High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a huge trend in fitness right now.
Actually, strike that. I’d venture to say it’s no longer trendy, but rather a new standard in the fitness repertory, much like endurance sports and weight lifting.
And like endurance sports and weight lifting, HIIT can be a part of a healthy workout regimen for just about anyone, as long as it’s done safely and not excessively–which we’ll get to a little later!
There are many misconceptions about HIIT training that I want to clarify in this post, as well as give you some simple ways to start to incorporate it into your existing routine. Even if you don’t currently exercise, there are ways to use HIIT effectively from go to get the most bang for your workout buck!
First, let’s define HIIT. What IS it? And more importantly, what ISN’T it?
High-intensity interval training is just what it sounds like: it’s an exercise method in which you toggle between periods of intense effort and very little effort or even complete rest. The idea is that you never slow down so much so that your heart rate returns to normal, so you burn more calories and fat while activating that after burn effect that elevates your metabolism up to 48hrs post-workout.
HIIT is an effective protocol because it allows us to get more work done in less time. HIIT also elevates our heart rate and pushes us into the anaerobic training zone. This is where our bodies release fat molecules so they can be burned!
So now that we’ve covered what HIIT is and why it’s effective, let’s talk about what HIIT is not.
HIIT is NOT a way to build maximal strength, train for a specific sport, or help you achieve a particular performance-based feat. HIIT is not CrossFit, or vice versa. There are elements of HIIT incorporated CrossFit and other similar “systems”, but the difference is that HIIT is not meant to be performed for extended periods of time.
This is because the more intense our workouts are, the shorter they have to be so we can push hard–and not risk overtraining (or injury).
And this is unfortunately how and why this super-effective training method has gotten a bad reputation.
As I mention above, HIIT is no longer a fad. It’s here to stay, like endurance sports and weight lifting. But like those pursuits can be dangerous if not engaged in with caution, so can HIIT.
When HIIT came into the scene, it was new and presented a break from the regular and predictable. It was new, exciting, and above all, it worked!!!
The problem is that it was almost TOO effective: people figured if a little HIIT is good, a lot of HIIT must be better! So instead of introducing it gradually or as a complement to their training, many embraced HIIT as an alternative to ALL their other training.
HIIT training caught on like wildfire because, but some didn’t have the foresight to see beyond that: the pursuit of more results led many down a path that lead to overtraining.
And therein lies my biggest critique of HIIT, and where I think people most often get it wrong:
HIIT training should not replace your “regularly-scheduled programming,” at least not in terms of exercise volume!
What I mean by that is that HIIT is not meant to be a replacement for an hour (or more!)-long endurance or weight training session.
HIIT is like the special sauce that you add to your regularly-scheduled training program to bump up the intensity, improve conditioning, and burn more fat.
However, there is an exception to this “rule” (I use air quotes here because I don’t really believe in fitness rules…unless they’re strictly to be broken!).
It’s good to note if you’re not currently an avid exerciser, or are looking to switch things up: you can do HIIT exclusively, and you will get results. There are just some important things to keep in mind.
As I mention above, HIIT is effective because it triggers the hormonal response that promotes fat burning. If you incorporate resistance movements, it’s an even more effective way to burn fat and build lean muscle (more on this below!).
BUT, HIIT sessions should not exceed 30-40 minutes because there is a point of diminishing returns. In other words, training with intensity for too long, too often can increase your risk of injury, overtraining, or burnout.
You can only go so hard for so long before your body starts to fatigue. If you push past that point too often, you’ll damage your metabolism instead of improving it!
Rest and recovery are key to achieving results with HIIT. And this goes for time spent between as well as during workouts! Toggling between short bursts of all-out effort and near-to-complete rest is what–in addition to the short duration and recovery time!–makes this type of training so effective.
While any type of HIIT training is effective for fat loss (assuming a healthy and consistent nutrition plan), HIIT training with weights increases its effectiveness–and efficiency!
Most of us know the benefits of both cardio and weight training, which include, but are not limited to: a healthier heart, reduced risk of disease, improved bone health, and prolonged life!
By combining these two methods using HIIT training, we get the benefits of both.
One of my favorite ways to combine these two methods for a quick and effective workout is to perform simple (not easy!) bodyweight or weighted movements in a circuit-style format.
You can set your interval timer for work and rest periods and cycle through a series of exercises for a prescribed number of rounds or for total time.
That’s what I did for this workout below:
Round #1: Do 11 reps of each exercise, and complete AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) in 6 minutes
- Bodyweight Renegade Rows
- Wraparound Crunches
- Air Squats
Round #2: Do 11 reps of each exercise, and complete AMRAP (as many rounds as possible) in 6 minutes
- Renegade Rows (AHAP–as heavy as possible!)
- Crunches w/ DB Pullover
- Goblet Squat (AHAP!)
Finisher: Set your timer for 1:00 intervals, and complete AMRAP (as many reps as possible) of each of the following exercises. No prescribed rest periods; rest only as needed.
- Pushups (Minute #1)
- Pulsing Goblet Squats (Minute #2)
- High Knees (Minute #3)
Repeat 2-3 times through!
If you’re an endurance athlete looking to add in some HIIT more gradually, you can replace 1-2 longer workouts per week with HIIT to help improve your endurance, speed, and strength.
If you’re a lifter and working on strength goals, replacing a few longer lifts with HIIT–or adding it on for a few minutes at the end of your sessions!–may be the secret ingredient missing to help you push through a plateau or hit (no pun intended) a new PR!
Studies have shown that HIIT is not only modifiable for anyone, but presents fewer risks to our health than endurance cardio.
While you can certainly overdo it with HIIT, research seems to demonstrate that when incorporated mindfully, the short duration of HIIT workouts insulates the heart from the intensity.
In other words, HIIT can help shield you from potential heart damage experienced by many seasoned athletes.
As always, be smart about how often you move; carve out time to rest and recover; and keep those HIIT sessions short, and you’re sure to see some amazing results!