Among numerous sports that focus on health, fitness and training, chances are pretty good you’ve heard of the term high intensity interval training, or HIIT. With so much HIIT information available, it’s hard to know which sources to trust and it takes precious time to identify them. In this article, we look at what HIIT is, its history and its potential benefits and we will also explain how to do the workouts and how to monitor the intensity, as well as examine nutrition and motivation.
What is HIIT workouts and training?
Simply defined, HIIT or High Intensity Interval Training is a specific type of athletic workouts that alternate quick, intense bursts of exercise followed by short recovery periods. HIIT is not a particular program but any activity or set of activities that can be adapted for intensity and duration.
The real key to HIIT is that the intense phase of the exercise is done at nearly 100% effort and the recovery phase is movement at 60% to 70% of maximum effort, still within the fat burning range.
The basic features setting HIIT apart from other workout routines include:
- HIIT uses all major muscle groups
- Is performed only 3 times per week
- Alternates cardio and full-body power moves
- Takes only 20 to 30 minutes
- Maximizes weight loss without loss of muscle mass
History of HIIT
Alternating short periods of intense activity with regular activity was the idea of a Swedish running coach in 1937. This plan, Fartlek – which means ‘speed play’ in Swedish, trains and enhances both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems of the body. Runners were able to significantly improve their speed and stamina after adopting this training method.
During the 1940s and 1950s, the practice of interval training began with the addition of ‘wind sprints’ or ‘alternates’ to traditional workout sessions. It was discovered that an athlete suffers exhaustion and lactic acid build-up when performing different activities even though the work level was the same as the workout that was ‘easy’. In other words, for overall strength and stamina, each muscle group needs to be addressed in training and not just the muscles involved in a particular activity.
Moving ahead to the 1970s, it became fairly common practice for athletes to add another discipline to their workout routines and the concept of cross training was born. Effective cross training focuses on the most functional elements of a variety of disciplines in combination to promote overall endurance and strength of all muscle groups.
Together, the concepts of interval training and cross training have combined and evolved into the discipline of High Intensity Interval Training. HIIT takes advantage of a wide variety of activities and training methods for the best overall body shaping, fat burning, conditioning and endurance.
How HIIT works?
We know that HIIT can be a secret weapon when it comes to effective training, but how does it work?
When we train using HIIT intervals, our bodies have to work hard to quickly increase our heart rate. Then they must work hard to achieve our normal homeostasis (our normal resting state). We consume more oxygen and burn more calories after HIIT workouts than before them.
The remaining portion of the equation is critical. A HIIT workout that does not incorporate a break between exercises—say, between burpees and push-ups —is not a HIIT workout. You need time to rest so your heart rate can decrease between rounds. To get started with Hiit, you need to know beginners guide for HIIT workout.
Who Can Perform HIIT?
Part of the appeal of HIIT is the fact that virtually anyone interested in an intense, focused workout plan can participate in these activities. Younger or older, world-class athlete or the ‘average Joe’, HIIT can be modified to suit everyone’s needs and abilities. Of course, as with any new program, it is best to consult with your health care provider to ensure that the rigors of HIIT are within your physical ability.
Obviously, beginners and experienced fitness enthusiasts will train at different levels. For each person and even the same person on different days, the workout takes as much as can be given since it does not follow a plan for a set number of reps or certain milestones. Everyone puts in as close to 100% intensity as possible – whatever that means to each and every individual at any particular point in time.
Another tremendous advantage of HIIT workouts is that they are quick and can be done anytime and anywhere – no need for a gym, special equipment or a personal trainer if that is what you choose.
Benefits of HIIT
High Intensity Interval Training involves coordinated effort of all the body’s muscle groups and systems to bring about the most rapid weight loss (if that is the intention) while improving strength, endurance and overall physical ability. When done properly, HIIT offers many benefits over other, more traditional types of cardio workouts and other exercise programs:
- Increases metabolism: The intensity of the HIIT workout boosts metabolism for up to 48 hours after completing a full routine. Production of Human Growth Hormone (HGH) is stimulated which helps to increase caloric burn, especially fat, as well as slows the aging process.
- Increases ‘afterburn effect’: HIIT sessions increase the body’s need for oxygen during recovery – ‘Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption’ (EPOC) – which helps burn more fat and calories than even-paced workouts of a long duration or traditional aerobic activity.
- Improves aerobic capacity in about 2 weeks as much as 6 to 8 weeks of traditional endurance training.
- Improves heart health: HIIT gets you to the anaerobic zone quicker and more efficiently.
- Reduces blood-sugar levels in Type 2 diabetics in as little as 2 weeks.
- Eliminates exercise boredom: short intervals and the incorporation of many different types of activities keep HIIT workouts fresh and motivating.
- Challenging: With short-term goals, it is easy to see progress and feel success.
- Quick: HIIT workouts should not last more than 20 or 30 minutes so they can fit into anyone’s schedule.
- Convenient: HIIT can be performed anywhere with a minimum of equipment or just your own body weight so it is great for at home, on the road or in the gym.
HIIT Workout Programs & Types
Although HIIT workouts can be devised with any activity utilizing timed intervals of intense work and recovery, there are several programs with specific guidelines:
- The Fartlek
- The Tabata
- The ‘Gibala Regimen’
- The ‘10-20-30’ program
The Fartlek Method
Is essentially interval training and can be adapted to virtually any activity although it was originally designed to improve the performance of runners.
The main point of this method is to vary the intensity of portions of your workout, alternating slow and moderate paced movement with maximum intensity bursts. Speed and intensity can be adjusted along with actual duration of activity and rest periods that imitate competitive action.
The Tabata HIIT workout
Tabata training was discovered by Japanese scientist Dr. Izumi Tabata and a team of researchers from the National Institute of Fitness and Sports in Tokyo. The process of training in explosive bursts with short rest periods was improving not only strength but endurance as well. The results were published in ‘Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise’ in 1996 and describe what is now known as the Tabata Protocol.
Ideally, the athlete performs at 170% of VO2max in alternating intervals of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds of recovery for 8 to 10 sets. A full Tabata workout actually lasts only 4 to 5 minutes (after a 5 minute warm up) due to the extreme exertion required and should be done only 2 to 4 times per week.
The ‘Gibala Regimen’, also known as ‘The Little Method’
Gibala Regimen has two workout programs suitable for both athletes and beginners. Studied at McMaster University, this method involves 3 minutes of warm up, and intervals of 60 seconds of intense activity (95% of VO2 max) followed by 75 seconds of rest with 8 to 12 reps.
The ‘lighter’ approach uses the same warm up but intervals of 60 seconds of work (80-95% of VO2 max) with 60 seconds of recovery and a cool down period. This method can be performed 3 times per week.
The ‘10-20-30’ program
The ‘10-20-30’ program, devised by Danish researcher, Dr. Bangsbo’s studies was published in 2012, has also proven to have tremendous results regarding overall endurance training, reducing blood pressure and cholesterol in athletes and casual participants.
This protocol involves a 5 minute warm up and intervals of 30 seconds of low intensity, 20 seconds of medium intensity and 10 seconds of high intensity repeated 5 times, followed by 2 minutes of rest and repeated for a total of 4 or 5 sets, all of which are completed within 20 to 30 minutes.
HIIT Vs Other Workout Programs
To compare HIIT to either type of workout – just intervals or just cross training – is to look at only half the picture. Additionally, any activity such as running or weight lifting that target just one area or basic set of motions is incomplete in terms of overall fitness.
Several examples that can be used as part of a HIIT plan include:
- CrossFit is a program that was developed by combining different types of fitness training to achieve the most significant overall fitness results without over-emphasizing any one particular area. CrossFit’s broad focus applies to the improvement of agility, balance, cardio-vascular endurance, muscle strength, power, speed and stamina. It is a gym-based program that utilizes a wide range of equipment and the input of trainers.
- MetCon3 at Senergy Fitness is another intense workout that combines strength training and anaerobic conditioning drills. This is a circuit-style timed workout performed in a gym with a combination of 4 to 10 exercises repeated in multiple rounds with little rest. The goal is to complete as many reps as possible within the time allowed while maintaining good form and remaining near your anaerobic threshold.
- Turbo Fire (HIIT) and the Insanity Workout provides high-energy cardio exercise without the use of exercise machines or other pieces of equipment so it can be enjoyed in a class or at home. While Turbo Fire incorporates HIIT philosophy, it is not a complete HIIT program. It focuses on cardio kickboxing while the Insanity Workout involves calisthenics, cardio, plyometrics and sports drills.
- Zumba and dance fitness classes enjoy a great deal of popularity because they are fun and can be done in a class or at home with the help of a video or DVD. The drawback in terms of overall fitness is that these activities are primarily cardio and don’t address muscle strength or different muscle groups
Intensity VS. Duration
Like anything in life, the harder you work, the better the results. A 7-minute home HIIT workout, compared to a 30-minute gentle bike ride in the gym, will gain you so many more benefits, as those short bursts of high intensity are what have the most incredible effect on the following:
- Increase your body‘s ability to burn fat
- Improve your cardiovascular health
- Save you time
- Reduce your stress levels
- Able to sustain this workout in your day-to-day life
- Tone all over
- Feel amazing
- Slow down the ageing process
- Improve your general health
- And finally feel full of energy and be glowing with vitality every day
HIIT Nutrition Plan
Think of your body like a car. If you fuel your high-performance engine with low-octane, dirty fuel, it’s not going to run optimally. Nutrition is an integral factor in health and fitness. Exercise and good nutrition plans work in tandem to support our immune and hormone systems and to help us perform better and achieve our health goals.
The meal ideas, fueling strategies, and techniques in this article have worked for me and many of my personal training and weight-loss clients. If you need help creating a custom meal plan for your personal goals, consider meeting with a registered dietitian in your area.
To put it more clearly, let’s continue with the machine analogy:
- If you use a cheaper or less well refined source of fuel, the engine will perform differently.
- If you were to change round parts to rectangles, the machine would not work as efficiently.
- If you take out some gears or relays, the remaining system has to work harder to get the same job done.
- If you expect the same machine to do the job of two, it will not handle the load.
Now let’s apply that picture to the human body. Nutrition can come from candy bars or natural, raw foods and you can certainly tell where this is going! A candy bar may give you a quick jolt of energy but you can’t live on that type of diet without disastrous consequences. The ‘round parts and rectangles are figurative representations for the nutritional building blocks required for proper cellular, and therefore, muscle function. If you don’t provide the right elements or choose to use unnatural forms such as supplements in place of whole foods, the pieces don’t mesh properly.
The Best HIIT Equipment
HIIT activities can just as easily be done at home as in a gym with body weight activities or minimal equipment. Circuit training enthusiasts can adapt any piece of gym equipment as well as weights to HIIT routines and different cardio choices can be made for any day of the week.
Though you really just need your own body weight for a solid HIIT workout, weights, such as dumbbells, can step up your game. If you don’t have dumbbells or other weights, feel free to improvise. A weighted backpack makes a wonderful stand-in for a kettlebell, and a full water bottle can serve as a handheld weight in a pinch. Resistance bands also provide a cheap—and portable—means of taking your exercise session to the next level.
Fitness Tests And Results
One of the biggest motivators is seeing results, and with HIIT workouts you can expect to see them quickly, not just in your body shape but also in your fitness levels. So it is recommended that you do the simple Fitness Tests and make a note of either the time or repetitions. Also don’t forget that results keep you motivated.
Concerns with HIIT Programs
The obvious concern regarding High Intensity Interval Training is, of course, the intensity. You must be in relatively good health and at a respectable fitness level before tackling the demands of HIIT.
That is not to say, however, that relative beginners can’t benefit from HIIT activities. It is important to know and accept your limits but there are so many options for workout disciplines, you can find those that create the least stress or discomfort. For example, a stationary bike or swimming can be much easier for many people than running.
Intensity is measured differently for every individual and there are plenty of HIIT plans that allow you to get used to the demands of the program at your own pace. The beauty of HIIT is that is incorporates intense and moderate activity in a simple ratio so if you can’t sustain the hard work for 1 minute, aim for just 30 seconds and set your ‘recovery’ period accordingly.
As with any exercise program, you should consult with your health care professional before you begin to ensure safe, injury-free success.
- John Power. “HIIT The 20-Minute Dream Body with High Intensity Interval Training.”
- Lucy Wyndham-Read. “HIIT—High-Intensity Interval Training.”
- Gina Harney. “15‑Minute Hiit for Women: High Intensity Workouts You Can Do Anywhere.”