What is HIIT?
If you have spent anytime in and around the fitness world, no doubt you have heard the term HIIT used.
But what is it? How do you do HIIT?
It’s a relatively new thing for no athletes to do. Obviously this sort of training as been around for a long for the likes of Olympic athletes for example.
But it hasn’t been around that long in commercial gyms and having HIIT based classes is something that has really taken off over the last decade.
So lets get super basic. HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and is a type of cardio training.
As the name suggests, it is very intense, which also means that it is very short which means that you can get in high intensity training in a short time. Which is perfect for peoples busy modern lives.
Plus, the traditional cardio methods tend to be a bit boring to some people as it can be very repetitive. So the idea of something fast and exciting appeals to a lot of people.
It is also typically promoted as a quick fat burner and will have you burning calories in a few minutes and leave you in a puddle of sweat.
So how do you do a HIIT workout?
HIIT usually consists of very intense short bursts followed by a rest period or active recovery before going back into your short burst.
So this can be done in a kind of sprint style where you would do hard for around 30 seconds max or until you can’t sustain that level of intensity anymore. Then you would have a long period to recover like 3-4 minutes, almost like how you’d recover to go hard again if you are doing strength training.
You can also use your heart rate to determine your rest period.
Another method and possibly the most common, is the interval style of doing a certain amount of rounds with a rest period or active recovery in between. For example, 30secs on 30secs off for 10 rounds.
There is no exact way of doing HIIT but this is a good rule of thumb to base your own HIIT training around.
One of the best things about HIIT is that you can do anything you want. It can be sprints, hitting the punch bag, cycling, push ups and even holding a plank. As long as you can go intense, then you can use it for HIIT.
It doesn’t even have to be the same exercise. You can pick a couple and alternate each round what exercise you do. So for example you could alternate between doing burpees and jumping squats.
The whole idea is that you are working around 80%+ of your max heart rate. Obviously that is difficult to sustain which is why isn’t done in short bursts.
Well as I said earlier, it is a very short form of training. It can last around 20-40mins depending on what you’re doing and what method you use.
Now a lot of the benefits of HIIT are pretty exaugurated. A couple of HIIT classes a week won’t give you a dream body in a couple of months. But it’ll definitely get you on the right track.
As one of the big benefits of HIIT compared to traditional slower cardio is that it gives your metabolism a hell of a kick up the ass. What this does, is it means that your body continues to burn calories a higher rate than normal.
It is also a very effective way to improve your VO2 max and increase you red blood cell count.
Your Vo2 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can use and the maximum amount of oxygen you consume.
Improving this will allow you to increase the time you are able to do moderate or high intensity exercise. It’ll also make the exercise feel easier.
This also has great benefits to overall health as a high VO2 max is linked to a high mortality rate.
Meaning that people with a high VO2 max have a better chance of living longer.
Is HIIT the best method to lose weight?
Yes and no. The best is going to relevant to each individual. There is no “best” method. The idea of exercising for weight, apart from the overall heath benefits like what I just mentioned, is to help get you in a calorie deficit.
So any exercise that gets you in a calorie deficit is the best method. Although as I said before, HIIT is very short which is a big benefit as you can burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time if you have very limited time to exercise.
But a lot of people think that HIIT is the answer to their weight loss prayers. And it can be. But any training method can when applied right. So don’t put all your eggs in the HIIT basket. This is a big misconception.
Is HIIT for everyone?
Again, yes and no. Yes anyone can do HIIT. But not straight away.
Firstly, this is incredibly high intensity. So you are going to need a decent level of fitness to begin with. This is not for beginners. Yes, it could be scaled back to suit you but that’s not really the point.
If you have been a couch potato and want to get in shape, I wouldn’t recommend going straight into a HIIT class.
HIIT can also be very tough on your body. Now it doesn’t need to be, but if you look at some typical HIIT exercises, they are quite explosive and taxing on the body.
Like I said before, you can do HIIT using any exercise that suits you.
But sprints are possibly the most common. Doing sprints or hill sprints isn’t for everyone’s knee.
Or if you’re doing exercises instead of using a treadmill or bike in the gym, doing exercises like burpees or plyometric lunges can be hard on the knees if you have knee problems.
You can do any exercise you want, but these “hardcore” exercises are used because they are difficult.
If you’re only going for 20-30secs, then doing challenging movements is a good way to make you work hard.
30 seconds of squats is different to 30 seconds of jumping squats. The jumping squats are much more difficult to do over and over again. And with only a short rest period, that’s what makes an exercise like that great for HIIT.
However, if you’ve joint issues, that sort of explosive exercise is not for you.
What not to do?
Firstly, something not intense. The whole is to go flat out. Pedal to the metal. So make sure when you’re picking the exercises that it’s something that will get your heart rate ramped up.
Yes doing bicep curls for intervals will probably give you a hell of a bicep pump, but not gonna do anything for your cardio.
This is also a big one in my opinion. But if you are training for cardio, do cardio relevant exercises.
Basically, don’t do crossfit lol.
In my opinion and a lot of fitness professional and experts opinion, you should not do complex lifts like Olympic lifts for cardio.
These are complex and explosive movements that should only be done for low reps. They are not designed to be done over and over again. There is a very high chance of getting injured.
Form and technique is vital to these exercise and the first thing to go when you’re fatigued it form and technique. It’s a recipe for disaster.
I would also had in exercises like deadlifts, power cleans, overhead squats, etc to that list.
Now I’m ok with you using kettle bells to do those exercises for the simple fact that kettle bells are much lighter and don’t put anywhere near the same amount of load of your body.
For example, I would do crazy multi rep and multi exercise kettle bell HIIT routine. But I’m using a 8kg or 12kg kettle bell. A barbell along is 20kg. Then people add extra weight.
Now it doesn’t mean that when I get tired and my form goes that I won’t get hurt. But if I’m busted and pushing through it and I’m doing, cleans for example. If my form is bad, I’m only working with 12kg. Even if you’re using an empty barbell to train with, that’s still 20kg. So you’re nearly putting double the load on your joints and you spine.
I hope this clears up what HIIT is and how you can do HIIT in the gym or at home and how you can go about it safely and correctly.