What you need to know about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)

High-Intensity Interval Training

There’s a new way to exercise that promises to help you burn fat, build muscle, and improve your aerobic capacity all at the same time. Yet, the best part of all is that it does it in the fraction of the time you’d normally spend in the gym.

HIIT or High-Intensity Interval Training involves using short burst of high intensity followed by sections of lower intensity so that you’re alternating between going all out and resting over a given time period. The result is that every single aspect of your body is being trained and challenged, helping you to burn through calories whilst forcing your cardiovascular and muscular systems to adapt to new stimuli. In fact, studies have shown that HIIT can burn adipose (fat) tissue up to 50% more efficiently than low-intensity exercise. That means that you can burn more fat in less time. Sound too good to be true? Let’s find out exactly how it all works.

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When it comes to exercise, you have two energy systems: anaerobic and aerobic. Anaerobic means that your body does not require oxygen to complete the task. This is what we rely on when it doing 100 meter sprints, 1-4 rep maxes, and any other activity which involves a short burst of energy. The anaerobic system covers us for 60 seconds with the first 15 seconds coming from phosphate groups such as ATP, then the following 45-50 seconds using glycolysis and lactic acid. This is why you may have heard of people supplementing with creatine. Creatine increases our stores of ATP (Adenosine Triphosphate) which our body can then use for energy which in turn increases our physical and mental performance. Durring HIIT, we will be mainly drawing on anaerobic energy.

On the other hand, when the aerobic system kicks-in it means that our body is utilizing the oxygen we’re breathing in and is associated with lower intensity, longer duration activities such as walking, jogging, and swimming. Athletes who frequently have to rely on their aerobic system may use strategies to reduce the accessibility of oxygen and therefore, make their aerobic system more efficient. These strategies include wearing special oxygen-restricting masks and training at high altitudes to increase the number of red blood cells that transport oxygen around the body.

You can apply HIIT to almost any activity from squatting to sprinting, push-ups to jumping jacks, and everything in-between. This makes the exercise methodology extremely versatile and therefore, suitable for all lifestyles. If you can’t afford a gym membership, then don’t worry, HIIT has you covered as you can exclusively use bodyweight movements in your training. If you’re on vacation and don’t have access to your usual fitness center, then you can make up a routine for your hotel room that’ll have you sweating and gasping for breath.

There are no necessary pieces of equipment or exercises you need to complete. The workouts can be completely scaled to your needs and your goals. For instance, if you’re looking to build up your chest and shoulders, then you might do a workout based around handstand and push-up variations. If you’re mainly looking to burn fat and get your heart rate up, you’ll want to go for a combination of exercises to work every area of your body so that your heart is forced to pump blood all around your system. This workout would involve exercises such as burpees, sprints, jumps, planks, and wall climbers.Roxy Nekter Event

The workouts will work of what’s known as an RPE scale. This simple means Rate of Perceived Exertion and translates to the intensity that you believe you’re working at. 0 means you’re completely still, unmoving, and calm whilst 10 means you’re couldn’t put any more effort into it. For the working periods in HIIT, you’ll want to aim for an RPE of 8-9 depending on your fitness level and goals, then, for the resting periods, you’ll want to drop this down to 4-6. To put these RPE’s in context, an RPE of 8-9 means that you’re really pushing yourself but you don’t feel like you’re going to pass out or throw up, whereas a 4-6 is a comfortable jog where your heart rate is still higher than at rest, but you’re not being overly challenged.

As there’s no single HIIT routine, it can be completed by anyone of any age. Whether you’re 16 or 60, you can design a HIIT workout to suit you. As long as you’re challenging yourself, that’s all that matters. You might be able to complete 10 push-ups in 20 seconds, while someone else can do 15. Yet, if you’re both at an RPE of 8-9, that’s all that matters. It really does come down to you versus you.

Let’s look at a no-equipment HIIT might include:

5 Minute Warm Up

  1. 30 seconds of burpees (RPE 8)
  2. 20 seconds rest (RPE 6)
  3. 30 seconds of lunges (RPE 8)
  4. 20 seconds rest (RPE 6)
  5. 30 seconds of bear crawls (RPE 8)
  6. 20 seconds rest (RPE 6)
  7. 30 seconds of plank hold (RPE 8)
  8. 20 seconds rest (RPE 6)

Repeat x 3

5-minute cooldown

Including the warm up and cool down, that entire workout would last 20 minutes while really putting your mind and body to the test

Now, let’s take a look at what a HIIT workout would look like that involves equipment:

5 Minute Warm Up

  1. 20 seconds of kettlebell swings (RPE 9)
  2. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)
  3. 20 seconds of kettlebell squats (RPE 9)
  4. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)
  5. 20 seconds of Russian twists (RPE 9)
  6. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)
  7. 20 seconds of kettlebell cleans (RPE 9)
  8. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)
  9. 20 seconds of dumbbell lunges (RPE 9)
  10. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)
  11. 20 seconds of banded side-walks (going right) (RPE 9)
  12. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)
  13. 20 seconds of banded side-walks (going left) (RPE 9)
  14. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)
  15. 20 seconds of kettlebell snatch (RPE 9)
  16. 10 seconds rest (RPE 5)

Repeat x 2

5-minute cooldown

Including the warm up and cool down, this entire workout would last 18 minutes. Obviously, you can also combine equipment-necessary exercises with bodyweight exercises depending on where you work out. Essentially, any exercise you can think of can be included in HIIT workouts as long as it’s scaled to your needs.

The working set time and resting set time are not standard. You just want to make sure that each is under one minute in duration. If you can’t complete an exercise for longer than one minute, then you’re working hard enough. Equally, workouts should be kept to 30 minutes and under. If you’re not exhausted by the end of 30 minutes, you’re not doing it right. Most HIIT workouts last 10 to 20 minutes.

Now, HIIT isn’t for the faint hearted. As you’ve seen, it involves pushing yourself to the limit in every single workout. If you’re someone who prefers a LISS (Low-Intensity Steady State) approach to training, then HIIT may not be for you. Yet, it’s a useful tool to have under your belt for when you’re in a pinch for time and need to fit in a quick workout.

HIIT is the most suited to those who want to stay in shape but don’t quite have enough time to do so. It won’t make you as strong as if you dedicated yourself to a purely strength-training program, nor will it make you as big as a bodybuilder. However, it’s a fantastic way to build both muscle and strength while losing fat all at the same time. From just 3-4 20-30 minute workouts per week, you can become fitter, more capable, and a lot leaner than ever before. If you’re looking for more of a strength and muscle orientated routine, then you’ll want to involve heavy weights. If you’re looking to lean down or tone-up, then you’ll want to utilize exercises which burn the most calories. These sessions can be fit in before breakfast, at lunchtime, when you get home from work, or just when you have a spare 20 minutes; perfect for anyone who has a tight schedule.

HIIT doesn’t need to be done all by itself. You can easily tag on a short 10 minute HIIT workout at the end of your weight lifting session to burn more calories. Conversely, you can use it as your main workout before using isolated exercises to bring up lagging muscles or areas of your physique you feel need a little more work.

Even if all of this doesn’t quite sway you, HIIT is a “new,” fun way to work out; a great way to mix up your training and shock your body with something it’s not used to. HIIT workouts are a real test of fitness and a great way to challenge yourself, as long as you are using proper form and know your limits. Many people believe that they’re quite fit until undergoing a 20 minute HIIT session only to realize they’re only really good at one area of fitness. That’s the best part: HIIT leaves no area untouched, no stone unturned. You can challenge every area of your body in one short time slot or really push one particular part to the test. It’s adaptable, versatile, fresh, and most importantly, effective. Why not try a HIIT workout the next time you go to exercise to truly experience why the trend is becoming so popular? And don’t forget about some pre and post workout nutrition! 

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