the skinny on HIIT workouts
There are thousands of exercise routines, genres and forms of movement in existence with new ones popping up all the time.
It can be difficult to stay on top of all the hottest trends and fat busting techniques and even more confusing to know which ones are right for your body. High intensity interval training, HIIT, is not new, but the fine details may not be familiar to you. Who wouldn’t like to workout ten minutes a day and come away toned? You can do it at home. It’s for everyone. These are things you will hear, but are they true?
At the end of the day, all movement is good especially in our sedentary, office-based lives.
Whether you’re doing squats at your desk or working with a personal trainer, your body is getting some healthy love. HIIT has our busy lives in mind, but it has its limits too.
what is it?
HIIT is exactly what it says, super high-intensity exercise done in intervals. There are many ratios and movements and the combinations are endless. As long as you alternate, working at your highest heart rate with periods of low impact movement, you are doing HIIT. If you are working at your max and then coming to a full rest in between, that is actually called supra-maximal intensity training, SMIT. This has been shown to have even better results, but for the purpose of this article, we will combine both methods under HIIT. It can be done with any exercise, swimming, running, weight-lifting, calisthenics or whatever else you choose. The goal is to work your body at 85-95% of your maximum heart rate and then rest to bring your BPM back down to 40-50% and then back up again for a set number of reps or time completed in rounds.
Some of the most common measurements are 1:1, one minute of 100% push followed by one minute of rest, 2:1, work for 40 seconds at your max and rest for 20, or 4:1, 4 minutes, 1 minute, 40 seconds, 10 seconds. Whatever configuration of time you choose then decide how many rounds you will include. An example would be the standard Tabata format of 8 rounds with 20 seconds full capacity and 10 seconds of rest, although only exercising four minutes a day is not going to get your health where it needs to be.
does it work?
Yes, but it is not the be all, end all of exercise and it does not work for everything. Here is what HIIT actually does to your body.
The reason this fad has stuck around and become the magnum opus of gym goers is due to its amazing benefits in the body. It gets results! This is in large part due to the intervals forcing the body into excess-post exercise oxygen consumption or EPOC. Meaning, that gasping you experience when pushing yourself is then replaced with massive inhalations during the rest periods.
These breathing patterns boost your metabolism creating a 6-15% increase in calories burned during the movement.
There’s also the major benefit of time and equipment. With HIIT you need little of both. This extreme workout should only be done two to three times a week, or you risk injury. It’s also best to keep your sessions under thirty minutes. As for equipment, all you really need is your body and perhaps a good pair of athletic shoes. If you want to have a few more options, some dumb bells, a kettle bell, ankle weights, yoga mat, jump rope and resistance bands can go a long way.
Those are some great benefits to the routine, but it’s only fair to look at what HIIT doesn’t do.
Interval training may be all you need if your only goal is minor weight loss or maintenance, but it is not going to get you through the 25K or into a ripped physique. Slim yes, rippling muscle tone, no. The body will build power and improve endurance in bursts, but it does not gain longevity or bulk. On recovery days between HIIT, throw in your steady state cardio. Whether on the elliptical, out for a lengthy jog or cycling, your body builds up long stamina which has its own rewards. Interspersed aerobic and anaerobic exercise is the ideal way to fitness. A constantly changing HIIT variety for your anaerobic and a combination of weights and steady state cardio for your aerobic.
Remember if you do the same movements for too long your body will stop responding and require more from you. It’s imperative to mix it up!
can everyone do it?
No, at least not right away. There’s a reason the body burns so much fat, it is really hard work. If you are overweight or have not been exercising for the past six months or more, it is not wise to begin with this level of training. For the sake of your heart and your body, it is safer to build up to it. Grab a jump rope and start working on gentle interval training. You could even do jumping jacks. It is not wise to start with squats, burpees or full body moves until you’ve built yourself up a bit. It’s not that you can’t do these things. You most likely can. Round one may be done to perfection. The danger comes in round two, three or four.
When the body starts getting tired, the proper form of the movement begins to slip. This is when major injuries occur. Getting online and jumping into a HIIT routine is very unsafe for your body and health. No one is watching your technique or calling you out when your face turns purple from exertion.
When your body is ready, make sure your diet is ready too. Operating at that level requires extra fuel for energy and repair. Be sure to eat extra carbs before you work out, like a banana and cashew butter inside whole grain pita bread. When you finish, pump in the protein to help rebuild the muscles that you just shredded. Eating a heavy meal directly after working out doesn’t tend to sit well, so opt for a pre-made protein shake like OWYN’s vegan cold brew coffee drink with 20 grams right in the bottle. Like all exercise, you must take time to go further. You don’t dead lift 250 pounds on your first day, and you don’t begin running with a 50K. Start small and always check with your doctor.
This extreme workout should only be done two to three times a week, or you risk injury.