How to Do HIIT Correctly
We’ve all heard the claims that high intensity interval training (HIIT) is an excellent way to burn fat. But do you know exactly what qualifies as HIIT and how to do HIIT correctly?
Some simple changes could be the difference between you getting all the benefits that HIIT has to offer…and just getting a good workout. And trust me, you want all those HIIT benefits.
If you clicked on this blog post, you probably already have a grasp on the basic concept of HIIT. If not, I’ll give you a brief description below before we dive into the deets.
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What is HIIT?
HIIT is when you perform quick bursts of activity, alternating with periods of rest. The rest should be active, such as lightly jogging or walking, rather than standing still. The bursts of activity should be very challenging; it isn’t called high intensity for nothing.
Why is HIIT so enticing?
HIIT workouts are supposed to get your body working harder and thus burning more calories. Not only that, HIIT also causes your body to continue burning a higher amount of calories for hours after your workout. That’s why many people are so drawn to it.
HIIT also takes a lot less time than a steady-state cardio sesh, so it’s often way easier to convince yourself to squeeze it in. And the fact that there’s “rest” included in the workout itself can be really helpful mentally.
How to do HIIT correctly so you get all those great benefits:
The very first thing you need to decide is what kind of exercise to do. There are so many HIIT workouts out there, but the fact is that most of them don’t truly qualify as “HIIT.”
It’s best to choose a traditional cardio exercise. Just be sure to choose something that you like and that will allow you to alter intensity quickly.
Some examples include:
- Jumping rope
The ratio of work-to-rest during HIIT is a highly debated topic. That’s because research is very divided on what’s best.
However, it appears to be most agreed upon that a work interval of about 20 seconds is a good starting place. I’d add though, if you’re on a treadmill or another form of cardio that takes a few seconds to ramp up, aim for closer to 30 seconds. Otherwise, you only perform about 10 seconds at maximum intensity.
Your rest should be longer than your work interval. A good place to start is performing an active recovery for twice as long as your work interval. For example, if you sprint all out on the treadmill for 30 seconds, perform 60 seconds of light jogging to recover.
Intensity (KEY for how to do HIIT correctly)
Intensity is probably where the biggest mistake is made with HIIT training. If you want to learn how to do HIIT correctly and get substantial results, this will be the key.
The biggest thing to know about intensity is that you must be going as close to all-out as you can. It’s not called high intensity for nothing.
The key is to focus on increasing speed rather than resistance. This will allow you to get the cardio benefits – remember, this isn’t strength training.
For HIIT to be most effective, your work intervals should be 85-95% of your maximum effort. What that means is that you shouldn’t be able to hold a conversation while performing it. If you can, you’re not working hard enough. Your breathing should be heavy, and you should be tired by the end of your “on” interval.
The nice thing about HIIT is that you do get to rest after going all-out. If you’re someone who has a hard time pushing to the max, use that knowledge to get through it.
Warm up and cool down
Please be sure to warm up and cool down. I can think of no better way to injure yourself while exercising than by jumping straight into an all-out work interval. Perform at least a 5 minute warm up and cool down with your HIIT workouts.
Number of cycles
The beauty of HIIT is that it doesn’t have to be a long workout. Oftentimes just 10 minutes can make a difference. And with pushing yourself to your max, you may not be able to do much more.
In fact, it’s recommended to not go any longer than 30 minutes for a HIIT session, at the very most. Otherwise you can overwork your body and be more prone to injuries.
When starting out, try completing enough cycles to do around a 10 minute workout (not including warm up and cool down). If this sounds a little daunting to you, aim for 5 on-and-off cycles. If it’s not challenging enough, you can always add a few more cycles. Every few weeks, try increasing the total workout time by 5 minutes.
Amount of times per week
Performing HIIT once per week is a great place to start. It jump-starts your body, making it wonder where that workout came from. Keeping your body challenged is a great way to combat plateauing. You can increase the amount of HIIT workouts per week from there as comfortable.
Time to get technical
Ultimately, a great goal would be 2 HIIT workouts per week, each lasting 30 minutes. The reasoning behind this is that by achieving 30-40 minutes above 90% maximal heart rate per week, you get the maximum benefits of HIIT with the lowest risk of overtraining/injury. Since for every 2 minutes of HIIT training you’re estimated to achieve 1 minute above 90% max HR, completing 60 minutes of HIIT training per week would place you around 30 minutes from just HIIT. (This leaves a 10 minute wiggle room for you to hit those high exercise heart rates throughout the week during other exercises).
Don’t neglect steady-state cardio and weight training
HIIT is a great supplement to your training regimen, but don’t let it completely replace longer, steady-state cardio and weight training. Both of those are necessary to build muscle and to maintain health.
Can I do HIIT if I’m new to exercise?
I would advise not starting with HIIT until you have a solid few weeks of endurance training under your belt. When you’re new to exercise, even just moderate-intensity exercise will produce great results. HIIT is not necessary to see the benefits of exercise, it’s just an additional resource down the road.
The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) recommends a solid base of aerobic exercise, consisting of 20-60 minutes moderate-vigorous exercise 3-5 times per week for several weeks.
For more info on getting started with exercise, check out my post: The Basics of a Healthy Exercise Routine.
For more on HIIT:
– I recommend Jeremy Ethier’s HIIT YouTube video, which I used as a resource for this post in conjunction with my personal training education. He’s incredibly knowledgeable about all things fitness and backs his information with research studies.
Try these HIIT workouts!