Let me begin by asking you this: How intense are your HIIT workouts?
After stumbling across an Instagram post written by no-nonsense blogger, Ban Hass, I realised that perhaps I wasn’t the only person questioning other peoples ‘HIIT’ workouts. 1 hour HIIT workouts? Oh please! If you’ve the energy for an hour of HIIT then let me tell you something – you’re doing it wrong!
If you’ve lived under a rock for the past few years or are simply new to the fitness industry then HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training and it’s great. Really great.
When performing HIIT correctly it should leave you breathless, tired and sweaty – very sweaty. From that alone, you’ll know whether you’ve just performed a HIIT workout or not. Think you can do it everyday? Think again.
However, I can’t help but notice many people have the wrong end of the stick. Suddenly people are putting together exercises such as ab crunches, squats and walking lunges into intervals and bam, they’re calling it training. That’s how it works, right?
Well sorry to break it to ya kid, but that’s not how HIIT goes. There’s actually a lot more to HIIT than meets the eye. It’s not about squeezing in a bunch of exercises that ‘become’ tiring after a while (FYI, ab crunches should not be seen as high intensity) and repeating them for 30 seconds on (active) and 30 seconds off (resting). No, no, no. HIIT is actually a very specific type of training and it’s easy to think your completing interval training that appears to be intense but in reality, you’re not completing a true to style HIIT workout.
HIIT is a very effective way of training for fat loss or overall fitness goals and can provide the results your after, but unless you’re performing it correctly then you may hinder your progress. Here’s a few things you should know…
Each exercise needs to leave you breathless
HIIT is cardio. Let’s get that straight. It’s high intensity cardio that’s arranged in small, very intense intervals. When I say ‘very intense’ what I mean is: HIIT should leave you panting, cursing and dreading the next exercise. Ok, slight exaggeration but you get my point. During each interval (which is anything from 20-90 seconds – typically) you’ll need to push yourself like you’ve never done before and use all your energy. After each interval you’re then given a specific amount of time (normally until the minute is up) to rest before the next interval starts over again. No, you won’t rest much but that’s exactly the point… it’s intense.
Your rest periods are vital
Now this is a very important point that people seem to miss in HIIT but it is vital to understand why it is so important. When you’re performing each interval you’re using up a lot of energy. If, in-between intervals you’re not resting properly then you’re not allowing your body to acclimate over and over again between two very different states of cardio – high intensity and low intensity. The fact is, when your body rests in-between intervals, it’s provided an excellent cardio conditioning session of high intensity and low intensisty and this in turn leads to fat loss.
Basically, the rest period allows your body to quickly prepare itself for the next interval so it can perform at it’s best again. Without rest periods (standing still – no moving) your body will simply stay in high intensity mode and won’t go between those two different cardio states.
Choose your exercises wisely
Picking the wrong exercises can quickly lead to a workout that’s not really HIIT. Let’s say you’re working out for a total of 15 minutes with 30 second intervals (30 seconds active, 30 seconds rest). During that short burst of 30 seconds you need to pick an exercise that will leave you breathless and wanting to chug back a pint of water. Once you’ve had your 30 second rest interval you should have just about recovered – just.
My tip for picking the right exercises would be those that involve a lot of jumping, plyometric movements and is full body or leg focused. For example, burpees, jumping lunges, jumping squats, long jumps, tuck jumps, mountain climbers, boxing style punches, and so on…
So next time you think about popping in some ab crunches and slow and controlled squats ask yourself this: Will that exercise make you out of breath in 30 seconds, tops ? No. It most likely will not.
Pick your HIIT time length wisely
I often see people boasting the fact that they’ve just completed a 60 minute HIIT workout when in reality, they’ve just completed cardio. That’s it.
If you’re managing to workout for anything longer than 30 minutes (typically) then the truth is the workout isn’t intense enough to even be considered HIIT. Firstly, there is no way in this world you can reach true high intensity with a cardio workout that’s an hour long. You’ll end up tired, laggy and your form will be anything but good. Secondly, if you’re crazy enough to try and push your body that far in potential then you’re most likely going to cause injury to yourself in the long run.
30 minutes max is all you need for a body torcher, curse maker, HIIT workout. So what’s the minimum time you should spend doing a HIIT workout? I’ve looked at a few studies and articles and both posts by Body Rock and Built Lean suggest that a minimum of 15 minutes is perfect. Anything less and you probably haven’t worked hard enough for your body to get into the fat burning zone. However, everybody is completely different so go on the basis of how tired you feel once your HIIT workout is complete. Can’t breath? Good.
Don’t over do it
It’s easy to become fond of HIIT, especially when you love that kind of adrenaline. However, if you’re doing HIIT more than three times a week then guess what? Yup, you guessed it – you’re doing it wrong! If you’re doing HIIT more than this (let’s say 5 times a week after each lifting session) then you’re not pushing yourself. Your body needs to feel tired, it needs to feel worked and it needs time to rest.
High intensity workouts are stressful on the body and if you’re doing it constantly then you’ll be guilty of achieving an over worked body. This in turn will probably increase your stress hormones which, when at a high level, stop the body from repairing and looking after itself. For safe bets, I recommend doing no more than 3 HIIT workouts a week. If you feel like that isn’t enough then up the intensity and make it more intense.
So that’s pretty much it. Hopefully i’ve cleared that up with a lot of you. HIIT is High Intensisty Interval Training. It’s no walk in the park, it has no time for sweet, delicate squats. No, no. You want your lungs to be burning, your heart to be pumping and your sweat to be dripping. You can use this workout here for your next HIIT session.
So next time I see somebody posting about their 60 minute HIIT workout on Instagram I think i’ll politely slap them in the face with a wet fish.