HIIT: What Is It and Should You Be Doing It?

Article posted in: Fitness
high intensity interval training

High intensity interval training (HIIT for short) has been gaining popularity recently, and for good reason. It’s a faster workout that gives you real results—sounds pretty great, right? So let’s get right to HIIT!

What is HIIT?
In this interval training workout, you’ll alternate between periods of very intense or all-out exercise and periods of low-intensity, recovery exercise. For example, sprinting for 30 seconds, then walking for 60 seconds is considered HIIT.

During the intense all-out intervals, you’re aiming for 80 to 95 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate (or the maximum number of times your heart will beat in a minute without overexerting yourself). You can use the conversation test to gauge your intensity: If someone asked you a question at this level of effort, you could only manage a one- or two-word reply at best.

Your recovery periods are performed at 40 to 50 percent of your estimated maximal heart rate. The purpose here is for your body to recover completely, so you can go all out in the next interval with perfect form. At this comfortable pace, you could carry on a conversation in one or two sentences at a time.

And here’s what’s really great: You can get your HIIT on in a huge variety of exercise modes, like walking, running (outdoors or on the treadmill), elliptical, cycling, swimming, jump rope, jumping jacks and kettlebell swings, just to name a few.

What are the benefits of HIIT?
So let’s get down to the good stuff—what you’re going to get out of these intense workouts. According to The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), HIIT has been shown to improve:

  • Aerobic and anaerobic fitness (aka cardiovascular and muscular strength)
  • Blood pressure
  • Cardiovascular health
  • Insulin sensitivity (which helps the muscles you’re working more readily find and use glucose as fuel to make energy)
  • Cholesterol profiles
  • Abdominal fat and body weight, while maintaining muscle mass (and let’s face it, this is why we’re all here, right?)

There’s also an “afterburn” effect, called EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption), when, for about two hours after your workout, your body is essentially trying to restore itself to pre-exercise levels, and using more energy in the process.

What this breaks down to for you is an increase in your metabolism and more calories burned. In other words, it’s your slim-down secret weapon!

3 beginner HIIT workouts:
What’s great about HIIT is that the work and recovery periods can be fully customized to suit all levels, so even beginners can jump right in.

Here’s our step-by-step guide to HIIT and our three favorite HIIT workouts to get you going:

  1. Start with five to 10 minutes of warm up (walking, slow jog, jumping jacks, etc.).
  2. Then choose from one of the three workouts below.
  3. Then just finish up with five to 10 minutes of walking to cool down.

Workout 1—Elliptical Elevation
5 to 10 rounds; 1 min. work, 2 min. recover

Start with five rounds and work your way up to 10 as you progress. You can also increase or decrease the suggested resistance and incline levels to fit your current level and to provide more of a challenge as you get stronger. If your machine doesn’t have an incline adjustment, just focus on the resistance.

One round=
Work: 1 min; Resistance 10, Incline 10
Recover: 2 min; Resistance 5, Incline 5

Workout 2—Plyometrics Push
3 rounds; 45 sec. work, 15 sec. rest, 1 min. rest between rounds

In each round, complete the following five exercises for 45 seconds each, with 15 seconds of rest in between. Rest for one minute between full rounds and go for a total of three rounds.

One round=
1. Push ups
2. Squats
3. Butt kicks
4. Tricep dips
5. Jumping jacks

Workout 3—Treadmill Burn
5 rounds; 30 reps of one strength move, 30 sec. work, 2 min. recover

In each heart-pumping round, you’ll complete 30 reps of one strength move listed below, then hop on the treadmill for 30 seconds of all-out work, followed by 2 minutes of recovery.

One round=
One strength move: jumping jacks, jump squats, burpees, side lunges and squats
Work: 30 seconds, sprint or fast walk
Recover: Two minutes, slow jog or walk

Start with one HIIT session a week and work up to more at your own pace, making sure to spread them throughout the week to allow your body to fully recover in between sessions.

HIIT—Should I do it?
As with all workouts, there are precautions to be aware of with HIIT.

Unlike steady state workouts, where you work at the same level of intensity throughout, HIIT is designed to work you to your maximum each time. And with maximum effort comes a risk of injury, so you’ll want to have a solid base of fitness and muscle strength before you begin (consistent aerobic training; or 20 to 60 minutes of moderately hard intensity, three to five times a week).

Before you get started, it’s important that you consult with your doctor—especially if you’ve been inactive for a while or if you have any history (or family history) of hypertension, diabetes (or pre-diabetes) or abnormal cholesterol levels. And when you do get started, make sure to choose a low-impact activity for your HIIT workouts—our favorite is the elliptical.

HIIT’s popularity is founded on good reason: You can save time, say sayonara to belly fat and torch more calories during and after your workouts—in other words, it’s a solid addition to your regular strength and cardio routine.