Updated: Jul 9, 2019
If you’re looking to burn calories, improve body composition, and increase exercise capacity (while keeping your exercise time down to a minimum) you should familiarize yourself with HIIT workouts, or high intensity interval training. Disclaimer: HIIT workouts are not for the weak. These workouts will hurt (in the best way)!
What is HIIT?
HIIT is actually an umbrella term for a wide variety of workouts, but the glue that holds them all together is that they are each characterized by short bursts of high intensity activity, and brief recovery periods, repeated for 4 minutes up to 20-30 minutes.
Athletes often perform HIIT workouts to improve performance. Whether it’s intervals (swimming, running, cycling, rowing, etc.), circuit style, or weight lifting; there’s a lot of room for creativity with these workouts.
Whatever the activity, the overall goal is to get the heart working hard. When athletes perform HIIT workouts, the goal is to get in the 80-90 effort zone for several minutes of the workout.
Normally, one wouldn’t be able to continue putting that much effort in for a long period of time, but the rest in HIIT workouts make it possible to get into the higher effort zones for a longer total time.
The Benefits of HIIT
The result of this intense, but short time commitment is a plethora of benefits. HIIT makes your heart work hard, and in return, you will experience the hypertrophy of your heart (growing in size and getting stronger), this will allow you to decrease your risk of heart disease, complete daily activities with greater ease, as well as perform exercise more effectively.
With the high use of oxygen that occurs when performing HIIT workouts, you will burn more calories. If you read my blog last week you might remember that with each liter of oxygen consumed, you will burn 5 calories. So, the harder and faster you have to breathe the more calories you burn. And thanks to the phenomenon of EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) with intense exercise, you can burn even more calories up to 16-24 hours post-workout (click here to read more on EPOC)!
How can you implement HIIT into your training?
Before getting started, understand that HIIT is challenging; it’s what athletes, and professionals use to take their training to the next level. Because it’s intense, you may need to work up to it. I recommend that you are regularly active for several weeks before implementing something this intense into your routine. Remember if you’re at risk for heart disease, please check with your doctor before participating in vigorous activity (click here to read more on risk factors).
Do you qualify? Pick your poison- whether it’s cardio, weights, cross-training, etc.- think about what you want to accomplish in this workout, and focus on that. Do you want to run faster split times? Running intervals might be your style. If you’re into biking then maybe it’s cycling intervals. Want to slim down? Maybe a weight lifting or circuit style workout. You know yourself, choose something that will push you and fit your goals.
Planning your HIIT workout
#1) Intense Time
Start out with smaller bouts of intense exercise, such as 10-20 seconds at a time. As you get stronger, build on the time you spend in the intense zones.
#2) Rest Time
A good ratio of intense exercise to rest is 1:2 (to start). For some workouts, more rest may be necessary, such as during cardio intervals, or less rest may be necessary such as during bodyweight circuits.
After many HIIT workouts, as you get in better shape, you will find you’ll be able to fit more reps, or a longer distance covered in the same amount of intense time. You can keep yourself accountable by keeping a gauge of how many reps you did last time, or how much distance you covered last time.
#4) Total Length of Time
A really good HIIT workout will last 25-30 minutes, but you may need to work up to that, beginners start with 15-20 minutes. Based on how much time you spend in the workout, determine the number of rounds of intense/rest time you can fit into the span of time, according to the ratio you think will be challenging, but doable.
Remember after an intense workout, your body needs to rest 48 hours. This means that you should not complete more than 2-3 HIIT workouts per week, unless you’re doing split body groups, like all arms one day, and all legs the next.
Example HIIT Workout
Lately I’ve been including a variety of HIIT workouts in my routine. Because I am so squeezed on time lately I’ve been combining body-weight/light-weight resistance exercise with cardio all in one HIIT workout.
The structure of my workout goes 30 seconds resistance exercise, 10 seconds rest, 30 seconds cardio, 10 seconds rest, and repeat for 20-30 minutes. I vary the resistance exercises to work target areas, and I’ll choose a cardio for the day- sometimes it’s burpees, other times it’s high knees, jumping jacks, jumping rope- whatever it is, it’s all out as fast as I can.
Sometimes I do HIIT for full body, and other times I’ll focus just on arms and abs or legs. You can really add any exercises you like within this structure, when it’s mixed with the intense cardio, your heart rate stays up! See below for an example of one Leg HIIT workout I like to do.
Example Leg HIIT Workout
10 sec. Rest
30 sec. Resistance exercise (1 exercise per round, see exercises below)
10 sec. Rest
30 seconds cardio
Repeat steps 1-4 until you’ve gone through each resistance exercise 2 times, for a total of 20 rounds, that’s almost 27 minutes of intense exercise!
Example Leg Resistance Exercises
Weighted Front lunges
Weighted Back Lunges
Switch Jump lunges
Right Weighted Bulgarian Split Squats (off a chair)
Left Weighted Bulgarian Split Squats (off a chair)
Towel Hamstring curls
Good luck! And remember, HIIT is what you make it. Personalize it to your style, and commit to working hard, and you will see results! Last but not least if you’re interested check out this Full Body HIIT Workout.