If you pay any attention to fitness trends, you’ve probably heard the term “HIIT workout” thrown around a bit recently. The acronym, which stands for “high-intensity interval training”, represents a shift toward all-out, full-body exercise methods within the wider fitness industry.
What exactly is HIIT training, though, and how intense does it get? What are the benefits of a high-intensity workout? If you’ve recently gotten into fitness to lose some weight or improve your overall wellbeing, you may be wondering if HIIT is the route you should take. In order to help you determine whether or not HIIT exercises are right for you, we’ve outlined some details about what the term means, what its benefits are and who could be the right candidate for a high-intensity training program.
What Exactly is HIIT Exercise?
High-intensity interval training is a workout method in which you exert all of your energy toward one exercise for a very short period of time. Depending on your program, this might include dozens of sit-ups followed by several push-ups, squats, dips and burpees. After completing each exercise, you’ll take a quick (less than one minute) break before moving on to the next activity.
HIIT training is a program based around speed and repetition. The purpose is to complete each set of reps as quickly as possible and to rest very little before moving onto the next one. In many cases, HIIT trainers recommend that their trainee doesn’t even sit between reps and walks around the gym for a few seconds to keep their heart rate up while they prepare for the next interval of their workout.
Why Does HIIT Training Work?
The cardio benefits of HIIT workouts are unmatched, particularly for those who are already accustomed to serious training sessions. The fast pace of HIIT keeps the heart pumping at a rapid speed, resulting in an increased heart rate and an optimized metabolism. HIIT actually creates a shortage of oxygen in your lungs, prompting your body to breathe as heavily as possible in order to replenish your air supply.
An influx of oxygen into the body is what jumpstarts your metabolism. HIIT may be difficult and painful, but the slight pain felt in the lungs during recovery time means that the intense exercise is really working.
The Importance of EPOC
Any veteran fitness expert will tell you that if you’re not breathing heavily after a cardio workout, you’re not exercising properly. Particularly when your goal is to burn fat, you should feel a burning sensation in your chest after a good training session. When you run out of breath during exercise, your body goes into an automatic process of trying to refill your lungs with oxygen. This process is called “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” or EPOC.
EPOC is the primary reason why HIIT works so well for many people. While walking, running and even doing squats or lunges can be great cardio, they aren’t going to maximize the EPOC response in our bodies. Sure, we might find ourselves breathing a bit heavier, but the amount of fat we burn while doing cardio can be directly measured by how heavily we breathe afterwards. The intensity of HIIT makes us need air (badly). Therefore, it speeds up our air intake in a way that your average cardio workout simply can’t.
The Benefits of HIIT
HIIT workouts offer a number of benefits that normal cardio exercises don’t. Here are a few of them:
- Fat loss (while muscle is built): Some strength trainers advise their clients to avoid cardio, as it can actually reduce muscle. HIIT, on the other hand, offers the benefits of cardio exercises with the muscle-building properties of strength-training. If you’re looking to not only lose weight, but to turn your excess fat into solid muscle, there’s no better option than HIIT training.
- Long-term calorie burning: HIIT differs from other forms of cardio in the sense that your body continues to burn calories even after you’ve stopped working out. After a high-intensity training session, your body starts to repair itself at a rapid rate. This repairing process can last hours, meaning that your body will keep burning off fat after you’ve gone home and started to relax.
- More action in a shorter time period: Busy people love the HIIT workout method. Many of us, after all, just don’t have the time to spend three hours at the gym everyday. It can take several hours to burn off a few hundred calories while doing normal exercises. With HIIT, however, you can burn the same number of calories in less than a half-hour.
- More efficient workouts: The rest periods built into an HIIT training session helps your body use its energy in the most efficient possible manner. By doing intense cardio, resting and returning to another high-intensity exercise, your body will increase your breathing to the optimum rate.
- High-speed metabolism: As HIIT speeds up your air intake, it sends your metabolism into beast mode. Whereas the average person’s metabolism burns calories for around 1.5 hours after a workout, this number increases to more than two hours after an HIIT session. This means that your body is burning calories for a longer period of time after each workout.
- Flushes out the toxins: One great benefit of all workouts is that your muscles are flushed of the toxins that tend to accumulate over time. HIIT accelerates this process, helping you to rid your body of toxins at the fastest possible speed.
- Endurance building: The biggest problem faced by workout newbies is not having the strength to endure long, intense sessions. Having a high tolerance for muscle stress makes it easier to run long distances and lift heavy weight. HIIT training is a great way to build your endurance quickly. By upping your ability to endure stress, you’ll be able to get more out of all of your workouts (even the slower, tamer ones).
- Zero equipment: HIIT may have become so popular because it requires no equipment. You don’t need anything to do HIIT cardio exercises beside your own body and a strong work ethic. Because HIIT is a cardio-centric form of exercise, you can do it without ever having to pick up a set of weights (or even leave your house).
- Make your own schedule: HIIT workouts can be done at home, meaning you can set aside less time to do them everyday. Sure, the gym is a great place to do cardio and a good way to make yourself exercise, particularly if you have trouble getting motivated. If you only have an hour each day to engage in an intense training session, that’s more than enough time. Just choose your favorite cardio exercises and get them done as fast as possible. Of course, you want to make sure that you leave yourself some resting time in between each activity.
- Optimize your heart: HIIT workouts aren’t easy, but they’re an awesome way to maintain a healthy heart. As your blood starts flowing and your heart starts pumping, your arteries will become accustomed to intense activity. If you’re just starting out, you may find that the workout is too intense for your heart. With time and repetition, however, you’ll start to feel that you can work out for longer intervals without becoming exhausted.
- Give yourself a challenge: HIIT allows rookies to start burning fat quickly but also presents a challenge to veterans of the fitness game. Training sessions can be as long or as short as you need them to be, making it a perfect way for even the fittest people to make their workout more intense.
Building Your HIIT Workout Schedule
HIIT exercise routines will look different for each person. For this reason, it helps if you have some experience in training. If not, it’s easy to do some research and figure out which exercises will work best for you.
A solid HIIT workout will include cardio exercises, as well as some strength-training activities. Whichever exercises you pick, they should be performed at a rapid pace and should include quick (thirty second) breaks before moving onto the next one.
You can pick and choose activities as you like, but here are some popular HIIT exercise components:
Sit-ups: A tried-and-true method of working on your core. Try forty or fifty of these to start out your HIIT workout.
Push-ups: Push-ups add a good mix of cardio and strength-training into an HIIT session. Do at least twenty or thirty of these as fast as you can.
Jump squats: Great for your glutes. Two or three dozen of these in a row will burn off your fat and build muscle on your backside.
Dips: Dips are helpful for the triceps. By doing a dozen of these in your HIIT workout, you can work on the arm muscles that you might miss otherwise.
Burpees: Everyone’s favorite HIIT session ender. They can be tough, but doing burpees for thirty seconds before you call it a day will increase your heart rate and keep your metabolism running on high for hours.
Is HIIT Right for Me?
Even if you’re just getting into fitness, HIIT is a great way to start seeing results. You can build your own routine and adjust it as you start to become stronger and more agile. You don’t need to work out for too long (you’ll be surprised at how quickly you become exhausted) and you can increase your reps as you gain experience.
Tools like Darebee are helpful for building an HIIT routine that works for you. With a good mix of strength-training and cardio, it will help you develop a high-intensity workout that will have you feeling great in no time.