HIIT: No Frills Cardio.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

A 20-minute beginner HIIT workout complete with a warm-up, 6 sprint and recovery cycles, and a cool-down. The intensity of each interval is relative to your personal fitness abilities.

A 20-minute beginner HIIT workout complete with a warm-up, 6 sprints, long recovery cycles, and a cool-down. The intensity of each interval is relative to your personal fitness abilities.

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.

A 20-minute intermediary beginner HIIT workout complete with a warm-up, 9 sprints, shorter recoveries, and a cool-down. The intensity of each interval is relative to your personal fitness abilities.

A 20-minute intermediary beginner HIIT workout complete with a warm-up, 9 sprints, shorter recovery cycles, and a cool-down. The intensity of each interval is relative to your personal fitness abilities.

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.

A 20-minute advanced beginner 2:1 HIIT workout complete with a warm-up, 10 long sprints, and minimal recovery cycles, and a cool-down. The intensity of each interval is relative to your personal fitness abilities.

A 20-minute advanced beginner HIIT workout complete with a warm-up, 10 long sprints, minimal recovery cycles, and a cool-down. This workout upholds the ideal of a 2:1 sprint to recovery time ratio. The intensity of each interval is relative to your personal fitness abilities.

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!


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“Diet” is a Dirty Word

With just a click of your trusty mouse, you can read weight-loss column after diet column, but leave yourself feeling confused, frustrated, and unmotivated. Are they telling you the truth, or is this just a plug for the “next-best” gimmicky product? There are so many conflicting ideas out there, and it can be difficult to navigate the waterways to find an approach that is suitable for you and your weight loss goals.

The truth is, there is no one-size-fits-all approach. What works for one person may not be the most effective and enjoyable for you. We are not clones, and we sure as heck are not birds and therefore do not need to eat like one.

Most of these columns fail to mention that it is not just the foods that we are consuming, but more importantly our lifestyle. Simply put, if it doesn’t stick, it doesn’t last. Nobody tells you that once you finish the “miracle diet,” the chances of you gaining the weight back are incredibly high. The cause of this is really quite simple. Crash diets help you lose weight quickly in the short term, but it takes a change in lifestyle for permanent, long term results.

Whenever I hear the word “diet,” I cringe. It evokes feelings of restriction, starvation, and dissatisfaction. You “can’t” have this, you “can’t” have that. The women in commercials that are selling these “diet” products with a huge smile on their faces as they jump into crystal clear water in their itty-bitty bikinis forget to mention that they are also starving and nutrient depleted. They twirl around in their bright-colored sundresses, hair down with not a care in the world, selling the idea that “eating less is a beautiful thing.” There is something wrong with this picture.

The best bit of advice that I can throw into the mix is to throw the word “diet” out the door! Forget the word ever existed. It brings nothing but heartache. “Diet” is a dirty, dirty word ranked right on up there with the b-word and f-word. It should never cross your mind, let alone your lips. It should be replaced with a much more pleasant, holistic word: nutrition.

There is no magic pill, no revolutionary diet bar, and no gimmick that can do for you what proper nutrition and regular exercise can.

This means that reaching your weight loss goals is easier than you think. It isn’t as complicated as these companies want you to believe. It is as simple as finding fresh, whole foods that you enjoy, and consuming them regularly to your heart’s content. Dive into the realm of natural food with the knowledge that your body is benefitting from each bite. Shift from the concept of “restriction” to the idea of “exploration” of fresh cuisine. Treat yourself every once and awhile, because restriction never boasted long term fulfillment. Find that balance between fresh food and indulgence that works best for you and keeps you feeling satisfied. Be happy. In the end, it is the development and establishment of healthy habits that determines the longterm results.

As much as exercise can appear to be monotonous and boring to the untrained eye, it can be quite the opposite. Try something new and switch up your exercise routine to keep yourself interested and your body guessing. Maybe you train for a half marathon or take a Zumba class one week and Pilates the next. Get involved in activities that build your confidence. Focus on improvement, not perfection. Everyone starts somewhere, so just know that with each attempt and every drop of sweat, you are changing your life, and therefore your body, for the better.

Above all, do what makes you happy. A healthy mind is a healthy body.


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