Everyone is busy, and when making time for other priorities, exercise often gets cut first. The World Health Organization recommends that adults receive at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of high-intensity exercise per week. Unfortunately, 43% of the US population doesn’t meet these guidelines.
If you frequently find yourself saying, “I don’t have time” to go to the gym or have a tough time staying committed due to boredom, high-intensity interval training is the solution for you.
What is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?
Interval training is quick bursts of high-intensity exercise with alternating periods of rest or low-intensity activity. Intervals are very short; working for 30 seconds and then resting for 30 seconds is a typical interval. To get the most out of HIIT, you max out your effort within those 30 seconds and then recover to expend maximum effort again. You repeat this cycle for several rounds. HIIT workouts are often completed in less than 10 minutes, though you can increase the number of rounds to make them longer as your stamina builds.
The Key to Getting The Most Out of HIIT
HIIT requires explosive effort best suited to adults with some exercise experience. A strong cardio foundation is necessary to reap the most benefits and prevent injury.
Since intervals are so short, HIIT requires you to go full force during the timed interval. If you aren’t giving it all you’ve got, you won’t likely see huge improvements.
While many preprogrammed HIIT workouts and classes have set ratios such as 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off; 1 minute on, 20 seconds off; etc., you need to individualize the time to your intensity. Most people cannot expend 90% intensity for a full minute, quickly recover within 20-30 seconds, and then do it again. Feel free to alter interval ratios to match your output. Work toward a goal of 90% effort, even if it means shorter working intervals with longer rest.
To monitor the intensity of your training, assess your heart rate. Calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220 (for example, age 40 – 220 = 180). Performing HIIT at 90% of your maximum heart rate will produce the most health benefits.
How is HIIT Better Than Traditional Cardio?
The benefits of cardio include burning calories, building endurance, and strengthening the heart and lungs. Both cardio and HIIT can help shed pounds, but only if you’re burning more than you’re consuming. As mentioned, HIIT’s intensity sets it apart from traditional cardio. Running, cycling, and rowing gets your heart rate up, but not at the same level as HIIT. In other words, you can choose to spend a boring hour on the treadmill or 15 minutes in a fun, varied workout.
It’s not about which is “better” but which is better for you. Consider your fitness goals, access to equipment, time, physical limitations, and consistency to help you decide.
The Benefits of Interval Training
Before we cover the health benefits of HIIT, these are the convenience benefits:
- You can do it anywhere at anytime
- No expensive equipment required
- You can choose from a variety of movements
- You can complete a full workout in 20 minutes or less
Raise Your Resting Metabolic Rate
One study compared the post-exercise resting energy of women who participated in HIIT, endurance exercise, and resistance training. The results showed that HIIT resulted in the most significant increase in resting energy expenditure. This means you continue to burn calories hours later.
Lose Weight in Less Time
Another study compared HIIT with moderate-intensity continuous training and weight. While both concluded to result in weight loss, HIIT produced these effects with 40% less training time. Losing weight faster sounds like a win to me.
Improve Athletic Performance
HIIT also increases VO₂ max, which is how much oxygen your body utilizes during exercise. The higher your VO₂ max, the better your cardiovascular fitness.
Decrease The Risk of Chronic Disease
In a study of the effects of high and moderate-intensity training on sedentary older adults, HIIT improved ejection fraction (the ability of the heart to pump blood) and reduced insulin resistance by 26%, while moderate-intensity continuous training did not. Another study supports blood pressure reduction of 3 – 5 mmHg in overweight to obese populations.
Can You Do HIIT Every Day?
Too much of a good thing can still be harmful. HIIT could lead to injuries if you push your body to the limit every day, so keep HIIT sessions to a maximum of three times per week. Your body still requires rest and recovery, even after a shorter workout. And just like with other forms of exercise, your body can become familiar with the same routine, preventing results.
You need to also consider your health and fitness goals. If you desire to gain muscle mass, there are better ways to do that than HIIT. You can focus on heavy strength training several days a week, plus add strength training to your HIIT workouts by incorporating 30 seconds of bench press or bicep curls. Grab a set of dumbbells and follow along with this awesome upper body strength training HIIT challenge.
Who Shouldn’t Do HIIT?
As mentioned, a basic exercise foundation that includes cardiovascular activity is best before attempting HIIT. While HIIT can reduce the risk of cardiovascular events, if you have a known cardiac condition, HIIT may not be safe for you. Always consult with a physician before attempting a new form of exercise. You should also not partake in HIIT if you:
- Are pregnant
- Have a current injury
- Have orthopedic limitations
What Movements or Exercises are High Intensity?
Bodyweight movements are all you need for a complete HIIT workout. If you have access to equipment, great; if not, feel free to get creative and use heavy items around your home, like a gallon jug of water in place of a kettlebell or running up your stairs as an alternative to cardio equipment.
Movements without equipment:
- Suicide runs/sprints
- Air squats
- Jumping jacks
- Mountain climbers
- High knees
- Russian twists
Exercises with equipment:
- Rower sprints
- Ski-Erg sprints
- Treadmill sprints
- Bike sprints
- Battle ropes
- Sled pushes/pulls
- Box jumps
- Kettlebell swings
Getting Started With HIIT
As a HIIT beginner, don’t exhaust yourself by aiming for top intensity right away. You may be new to some movements and equipment and should ensure your safety by understanding proper form and listening to your limitations.
As with any form of exercise, always start with a warm-up and stretching of the muscle groups you’ll be using. HIIT is intense, but it shouldn’t feel painful. Begin at a level you’re comfortable with and increase the intensity over time. You should feel out of breath and unable to converse if you’re working at the right pace.
HIIT Exercises You Can Program At Home
Ready to get started? Here are some easy HIIT workouts you can do at home. Feel free to substitute any of these movements, and once you feel comfortable, create your own.
This youtube video is an excellent example of movements you can complete at home to get your heart rate soaring in only 15 minutes.
HIIT #1 lower body: 45 seconds on, 30 seconds off for 6 rounds.
- Bridge lifts
- Air Squats
- Jumping lunges
HIIT #2 full body: 20 seconds on, 40 seconds off for 8 rounds.
- Hand release push-ups
- Bicycle crunches
- Pulsing squats
HIIT #3 for a killer core: 25 seconds on, 1 minute off for 5 rounds.
- Side planks
- Mountain climbers
- Russian twists
- Flutter kicks
The most effective exercise is the one you will stick to. HIIT is an attractive option because it allows for health benefits in a shorter time which prevents boredom and increases commitment. Try incorporating HIIT twice a week mixed in with other activities you enjoy, such as swimming, tennis, or weightlifting, for a well-rounded mind and body.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long should a beginner do HIIT?
10 minutes is a great starting point for a beginner. Increase the number of intervals as your fitness improves.
What are some HIIT workouts for beginners?
- Jumping rope
- Jogging in place
- Air squats
- Reverse lunges
- Push-ups on the knees
What’s an example of a HIIT workout?
At the gym, run on a treadmill or pedal a stationary bike as fast as possible for 20 seconds, then rest (walk or pedal slowly) for 40 seconds. Perform this for 5-10 rounds.
Can I lose weight with HIIT?
HIIT is effective for weight loss by exerting maximum effort in a shorter amount of time.
Who should not do HIIT?
Pregnant women who are not used to high-intensity exercise, those who have a history of heart attack or stroke, and anyone with a current muscle or joint injury should not attempt HIIT.
What are the health benefits of HIIT?
HIIT can help you burn calories to shed pounds, reduce blood pressure, lower blood sugar, and increase your endurance.
Can I do HIIT every day?
Do not perform HIIT every day to allow for muscle recovery and prevent overuse injuries.
Maegan Baker, BSN RN CCM, is a nurse with over a decade of healthcare experience. As a medical writer, she creates content to educate audiences and guide healthcare businesses to success.
Maegan has been an avid Crossfitter for the past 5 years and she takes advantage of every opportunity to bring awareness to this growing sport.
Maegan is our resident Crossfit expert at PreWorkout.org
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