High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of exercise characterized by periods of hard work followed by brief periods of recovery or rest. This form of exercise is a highly efficient means of improving your fitness level and burning body fat. Why is HIIT superior to steady state cardio like jogging when it comes to fat burning? It’s because your body primarily uses sugar (glucose) during the intense exercise bout and uses stored body fat during the recovery phase as well as post-exercise (See: Afterburn Effect).
You can perform HIIT using gym equipment, various cardio formats, and weighted or bodyweight exercises. In other words, you can do HIIT whether you have a gym membership or not. You can invest in some basic equipment or just rely on your bodyweight and a few simple forms of cardio.
In the gym, you can use a treadmill, elliptical, row machine, stationary bike, stepmill, stairmaster, free weights, etc. Alternatively, you can run, bike, jump rope, swim, or perform plyometrics. You can also do a HIIT workout utilizing weights. There are numerous variations and ways to take advantage of this training method.
Before completing these interval training workouts, be sure to complete a 5-10 minute warm-up. Your warm-up should consist of some dynamic stretching, light movement in your exercise of choice (if you plan to do sprints, jog for a bit beforehand. If you’re swimming or biking, start easy before amping up the intensity), and complete a few accelerations where you gradually build your speed to a sprint over your chosen distance.
Warming up properly will help prepare your body and muscles for the work ahead. If you jump straight into intervals without warming up, you put yourself at a greater risk of injury. Once you’re warm and have properly prepared yourself for some speed work, choose one of the following interval workouts and challenge yourself.
The tabata protocol is a workout method where you perform 20 seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of rest for a total of 8 cycles. While the entire workout lasts only 4 minutes, by the end, you should feel like you can’t and don’t want to complete another interval.
In Swedish, Fartlek means “speed play.” This form of training combines steady state (continuous) training with speed intervals in an unstructured format that strengthens both the aerobic and anaerobic energy systems. The intensity and speed varies however and whenever you want. Walk, jog, and sprint for any distance or length of time, and in any order. This is a spontaneous form of training that you can just go out and have fun with.
The walking back sprint is probably one of the most straight-forward and easy to incorporate variations of HIIT (particularly if you have a running track nearby, although a track is not necessary). If you’re using a track, pick a distance to sprint—50m, 100m, 200m, etc. Sprint your selected distance, and then walk back to the start to recover. Repeat 4-10 times. If you don’t have a track, you can use a street length or pick two points in a park to sprint/walk between. Sprint to the end and walk back to recover.
In a combination interval, you alternate between a high-rep strength exercise and an anaerobic cardio interval. NOTE: This is a more advanced type of interval, so please be careful.
This workout works by choosing a specific amount of time – 2 minutes – then dropping the amount of exercising required by 30 seconds on subsequent sets. The amount of time given for rest matches the amount of time spent exercising, so it’s a 1:1 work-to-rest ratio.
See if you can match the number of revolutions you get in the second round as you did in the first. Given you are timing yourself, you can watch a clock on the wall, or use a countdown timer on a watch, or stopwatch.
Swimming is an excellent full body exercise that is low impact, but it can be made high intensity. While many swimmers will do 60 laps at a snails pace, you can opt for cranking up the intensity to get a much better workout in much less time. For a bit more fun, get a partner to do this workout with you.
This workout shouldn’t take much more than 10 minutes.
Plyometrics are exercises that require muscles to exert maximum force in minimum time. For this reason, they can be more dangerous if proper form isn’t used. They can also be very efficient and effective because so much power is being used in a short period of time. This workout requires only 2 plyometric exercises: jump squats and jump lunges.
What you’ll notice by your last set is your leg muscles should feel like they are on fire, in a good way. If you want to take this workout up another notch, consider using a weighted vest, or holding dumbbells at your sides…but this tough! If this plyometrics workout is too difficult for you, consider doing it with assistance while holding on to a solid object like a bar, or TRX.
You can create a limitless variety of interval training workouts by adjusting the time, weight, and distance of the intervals you are completing to constantly challenge your body.
Changing the duration of your interval is a great way to keep your workout challenging. If you start out with 30s sprints on a treadmill, after a few weeks increase the duration of your interval to 45s, and then 60s.
Alternatively, you can change the duration of your rest period. Initially, it’s a good idea to give yourself a lot of rest time. Take 90s to recover at first, then decrease your rest time to 60s and so on.
As your fitness improves, you’ll be able to sprint for a longer period of time and recover faster.
As you get stronger and faster, adding weight to an exercise will enable you to continue challenging yourself and improve. One way to add weight is with a weight vest. Another option is, if you’re doing combination intervals, you can increase the weights you use during the high-rep strength exercise.
Gradually increasing the distance of your sprint is another way to keep your workouts challenging. If you start with 50m sprints, gradually increase your distance to 100m, then 200m, and eventually 400m.
There are a few important considerations when changing the variables of your intervals. Make sure you give your body enough time, about 2-4 weeks or more, to adapt to your intervals before making them more challenging. If you increase the challenge too soon, you increase your risk of injury and burnout. It’s better to start out a little easier to let your body acclimate to a new stress than to overload your body from the very beginning. Also, take enough rest between HIIT workouts. It’s when you rest that your body absorbs the effects of your workouts.
Interval training workouts are a valuable training format that can help you overcome a plateau, decrease your body fat percentage, and increase your fitness. HIIT can be performed 1-4x per week, but is not recommended more than 4x per week. Listen to your body, pay attention to your workout results, and you’ll be able to use HIIT to take your training to the next level.