High-intensity interval training (HIIT) has grown quite popular in recent years because of the many benefits it offers. Due to its rigorous nature, however, HIIT is not recommended for all individuals and should be performed carefully to minimize risk of injuries and maximize results.
What is Interval Training?
Interval training is varying intensity levels throughout a workout to incorporate brief periods of a steady, submaximal pace; high-intensity effort; and short recovery. It feels much different than steady-state aerobic training, in which you hop on an elliptical or treadmill, for instance, set a preferred resistance level and/or pace and cruise at that same speed for the entire 30-minute workout.
With interval training, you vary your pace throughout to ratchet up the intensity and then bring it back to your steady zone. Interval training is meant to take the intensity higher, but not all interval training must be HIIT. Although definitions vary, HIIT is working about 85%-100% of your maximum heart rate, which is only sustainable for brief bursts. Also, typically HIIT workouts are a fairly short duration, such as 10 to 45 minutes.
Tabata is a specific type of HIIT in which you perform 20 seconds of highly intense exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest, and repeat this for four minutes (8 cycles); then recover briefly and start a new cycle with another exercise.
The beauty of HIIT is that you can select the modalities, the exercises and the duration of intervals to customize your workout, as long as they take you from aerobic to anaerobic zones. Typically, HIIT is performed with cardiovascular activities, but you can also incorporate strength exercises and calisthenics, making your routines as simple or as diverse as you prefer, with options including:
- Cardio equipment – Add 15-60 second sprints to your steady state pace every 2-4 minutes; then return to your pace for recovery.
- Cardio and strength training – Intersperse weight lifting intervals with cardio on the treadmill, stationary bike, elliptical, cross trainer or rower.
- Calisthenics – Alternate high-intensity moves like sprints, jumping jacks, burpees, high knees, mountain climbers and more with slower-paced exercises like push-ups, crunches, bridges and Pilates or yoga poses.
- Classes – Try a HIIT format at your health club, rent a HIIT DVD or search online for streaming workouts.
Benefits of Interval Training
HIIT is very effective, and research has shown that it delivers multiple benefits to exercisers, including:
- Improved stamina – the many intense bursts enhance cardiovascular conditioning
- Greater caloric expenditure – workouts with high-intensity intervals utilize more calories than steady-state sessions
- Increased fat loss – by burning more calories during the workout, you shed fat quicker
- Higher metabolism – HIIT leads to an increased use of oxygen and calories during and after workouts, which raises the metabolism even when you are not exercising
- Muscle maintenance – you are more likely to maintain and build muscle with HIIT than with steady-state cardio
- More efficiency – you can burn more calories in less time and use more muscle groups with HIIT
- Enhanced cardiovascular health – HIIT results in a stronger heart, lower blood pressure, better cholesterol profiles and improved insulin sensitivity
- Better adherence – exercisers find HIIT more motivating and enjoyable, and therefore are more likely to stick with it
HIIT Workout Cautions
Before beginning a HIIT program, make sure that you have a base level of fitness to safely tolerate the intensity. You don’t have to be an Ironman triathlete, but you shouldn’t dive in suddenly after years on the couch either. It’s safer to follow a consistent fitness routine for a few months before taking on HIIT. And if you’re over 50 or significantly overweight, check with your doctor first before beginning intense workouts.
When performing HIIT, do your best to maintain proper form, without letting the speed of the movement or the amount or resistance compromise your form. Even if your heart rate drops a bit, it’s better to have proper form to help prevent injury.
Because of the nature of the exercise regimen, HIIT should NOT be performed daily, but perhaps 1-3 times weekly. Give your muscles and body at least one day to recover between workouts. Otherwise, you risk injuries and overtraining. For optimal fitness, alternate HIIT with steady-state cardio, strength training, stretching, yoga, Pilates and more.
HIIT Workout Options
HIIT workout options are virtually limitless – from using equipment at the gym or at home, to using just your body weight. You can create your own workouts, enlist an exercise buddy, hire a trainer, join a small group session or take a group exercise class. If you need some new ideas, find suggested workouts online and in magazines.
Premium fitness equipment makes it simple to incorporate HIIT training through its program options. For instance, the Schwinn Airdyne Pro is a classic exercise bike that is simple for anyone to use but provides tough interval options. With unlimited wind resistance, the Airdyne easily accommodates both leisurely paces and all-out sprints. Take advantage of the invigorating 20/10 Interval (modeled after Tabata) or 30/90 Interval workouts to guide your sweat session, or customize your own routine.
In fact, the Airdyne is so effective at interval training that it is preferred by many CrossFit boxes for their daunting WODs.
On other cardio equipment, create your own HIIT session by manually increasing the resistance level (or pace or incline on a treadmill) every few minutes so that you’re working hard. After your high-intensity work interval (10 seconds to 2 minutes), drop the resistance level to steady state pace for the next one to three minutes. Adjust the interval duration and/or intensity to keep the workout challenging.
Many cardio machines also have specific HIIT programs that take you through an established workout by automatically adjusting resistance for different intervals.
Octane Fitness equipment features exclusive Workout Boosters on its standing, recumbent and lateral ellipticals and on its XT-One cross trainer and Zero Runner. Able to be activated at any time in any exercise session, the Workout Boosters add one-minute intervals of specific movements, such as squat, go in reverse and upper-body only, between every two minutes of cardio on the machine. All the thinking is done for you – you simply press the button and follow the prompts, using this option for a portion or the entire duration of your workout.
Another convenient way to incorporate HIIT training is with the unique CROSS CiRCUIT regimen on an Octane Fitness zero-impact machine. Here, you complete 2-3 minutes of cardio, and the machine then prompts you to perform strength-training exercises for one minute using your body weight, Octane’s Powerbands or PowerBlock dumbbells. Performing exercises with heavy weight at a challenging pace with proper form should keep you in a high-intensity zone. Then you return to the machine for steady-state work.
With CROSS CiRCUIT, workout options are virtually endless, particularly if you take advantage of Octane’s SmartLink app, which provides multiple workout plans and more than 225 exercises to help you benefit from HIIT and reach your goals. What’s great about CROSS CiRCUIT is that you can take advantage of HIIT while completing efficient, combined cardio and strength workouts – all for greater effectiveness. Plus, you benefit from zero to low-impact movements, which are easier on the joints.