Last Updated on December 18th, 2020
High Intensity Interval Training or what is popularly known as HIIT Workout is the latest fad in the fitness arena. In fact, it has been listed as one of the top and steady fitness trends in 2017 by the American College of Sports & Medicine. The idea of losing weight and gaining muscles without taking out much time from your busy schedules can sound fascinating to anyone and explains the reason behind the increasing popularity of this fitness program. No wonder that celebrities like Britney Spears, Scarlett Johansson, Jennifer Lopez and trainers like Jillian Michaels & Jorge Cruise are advocating the effectiveness of HIIT workout in achieving fit and healthy body and recommending it to everyone. So let us find out what this interval training workout is all about and how it can help you in achieving your fitness goals in a quick span of time.
What is HIIT
The High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT Workout) is a workout format in which the regular cardio/ strength training exercises are performed at highly intense level for a very short duration of time (only few seconds). These intense activity intervals are then followed by the less active resting intervals and you are required to keep alternating between these two intervals until you are completely exhausted.
HIIT is a very flexible fitness program in a way that there is no specific sequence of exercises to follow. From swimming, running, cycling, hiking to planks, lounges squats and burpees; you can select whichever cardio or strength training activities you are comfortable with. The only rule to follow is to keep your intensity at 100 % while performing these moves each and every time. It is fine to aim for lesser number of activity intervals or to reduce the time duration of the activity intervals but the intensity you put in these exercises should remain the same throughout your session. If you are not able to maintain the same intensity then your HIIT cardio workout session will reduce to a regular cardio session and you hamper the result.
The length of the intervals can also be customised as per the fitness level of the participant, but you need to strike the right balance of work to rest intervals ratio. Beginners may start with a 1:1 ratio; which means equal duration of activity intervals and rest intervals. For example they work hard for 30 seconds, take a 30 seconds break and then work hard again for another 30 seconds. As the comfort level increases over time one may reduce the duration of the resting periods and can aim for 2:1 ratio; where you perform your moves for 30 seconds and rest for only 15 seconds in between the bouts.
How to do HIIT
HIIT is all about the regimen of alternating between the high intensity activity periods and less active resting period. A regular HIIT session includes warm up period, few alterations of activity and resting intervals and a cool down period. Normally HIIT workout sessions are short and get over within 30 minutes. Beginners can aim for 30 seconds activity and 30 seconds resting period and at least 2 repetitions of the circuit. There is a broad spectrum of aerobic exercise or weight training exercise that you may choose to include in your HIIT session. When you apply the HIIT format of alternating between high and low intensity intervals, to these exercises and do them at a vigorous pace, they become a part of hiit Training.
Types of HIIT
Here we enlist a few exercises that can be easily and effectively performed during High Intense Interval Training sessions
Walk/jog and Sprint
This is the easiest, the simplest and the best HIIT workout for everyone irrespective of their age, gender, health or fitness level. All you need to do is to alternate between walking and running in short activity intervals. Walk for 30 seconds and then go for a sprint during the next 30 seconds. Intersperse these activity intervals with resting period. As you become more comfortable over time you may shorten the resting duration to as small as 15 seconds. If you feel more adrenaline pump, you may swap walking with jogging or hiking. The important point to note here is that you have to cover the same distance during the sprint in every activity interval; even if that needs you to cut down on the number of repetitions.
Jumping jacks/ Seal Jumps
Aggressive jumping is a fun way to exhaust you in a hiit cardio workout. Propel yourself up with all your energy and move your feet in and out as you jump. You may also swap the regular jumps with seal jumps. In seal jumps you start with your arms stretched on both sides aligned to your shoulders and your feet close to each other. Now as you jump, you bring your hands close to each other in the front to clap and open your legs apart by moving your feet. Keep moving your arms in and out like you do with your feet with every jump. Go for 3 circuits of 45 seconds each spaced by 30-60 seconds of resting intervals.
Stand with your feet hip distance apart. Now move your leg up by bending your knee one at a time, as much as your heel touches your butt. Do it in a rapid motion as if you are running at a stationary point. Try to keep the upper body as firm as possible. Keep going for 45 seconds before taking rest for a minute and then continue with another intense round of kick butts.
The much popular Push-ups don’t require any introduction at all. The correct way to perform them is to begin with high plank posture, where you balance your body on your palms and toes, keeping it steady, parallel to the floor and your arms stretched to their full length. Now move down by bending your elbows, as close to the floor as you possibly can and then move back to the your initial stance. Under the HIIT template, you get to perform push-ups for 30 seconds within the activity interval, rest for next 30 seconds and then go for another 30 seconds stint. This HIIT workout is specially recommended for those who have to sit for long hours either due to their work or travelling or any other reason.
How can we fail to remember squats while talking about a high intensity workout? Start with your feet shoulder width apart. Push your butt back and down, while bending your knees, until your hip joint reaches lower than your knee joint. Move back to the initial position in the same way. Do multiple iterations for 30-45 seconds duration. If you want to go tougher opt for jump squats; in which every squat is followed by a jump. You will feel like you have a spring inside your body pushing you up and down vigorously. Follow the same circuit of HIIT form.
Very similar to the above squats (or back squats) with the minor variation being these squats do not require you to push your butt back while going down rather you keep your spine erect and push yourself downwards just by bending your knees. Keep moving downwards till your hips become lower to your knees like in back squats and then move back to standing position. To ensure the correct posture in front squats, hold a dumb bell close to your chest with both your hands while going up and down. Actually this is another difference between the front and back squats, in back squats you hold the weight on your back like the weight lifters do; while in front squats you hold the weight in your front. Follow the same alternation of activity & resting periods of 30 seconds of High Intensity Interval training.
Start with the high plank posture with your body resting on your palms & toes, and your arms stretched to their full length. Now bend the right knee and move it forward right beneath your chest. Return back to the initial posture and repeat the movement with your left leg. Continue with rapid movements for almost 30-40 seconds before going for a resting period of 30 seconds. Follow it up with another similar intense activity interval.
It is like doing jumping jacks while maintaining the high plank posture. Get down in the plank pose, with your feet close to each other and your body resting on your palms and toes. Now with a jump, move your feet apart and with another jump bring them back to their initial position. Perform as many plank jacks as your comfort level allows for about 30-40 seconds and then rest for a minute or so. Repeat with another set of plank jacks.
This is another exciting HIIT workout to challenge you. Crouch down to the ground till you rest your palms on the floor. Now with a quick jump stretch out your legs completely, while keeping your elbows close to your body. Move your legs in with another quick jump and retain the initial standing posture. This complete movement is known as a Burpee. As a high intensity interval workout you may target to complete 10 burpees in one go. Perform three similar sets each separated with 30 seconds of resting period.
Begin by standing straight with your hands in the front. Take a big step towards your right; bend your knee and land into a lounge position while keeping left leg straight. Go back to the initial standing pose and repeat the same move towards your left side by moving your left leg, while keeping the right one stiff. Proceed in a similar way for almost 45 seconds. Side lounges work best on your glutes, quads and hamstring without going harsh on your knees. Jumping lounges are other subtle variants of HIIT workout in which you move your legs back and forth instead of left and right to land in the lounge position.
Due to the high volume of energy and intensity involved in HIIT workouts, the risk involved is considerable too. It is important to be cautious of certain things; else this form of exercise can bring more regrets to you than benefits.
Never miss the warm up.
Warm ups are essential part of any workout regime; but in HIIT it becomes even more significant as here we do the exercises at extreme levels. So before you push your body to that intense level, you must prepare for it by sweating a little through a good warm up.
Resting intervals are important.
The whole crux of HIIT workout lies in switches between intense activity intervals and resting intervals. You must put in the same effort in performing your moves in every set and for that taking rest is paramount. So you may reduce the span of your resting periods but do not ever skip them.
Keep it short.
Do not try to prolong your HIIT sessions as they are meant to be short. Even 4-6 minutes of HIIT workout can work wonders for you, if done correctly. Focus should be more on achieving consistency of performance during every single activity interval rather than on increasing the number of iterations.
Do not overkill.
This is the most common mistake with reference to this fitness program. Underestimating it as a short workout technique, people often go for HIIT training sessions for about 5-6 times a week, which is grave. You need to give your body ample time to recover completely before going for the next intense interval training workout session. Just 2-3 classes per week are enough.
Watch out your intensity.
The most vital point for getting effective results from HIIT workout is keeping the energy intense and consistent through-out. People often are unsure of whether they are putting in steady and relentless effort over several activity periods or their intensity gets gradually reduced. The thumb rule is if you are enjoying your HIIT workout then you are not doing it correctly. You must sweat it out, you must feel challenged and you must feel uncomfortable every single time.
Monitor your lifestyle.
No fitness program can deliver favourable results if not accompanied by good lifestyle habits. So follow a good diet plan. Calculate your calories, include carbs and take your meals on time as you need a lot of energy for these exercises. Taking proper sleep too is vital. Follow a healthy routine.
Learn it correctly.
Get yourself enrolled in HIIT classes. It is better to get your performance monitored by a trained instructor. Also when you do it with so many partners, competitiveness increases and you are motivated to do better.
Who should do it?
HIIT isn’t for everyone. It is a complete body workout that requires you to do a lot of jumps, squats, push-ups lounges, etc. at extreme levels. So it is better to consult your physician/instructor before going for HIIT regime, more so if you have certain medical condition, diseases or injury. Also if you’re training with a specific goal in mind, you would prefer to enrol for a particular training program and HIIT may or may not fit in your scheme of things.
HIIT workout benefits
Though HIIT sounds exciting but it’s very much possible that you may have to rethink about continuing with it after every passing session. So, when your sore muscles and tired body compel you to give up, think about the following benefits of HIIT workout to motivate yourself to attend the next session
The sequence of alternating between high intensity and low intensity intervals during HIIT fitness program increases your oxygen consumption which in turn improves your metabolic rate that persists for hours after you are done with your HIIT session. Moreover this heightened metabolic rate helps your body to consume the stored fat for energy, which is like double whammy.
It is a well proven result that HIIT burns more calories as compared to any other workout and this is the reason for its high popularity. Due to the high intensity level, you shed a lot of calories through HIIT. Further your body takes needs time to recover so you keep burning the calories until your repair cycle is complete.
HIIT workout not only helps you in losing weight but also in attaining those lean muscles you always wanted to show off. It is not easy to achieve these two seemingly contrasting goals simultaneously with any other fitness regime; but the combination of strength training and cardio exercises in HIIT stimulates the muscle building hormones. As a result you get well-toned muscles without compromising on your weight loss plans.
Cost-effective & adaptable
This fitness program is lighter on your pockets as it gives you the liberty to ditch all those fancy gym equipments. There is a wide range of anaerobic exercises like squats, planks, burpees, lounges, etc. that can be performed in HIIT format indoors as well as outdoors. Moreover, it doesn’t take much of your time. Generally it gets over in between 4 minutes to 30 minutes. You can plan the stretch of your activity intervals and resting intervals as per your fitness level. So for all of you who skip workout for lame excuses, HIIT is the saviour.
It is generally not possible to reach such high intensity levels in conventional cardio workouts that set your heart pounding. HIIT can speed up your heart rate within minutes ensuring good blood flow and healthy heart. By boosting the human growth hormone it helps you in deferring the ageing effects. It also improves your oxygen consumption, promotes effective breathing and improves your stamina remarkably.
Controls Blood Sugar
Studies have revealed that this high intensity workout is exceptionally successful in controlling blood sugar. It is also effective in improving insulin resistance and thus helps in reducing the risk of type 2 diabetes, obesity and hyperlipidemia.
High Intensity Interval Workout is a very good fitness choice for most people who aim to burn calories fast without indulging in long workout sessions. All you need is a little space and energy to perform the demanding moves. What sets it apart is that it neither requires you to invest a lot of time nor makes you wait for months to experience the positive results. It’s surely worth a try. Do share your experience with us in the comment section below.
Aafiya is a health and wellness enthusiast. She utilizes her spare time to contribute insightful articles around day to day lifestyle challenges and their remedies, that all can relate to.
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