The fast-paced, busy lifestyles we lead have a certain way of making us feel crunched for time. Many of us feel the pressure to find the most time-efficient ways to use our limited hours when we are awake. This feeling is what makes fitness routines so daunting for people. We wonder, “ How can I fit in a 1-2 hour workout in the day when my schedule is already so packed?” Don’t fret, you're not alone in feeling this way. This sentiment is why the new trendy fitness regimen, High-Intensity Interval Training, has made its way into the mainstream.
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HIIT, which is more commonly called, promises the best benefits in the least amount of time. It has been popularly used by runners for years, alternating from a sustainable jog to a high-intensity sprint to improve their stamina and endurance. But HIIT didn't really take off until recently when physiologists started to come out with studies demonstrating that exercising in intervals could deliver the most health benefits for your exercise time.
Interval based workouts are now popping up everywhere with seemingly every fitness professional and influencer alike posting their HIIT routines. High-intensity interval training was actually voted one of the top fitness trends of 2022. They promise to burn fat and aid your metabolism in keeping it off. All it takes is a relatively short amount of your time.
What is HIIT?
HIIT workouts typically consist of short bursts of intense exercise with periods of lower-exercise or rest mixed in. Many routines posted online usually have these workouts mixing aerobic and resistance training. But researchers have proven that there is a lot more to HIIT than its name alone suggests. It actually refers to a specific and particular way of training, and it is actually possible to do an interval, high-intensity workout without actually doing HIIT. There is a lot of misinformation out there about the fitness trend, but when done properly HIIT can be an incredibly effective way to exercise and reach the fitness results you want.
When researchers are talking about HIIT, they are referring to the workouts that alternate between high and low-intensity intervals, in which the person’s heart rate reaches 80 percent of its maximum capacity. There’s a strict definition in HIIT when it comes to heart rate and it isn’t easy to know that you are working at 80 percent, but a heart rate monitor can help.
Intensity is Key
HIIT is an aerobic cardio session arranged as short bursts of extreme effort. The idea of high-intensity interval training is to ramp up the intensity of your workout. What differentiates HIIT from the steady, continuous exercises - such as jogging at a steady pace - is the intervals. It requires you to push to your maximum effort during every set. That's why the intervals are short, typically lasting anywhere from 20 to 90 seconds. Those short periods of heart-racing intensity are the opposite of the traditional run where you ration your energy so you can go further and last longer.
Numerous studies have proven that working your absolute hardest plays a key component when it comes to getting the benefits from HIIT. While it is true that all exercise burns fat by burning calories, it is also true that more intense exercise burns even more fat. This is part of the reason why HIIT is so popular.
HIIT can also be a more effective way to get shredded - the ultimate goal for many. Compared to other workouts, HIIT routines that involve bodyweight work or added weight will tone your muscles while increasing your heart rate. It is effective on multiple fronts, improving endurance, and complementing your strength development. The level of intensity can take some getting used to, so like all other new workouts, ease into it if you don’t believe you are quite ready for the full deal. Oftentimes the types of routines during a HIIT session will get you near, if not at, you're absolute maximum.
If this sounds like a lot of work, it’s because it is. That's the whole idea behind it. Working harder will increase your oxygen intake, spike your heart rate, and will result in a better calorie burn. Studies have shown that this kind of high-intensity workout will raise your metabolic rate to the point where you can even continue to burn calories even after your HIIT session is over!
Rest Is the Other Half of the Solution
Rest probably isn’t the first thing that you associate with something called “High-Intensity Interval Training”, but it actually goes hand in hand with it. The rest periods between sets are an essential part of the whole workout. You’re not doing it properly if you are not allowing your body adequate time to rest.
The reason the intensity is in intervals is that recovering before the next session is integral to performing HIIT. Making your body to constantly adjust between two very different states - rest and high intensity - creates fantastic cardio conditioning. This frequent and rapid change results in a very efficient, high caloric burn, which leads to our desired fat loss.
While this interval rest is needed to properly perform HIIT, regular rest is just as important. Make sure you give your body adequate time to build up your muscles again before throwing them into another intense workout session. Not resting enough can put a major strain on your body and can hinder your progress. In fact, improper rest techniques can actually lead to injury and have the opposite of the desired effect you want on your body. If you want to dive a little deeper into proper recovery, we covered it in an article here.
How To HIIT
Now that we’ve gone over how HIIT works, it's time to get into what a typical routine may look like. On paper the rules behind HIIT are really quite simple: work super hard, rest, then repeat. If you have a trainer or you’re taking a class, your instructor will handle the timing of your sets and rest periods for you. But you absolutely do not need to shell out some cash for a fancy gym membership, a personal trainer, or even much equipment at all. All you need is some reliable activewear and some discipline. Find an activity that you like that gets your heart rate up and apply the HIIT formula to it.
If you are new to HIIT or just getting back into fitness, generally a good place to start would be a 1:2 ratio of exercise to rest. It’s as simple as it sounds. Have a chosen activity, we’ll use running in this example, and go on an all-out sprint for let’s say 40 seconds. Then rest for twice as long, which would be 80 seconds. After you rest, start immediately on the next set. You can swap out running for whatever you want, just make sure it really gets your heart rate going. As you do more and your stamina improves, you can start transitioning to a 1:1 exercise to rest ratio.
If you want to try a routine that has been lab-tested and approved, the 4x4 from our friends up in Norway is just that. It involves a warm-up which is then followed by 4 intervals where your heart rate should reach the past 80 percent of its maximum capacity. They have longer rest periods but that is due to their use of active recovery instead of just flat out rest. Active recovery means you’ll be doing a lower intensity, moderate exercise, such as jogging, in between your more intense workout sets. They also recommend you invest in a heart rate monitor so you can more accurately track your progress and to see if your chosen activity hits the proper heart rate threshold for HIIT. Finish everything off with a cooldown and you have your science tested, Nordic approved HIIT routine!
Don’t HIIT too Hard
Although HIIT is a fantastic and efficient workout to have in your bag, it doesn’t mean that it is the only type of training that you should focus on. Overtraining can and will prevent you from working out at your true maximum capacity during your sessions. You really shouldn’t be scheduling HIIT sessions every day of the week, especially if you are just starting out. A healthier approach would be to try and start with scheduling a session 3 times a week with another 2 days of a less intense, moderate exercise.
If weight loss is your ultimate goal, nothing can really replace a solid diet and tracking your meals to make sure you are at a caloric deficit. A bad diet is the killer of all weight loss exercise programs so just keep that in mind. No matter how demanding you make your workouts, improper nutrition will undo everything you are working toward. While HIIT is an amazing workout and efficient at burning fat, it is not a good enough reason to neglect your eating habits. Weight loss is a long term lifestyle change, not just a temporary fix. If you need some good tips on how to make that change we got you covered. When you combine effective exercise and a strict diet, you’ll really start to see results.
Now that you have the lowdown on this trendy calorie conqueror, you’re all set to go give it a try! Just remember if you aren’t working your hardest, you’re not doing HIIT.