Some of us love cardio and some of us shudder at the very thought. However, most of us suffer through it in the pursuit of fat loss and newfound confidence, eventually even the post-run euphoria commonly known as the “runner’s high.” And let’s be honest, a good chunk of us on are on the cardio struggle train and would prefer to rip the bandaid off as quickly and as efficiently as possible. This is where HIIT comes in to save the day!
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training; in other words, short intense workouts consisting of quick bursts of energy followed by a recovery period.
Did you read that right? “Recovery Period?!” Yeah, a good ole recovery period that is crucial to the efficacy of the workout. Sounds like my kind of workout!
The Structure of a High Intensity Interval Workout
The basic structure of an HIIT session consists of four elements:
- Warm-Up Period. Each session should begin with a 2-5 minute medium intensity warm-up period, which can consist of brisk walking or light to medium jogging. If you would like, you can stretch for a minute or two after your warm up to prepare yourself for the real deal, but be mindful to not rest too long before you begin your intervals. You want to keep your body warm and ready for the training session.
- High Intensity Interval. Follow up the warm-up with a quick burst of energy; run or sprint with maximum intensity for 20 seconds to 1 minute. Do your best and push yourself in this stage, because the length of your high intensity bursts is subjective to your personal level of fitness and ability.
- Recovery Period. Take a rest in the form of a brisk walk or a light jog, you deserve it! Not too long though. The ideal structure of HIIT strives for a 2:1 ratio of high intensity bursts to recovery period, meaning that you should aim to sprint for twice as long as you rest. However, if you are just starting out with this method of cardio training, you can take it easy and rest for a little longer. As you become more conditioned, you will improve and get closer to achieving the ideal. Depending on personal abilities and time constraints, repeat steps 2 and 3 for anywhere between 10-30 minutes. Some variations of HIIT, like Tabata, only last as long as 4 minutes, and are a great place to start if you want to sample.
- Cool-Down. Once you finish repeating your interval circuits, it is time to cool off with a low intensity walk, wipe the sweat off your face, and have a nice stretch while you marvel at what a cardio beast you are. You’re now basically a rockstar, or at least I think you are!
Remember that every body starts somewhere, so your sprint to rest ratio will vary based on your level of cardiovascular fitness.
In the middle of your sprint intervals, when you feel like dying or giving up, remember that this method of cardio does not come without some pretty awesome benefits.
The Maximum Benefits of HIIT
Although during your workout you may be cursing cardio advocates, the benefits of HIIT are second to none. Not only are you given a fair chance to catch your breath when you have exhausted your energy output, but studies show that by raising and lowering your heart rate in intervals with High Intensity Interval Training, the effects and benefits of aerobic exercise are amplified. These benefits include, but are not limited to:
- Decreased concentration of adipose tissue in the body; in other words, increased and maximized fat loss.
- Improved cardiovascular fitness
- Maximum results in minimal time
- A healthier heart that works more efficiently. Love your heart, it loves you!
- Improved athletic performance
- Increased resting metabolic rate, meaning that you will begin to burn more calories at rest.
I guess it is safe to say that HIIT is the best bang for your buck. Why not give it a try?
HIIT the Ground Running
There are quite a few variations of High Intensity Interval Training to choose from. To get you started, here are a few basic and progressive beginner interval workouts that you can choose from based on your fitness level and what you feel is appropriate for you. They can be done on a treadmill or outside. The pace refers to the action that you should be executing, i.e. sprint or recover, and not a particular pace, because that is subjective and will vary for everyone. Refer to the intensity column to determine how much effort (again, subjective and relative to your abilities) that you should be exerting during each interval.
When you decide that you are ready to move up a level, try this intermediary beginner’s workout that increases the amount of sprints and shortens the recovery periods within the same 20 minute workout.
The following HIIT circuit reaches the ideal of a 2:1 ratio between sprint intervals and recovery periods. Progress onto this workout when you feel that you are ready for more intense sprints and minimal recovery periods.
Above all else, enjoy the process. High Intensity Interval Training is difficult and is meant to challenge you, so remember, “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!”