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What is HIIT? 4 reasons why you should be doing it
HIIT is an acronym commonly used in the health and fitness world. It is short for High-Intensity Interval Training. It gained tremendous popularity a decade ago for good reasons. People are reporting amazing fitness results by implementing this training style into their workout routines.
I have done traditional cardio combined with weightlifting for most of my adult life. While there is nothing wrong with that, I have found greater success with HIIT. As an added bonus, it is very fun to perform. I realized that I have unintentionally utilized it just from being creative at the gym prior to actually knowing what it was.
So what is HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training)?
There is no official definition for HIIT that is used across institutions. It may vary slightly based on who you are working with or talking to. The biggest difference between definitions that I have found is the minimum time you can do a high-intensity burst and the total time the workout should take.
I like to define HIIT as the following.
“High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a popular form of interval training that alternates between short bursts of High-Intensity with periods of Low-Intensity active rest periods. The high-intensity and low-intensity intervals can range anywhere from 10 seconds to 4 minutes long. Shorter high-intensity interval ranges (10-30 seconds) engage the anaerobic system for energy. Longer high-intensity interval ranges (more than 30 seconds) will engage the aerobic system for energy. Generally, a HIIT workout (including warm-up and cool-down) can be completed within 30 minutes based upon the intensity of the workout. HIIT workouts have gained popularity due to their ability to provide similar health benefits to steady-state moderate-intensity exercise in much less time.”
Now that you have a general sense of what it is, let’s take a look at an example of a workout so you can get an even better idea.
What is an example of HIIT?
An example of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) could be a workout consisting of alternating periods of all-out effort and recovery, such as 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 60 seconds of walking or jogging (depending on your fitness level), repeated for a total of 20-30 minutes.
Another example could be a circuit of bodyweight exercises, such as jumping jacks, burpees, mountain climbers, and squats, performed for 30 seconds each with 10 seconds of rest in between, repeated for multiple rounds.
My favorite way to do HIIT at the gym is on the treadmill. Here is one way to do it.
- Warm-up: Begin by walking or jogging at a comfortable pace for 3-5 minutes to warm up your muscles and get your heart rate up.
- Sprint Interval: Increase the speed on the treadmill to a sprint (90-100% of your maximum effort) for 30-60 seconds.
- Active Recovery: Slow the treadmill down to a walk or jog (50-60% of your maximum effort) for 60-90 seconds.
- Repeat: Alternate between sprinting and active recovery for 8-10 rounds, depending on your fitness level and workout goals.
- Cool down: End your workout with 2-3 minutes of easy walking or slow jogging to allow your heart rate and breathing to return to normal.
Remember to adjust the speed and incline of the treadmill to match your fitness level and personal preferences. You can also vary the duration and intensity of the intervals depending on your goals and fitness level.
What are the benefits of HIIT that make it amazing?
There are many benefits to this style of workout. Below are four that stand out the most to me and why I use it in my routine as often as possible.
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is time-efficient because it allows you to achieve the same or greater benefits as traditional steady-state cardio in a shorter amount of time. With HIIT, you alternate between periods of high-intensity exercise and recovery, which can help you burn more calories and improve your cardiovascular fitness in less time.
For example, a 20-30 minute HIIT workout can provide similar cardiovascular and metabolic benefits as a 60-minute steady-state cardio workout. This is because the intense nature of HIIT workouts can elevate your heart rate and challenge your muscles, leading to greater post-workout calorie burn and metabolic effects.
Additionally, HIIT can be done with little or no equipment and can be modified to fit any fitness level, making it an accessible and convenient workout option for those with busy schedules. This makes it easy to fit in a quick and effective workout, even on a tight schedule.
Let’s face it. Time is something that most of us don’t have enough of. Traditional workouts combined with cardio can be very time-consuming. Doing a hit workout helps avoid having to hop on the bike or treadmill after a long weightlifting workout. This results in more calories burned while using a fraction of the time based on what studies have shown (Falcone et al., 2015).
HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) can increase fat loss. HIIT workouts typically involve short, intense bursts of activity that elevate your heart rate and challenge your muscles, followed by periods of rest or active recovery. This type of exercise can help you burn more calories both during and after your workout, thanks to the “afterburn” effect or EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption).
The intense nature of HIIT workouts can also help you retain lean muscle mass, which can be important for maintaining a healthy metabolism and burning more calories at rest. Additionally, research suggests that HIIT may help reduce abdominal fat, which is associated with an increased risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and heart disease.
HIIT is a great and effective tool for fat loss. With that being said, diet, and overall caloric balance are also important factors. In order to lose fat, you need to create a calorie deficit by consuming fewer calories than you burn through exercise and daily activities. So, while HIIT can help you burn more calories and lose fat, it should be combined with a balanced diet and healthy lifestyle habits for the best results.
There are many studies out there that have shown positive results in fat loss from HIIT workouts (Ives, 2019). The reasoning why is still not 100 percent clear. Researchers think it is because the metabolism may be increased after a HIIT workout and that people are less hungry after a session.
Staying lean is a year-round goal of mine so this makes a lot of sense to help keep off that unwanted fat.
Supports Muscle Gain
While HIIT itself isn’t going to make you look like Arnold Schwarzenegger, it is a better way to burn calories in coordination with muscle gain. Some studies have even indicated that some people have been able to gain a small amount of muscle from HIIT (Damas et al., 2015) alone. Doing a lot of long-form cardio can be detrimental to building muscle. This is an excellent way to combat that.
By incorporating high-intensity exercises into your workouts, you can challenge your muscles in new ways and potentially improve your overall fitness and body composition. Additionally, HIIT can help you retain lean muscle mass while in a calorie deficit, which can be important for maintaining a healthy metabolism and burning more calories at rest.
Gym equipment is optional
You can do HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts without any equipment by using your own body weight to perform exercises that elevate your heart rate and challenge your muscles.
Here is an example of a bodyweight HIIT workout you can do without any equipment:
- Warm-up: Start with a dynamic warm-up to get your muscles and joints ready for exercise. You can do a series of jumping jacks, high knees, butt kicks, and arm circles for 5-10 minutes.
- Work and Rest Intervals: Choose a series of bodyweight exercises that target different muscle groups, such as squats, lunges, push-ups, mountain climbers, and burpees. Perform each exercise for 30-60 seconds, followed by a 10-20 second rest period.
- Repeat: Complete the circuit of exercises 2-3 times, with 1-2 minutes of rest in between rounds.
- Cool down: Finish with a few minutes of light cardio and stretching to cool down and reduce your heart rate.
Remember to adjust the work and rest intervals and exercise selection based on your fitness level and personal preferences.
The final word on HIIT
The final word on HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) is that it is an effective and efficient way to improve your cardiovascular fitness, burn calories, and build muscle. HIIT involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest or active recovery, making it a time-efficient workout that can be modified to fit any fitness level. Research has shown that HIIT can provide similar or greater benefits compared to traditional steady-state cardio in a shorter amount of time.
However, like any form of exercise, it is important to use proper form and technique, listen to your body, and gradually progress the intensity and duration of your workouts to avoid injury and achieve the best results.
- Falcone, P. H., Tai, C.-Y., Carson, L. R., Joy, J. M., Mosman, M. M., McCann, T. R., Crona, K. P., Kim, M. P., & Moon, J. R. (2015). Caloric Expenditure of Aerobic, Resistance, or Combined High-Intensity Interval Training Using a Hydraulic Resistance System in Healthy Men. Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, 29(3), 779–785. https://doi.org/10.1519/jsc.0000000000000661
- Ives, L. (2019, February 16). Short bursts of intense exercise “better for weight loss.” BBC News; BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/health-47242940
- Damas, F., Phillips, S., Vechin, F. C., & Ugrinowitsch, C. (2015). A Review of Resistance Training-Induced Changes in Skeletal Muscle Protein Synthesis and Their Contribution to Hypertrophy. Sports Medicine, 45(6), 801–807. https://doi.org/10.1007/s40279-015-0320-0