persevere and push yourself you’ll see the positive changes you’re looking for. This is the type of workout where you will get out of it what you put into it, and if you hold back you may not achieve optimal results.
A few examples of some basic exercises often used for HIIT workouts include: squats, lunges, pushups, abdominal/core work, sprints, jumping jacks, and so on. Most of these exercises can be performed at various levels of intensity, with different options or modifications available for various fitness levels. There are a lot of options for interval length and structure of training, and these, too, can be altered based on the fitness levels of the individual performing the workout. If you’re new to HIIT, checking out a local class to get some ideas is a great start to incorporating this technique into your regular routine!
Can’t always fit in a 45 minute class? Some HIIT workouts can even be as short as just a few minutes. This could be as simple as getting up and doing some of the most basic body weight exercises right next to your desk, or quickly doing a flight of stairs or two just to get your heart pumping. These short bursts can even be incorporated a few times throughout your day to increase your energy, boost your mood, and improve circulation. This is a great option for individuals who spend a lot of time sitting, since getting up and moving for even a few minutes every hour or two throughout the day can really make all the difference.
What makes HIIT so great?
The main reason why HIIT training is effective is because we are constantly changing things up, and pushing ourselves to our limits. This is more effective than, say, 30 minutes on the cardio machine at the gym, because our bodies have an ability to adapt. If we do the same thing repetitively our body will reach a steady state and adjust the way your body provides energy, reducing the likelihood of losing the fat we want to lose. Consider someone who walks all day on their job. Perhaps they may be on their feet walking for 6-8 hours a day, but is this enough to get them into tip-top shape? Most likely not, unless they are performing other types of training in addition to their active job. They may see some results when they first start a new job which involves an increase in walking, but eventually their body will adjust to the daily routine and the results will slow down or plateau. With HIIT, your body does not have the opportunity to plateau, because we are never just going through the motions at a steady state. We are always pushing our bodies hard (and our limits are therefor increasing). Studies in fact show that HIIT is more effective than your traditional cardio activities both for improving endurance and burning fat. By using both bursts of high intensity cardio and strength training exercises you can keep your body guessing as to what is coming next, preventing it from simply adapting resources to your exertion. As you shift from all-out exertion to rest or an active rest interval, your heart rate will return to a lower range, and then back up again.
As an added benefit, you’ll also continue to burn calories long after you’ve finished your workout, which is something steady-state cardio will not do for you. During intense workouts you experience oxygen depletion and then once you have stopped the intense workout your body must recover the oxygen levels. This recovery phase is called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and it is your body’s way of increasing oxygen intake to make up for the debt created during the strenuous activity. As a result of your body’s extra oxygen consumption, you will continue to burn calories and fat during the recovery phase as fatty acids are released and used as fuel. This recovery can last up to 48 hours, and thus it is recommended to allow 48 hours between really intense workouts so that your body can experience a full recovery and regain normal oxygen levels.
Some other benefits of HIIT include loss of fat, not muscle, while dieting. Because it combines both strength and cardio, it will boost your heart health and endurance, while maintaining your muscle mass. HIIT workouts boost the production of HGH (human growth hormone), which is responsible for not only muscle gain and fat loss, but also improving your overall metabolism.
Many of the best HIIT exercises can also help you with functional movements and improving your everyday life. By completing some basic exercises with maximum intensity, you will build in the muscle memory and strength required to perform these and similar movements in your daily life. For example, performing squats with as much intensity as you are able during your workout will help you build the muscles used everyday to stand up from a seated position, or to squat down to pick something up.
How can I get the most out of my HIIT session?
Before beginning your HIIT routine, it is key to warm up for at least 5 minutes. This should include some basic, low intensity activities to slowly bring your heart rate up and warm up your muscles. These can be lower intensity versions of the exercises you will perform during your high intensity intervals, or some other type of low intensity movement. Warming up properly will help you get both your mind and body prepared for the high intensity work, as well as reduce the likelihood of injuries.
The critical point to success in any HIIT workout is that you are putting in your maximum effort. A great measure of this is your ability to speak – if you can carry on a conversation throughout your workout, you are likely not working hard enough. HIIT is not an easy workout and you should be sweaty and breathing hard. You will get the maximum amount of results only if you put in the maximum amount of effort.
Once you’ve finished your high intensity intervals, don’t forget to stretch. Your stretch should include a wide variety of static (stationary) stretches held for a minimum of 20 seconds each. Ensure you thoroughly stretch the various muscles all over your body while you’re warm to maximize benefits which include improved flexibility as well as reduced muscle soreness following your intense workout.
It is also very important to hydrate and fuel properly, so your body has the maximum amount of nutrition available to power your workout. Ensure you are eating a good balance of healthy foods, consuming the right amount of calories for your body and workload, and drinking plenty of water throughout the day, not just during your workout. It is best not to consume a heavy meal immediately before your HIIT workout, but rather a light snack only if necessary. Maintaining a healthy diet full of whole foods and avoiding foods with added sugars or other additives and preservatives will help fuel your body best for these high intensity workouts.
Now that you know what HIIT is all about and how it can provide the great results you’re looking for…. why are you still sitting there? It’s time to get sweaty and go after the change you need. It’s time to bring the intensity. You’ve got what it takes! It’s time to get up and go HIIT it hard!