What is HIIT?

The acronym itself may sound intimidating. HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. High-intensity means you move your body with little or no rest in between exercises. Interval training refers to doing the same or various exercises at different speeds and levels of exertion. The concept of HIIT is designed to improve strength, agility, flexibility, and cardiovascular health. According to Swami Mukundunda’s book, The Art and Science of Happiness, Chapter 3? All of these aspects are necessary for maintaining optimal physical health. Like yoga, HIIT encompasses these attributes in one workout! Research shows you can achieve more progress in 15 minutes of HIIT three times per week than jogging on a treadmill for an hour. HIIT exercises can be high-impact or low-impact, depending on joint health and mobility. High-impact exercises include explosive jumping movements but can be modified for low-impact, non-jumping alternatives.

How Do We Do HIIT?

HIIT has a variety of movement options for every fitness level and interest. Some familiar exercises to try are squats, running in place, jumping jacks, lunges, and mountain climbers. One example of a set may be sprinting for thirty seconds for increased intensity, then recovering by walking for fifteen seconds. When you combine these concepts, you challenge your body by varying your movement, heart rate, and respiration. One of the best aspects of HIIT is that it requires no special equipment or location and is very time-efficient. Start by choosing five exercises and executing them in quick succession. Completing all five counts as one circuit. Repeat the circuit three times.

Alternate days of high-intensity interval training with cardio, such as biking, swimming, or walking. The ideal heart rate is 80 to 95 percent of our maximal heart rate (the number of times the heart can safely beat per minute) during the intensity period, and 40 to 50 percent during recovery. Another way to measure your activity is through Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) which was developed by Cleveland Clinic. It consists of a scale from 0 to 10 and is based on how you feel in regards to how fast you’re breathing, how fast your heart is beating, how much you’re sweating, and how tired your muscles feel. Another intensity gauge is the talk test. If you can only say a couple of words, then you are working at maximum intensity according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). Recovery periods around 3 or 4 on the RPE scale, or the ability to easily hold a conversation, per the talk test. We should perform HIIT training no more than two to three times per week.

Benefits of HIIT

HIIT is a full-body workout. This means it addresses all the goals we desire in an exercise program. Some benefits are:

  • Increased strength (muscle tone)
  • Enhanced cardiovascular endurance
  • Optimized flexibility (range of motion and blood flow)
  • Improved balance (fall prevention)
  • Agility development (reflex response)
  • Better coordination (muscle memory)
  • Maximized calorie burn (during and after the workout)
  • Turbo-charged metabolism
  • Elevated energy
  • Body-fat reduction
  • Mental health treatment
  • Strong bones
  • Brain health improvement

HIIT Programs

Tabata is a HIIT workout that alternates between 20 seconds of work at 100% effort and 10 seconds of rest for eight rounds developed by Izumi Tabata in Japan. It is only a four-minute workout! Group fitness classes at a gym or recreation center are great for beginners so you can train in person and learn proper form and technique. A personal trainer can help determine current fitness levels and prescribe optimal exercises for your routine. Some HIIT programs utilize specific movements or mechanisms, like body weight, dumbbells, treadmills, exercise bikes, stairs, rowing machines, dance, jump rope, and resistance bands.

Make Adjustments to Avoid Boredom or Plateauing

Once you decide on a HIIT program, adjust the work-to-rest ratio by changing the intensity of the workout to lengthen your work periods and shorten your rest periods. If you practice a specific program for a while, and it no longer elevates your RPE to at least an 8, switch to a new program. Another adjustment is to add more intervals. If you are doing four rounds of 30 seconds of work and 15 seconds of recovery, increase it to five or six rounds. Make sure you get to the maximum weekly HIIT workouts of three. Finally, you can add resistance through weights or bands. Make sure to safely perform the exercise without using resistance before moving to this step, and start light.

Nutrition Considerations for HIIT Workouts

There is no specific diet for HIIT training, but we should be properly hydrated and fueled before, during, and after any exercise program. If you haven’t eaten for a few hours, drink water and eat a light, healthy snack 30 to 45 minutes before your workout. Water is the best thing to have on hand during HIIT. After you complete the session, a protein snack is the best fuel source to build new muscle and maintain current muscle tone. Eat a balanced meal two hours after the workout.