HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. It demands you to your physical limits and thereby helps to burn a lot of calories.
This means you’re not only getting fit but also losing stubborn fat!
In this article, I’ll address everything about HIIT training, how it works, for whom it is suitable and what hazards it may entail.
Do you know that feeling?
You constantly run on the treadmill but somehow only little to nothing happens.
You’re doing bodyweight training but you do not see any progress in terms of strength, endurance or muscle mass?
Then it’s time to test High-Intensity Interval Training!
According to a study by the ACSM’s Health & Fitness Journal, HIIT training was at the forefront of the top 20 fitness trends in 2018!
What is HIIT? The basic concept of HIIT
Initially, this very intensive and effective form of training can be traced back to high-performance sport.
Whoever decides to do HIIT training, must be ready to go to its physical limits.
If you accept this, it is sometimes considered the most effective training ever and it shows relatively fast results.
The basic concept behind HIIT training is to bring the body up to its physical limits during the short loading phase.
In HIIT, certain intervals are set for this purpose (for example, a 60-second loading period) in which training is carried out with the highest possible intensity at maximum heart rate.
Subsequently, during the recovery phase (for example 120 seconds), you continue with lower intensity.
Due to the permanent interplay of loading peaks and short recovery cycles, the endurance training gets significantly more effective and shorter with this method.
For instance, it can be completed in 15-20 minutes. Everybody has 15-20 minutes. Which eliminates your last excuses, guys!
In High-Intensity Interval Training, high-intensity intervals that push you to your limits alternate with active breaks.
Specifically, this could look like this: 30 secs of sprint alternate with 30 secs of relaxed jogging.
15 to 30 minutes (e.g. 15-30 intervals) are absolutely sufficient because you should actually go to the limit during the intensive phases.
The high intensity refers to the heart rate.
This should be 85-100% of the maximum heart rate during the exercise phase. During the relaxation phase, the heart rate should drop to 40-50% of your maximum heart rate.
More advanced athletes can extend the intervals to 60 seconds each. But at the end of the day, it depends on your training condition and level. Don’t overestimate yourself.
That is only likely to result in frustration and listlessness. Start with lower intervals and gradually increase them as you make progress.
HIIT exercises are very versatile and there are numerous ways to incorporate the intervals into your own workout, let it be on a treadmill, cross trainer or bike. Either with the skipping rope or just exercises with your own bodyweight.
Exercises such as planks, jumping jacks, squats, lunges or push-ups are great to combine.
Eventually, as you can see you don’t need to be a member of a gym or any fitness club to take advantage of the benefits of HIIT.
Tabata is a special form of HIIT training. In Tabata, you only train for 4 minutes. It is split up into eight intervals with 20 seconds of stress and 10 seconds of rest.
Meanwhile, you give full throttle to get to your limits. Tabata or more precisely, interval training improves your endurance, strengthens the cardiovascular system and maximizes oxygen uptake.
How does HIIT work?
There are no rigid rules as of how long the intervals have to be.
Usually, a load of 15-60 seconds (depending on the physical condition of the athlete) and an active rest period of about half the time are common.
Because of the heavy load, experts recommend training about two to three times 15 to 30 minutes per week according to the High-Intensity Interval Training. This seems to be a solid workload.
For runners, the simplest basic exercise is the aforementioned switch between sprints and relaxed jogging/walking. You can either do it on a treadmill or outside in a park.
For HIIT, it is important to go to your limits in the load phase, don’t do things by halves.
Advantages and disadvantages of HIIT training
HIIT saves time
The short interplay of 30-60 seconds of full throttle and around 30-90 seconds of active recovery shortens the total duration of the whole session to 15 to 20 minutes.
Therefore, HIIT is particularly suitable for folks who are short on time and can’t afford long workouts in the gym or jogging in the park.
Whereby this depends mainly on how you set your priorities and manage time.
Including the warm-up phase and the cooldown, it is sufficient to carry out the high-intensity interval training two to three times a week.
HIIT increases endurance performance faster than actual endurance training
Through the interplay of intense stressful and active recovery phases, your body is pushed to its limits. Thus, he needs above average oxygen supply and the metabolism is boosted.
Compared to 30-60 minutes steady training with consistent intensity, HIIT training improves endurance faster.
HIIT still burns for hours after training
If the body repeatedly raises the metabolism and oxygen demand during a load, the body has to reenergize to its normal state.
The body consumes energy, calories and burns body fat for many hours after training. This is known as “afterburning”.
Maximum fat burning through HIIT
Scientific studies show that HIIT maximizes fat burning despite its short duration of 15-30 minutes.
The release of hormones, such as adrenaline and norepinephrine, which is increased by physical exertion, additionally promotes fat burning.
Increased hormone levels promote muscle growth
If the metabolism is in full swing, it increases the hormone levels.
Due to the short-term and extreme stress the muscle fibres are burdened, which are responsible for muscle growth.
The interplay between stress and recovery phases really gets the body and metabolism going and increases oxygen uptake.
This oxygen intake also continues afterwards and ensures increased calorie conversion, the much-said afterburning effect.
It tends to be particularly long, given that you actually go and push yourself to your limits. Then regular HIIT sessions of 25-30 minutes can even replace long cardio workouts.
This is proven by numerous studies, e.g. from the Journal of Physiology.
This study reveals that volunteers who trained according to the HIIT concept 60-90 minutes per week, achieved the same level of progress as participants who made consistent endurance training about 5 hours per week.
Thus, it can be said that HIIT training is more time efficient and still can achieve the same or perhaps even better results.
More results with less time, doesn’t that sound amazing? It does, right?
Especially interesting for many people who have busy days packed full of work, family and obligations.
In addition, HIIT sessions can be carried out anywhere. It doesn’t matter if in the hotel room, in the city park, in the gym or at home. HIIT training gives you a great range of latitude to chose from.
Nevertheless, despite all the positive effects, such as the high consumption of calories, reduction of body fat and increased endurance, HIIT training also has its pitfalls.
For example, if you are not fully motivated, you literally just run out of air at the end of each interval.
It is also important that you give your body enough time to regenerate.
High-Intensity Interval Training is not a training method suitable for everyday workouts.
HIIT achieves faster results compared to a training schedule with longer workouts but moderate intensity.
Furthermore, it is intended to dampen feelings of hunger, reduce mood lows and stress. Also, it may help with hypertension and arteriosclerosis.
But, however, an analysis conducted by researchers from the University of New South Wales in 2017 showed that moderate and intensive workouts did not differ in their effect on fat burning. Both achieved the same results in the subjects.
Finally, the advantage of doing HIIT training was “only” the time saving of approximately 40%.
But, still, there is a danger that you will perform HIIT too often and at too short intervals.
“The more the merrier” thought can cause a real HIIT burnout, the typical overtraining.
Permanent fatigue, sleep and concentration problems without obvious causes can be an indicator that your body needs a regeneration phase.
If that’s the case, then I suggest you reduce the HIIT levels for a while and allow more time for moderate and regenerative activities.
“HIIT makes us more muscular, stronger and faster, but it also makes us age faster,” says Michol Daclourt of the California Movement Institute.
The causes are stress stimuli in the cells and the associated increased production of the hormone cortisol, which can make it difficult to burn fat.
HIIT sample workout
It is important to do a warm-up before the actual HIIT session to avoid injury. 5 to 10 minutes of relaxed running, cycling, jumping rope or jumping jacks are totally sufficient.
Exercises like squats, burpees, kettlebell swings, squat jumps or pushups are also viable, but you can also run, cycle or swim. That’s up to your own preferences.
After you’ve done your little 5-10 minutes warm up, the actual HIIT sessions starts.
Possible division of the intervals:
Beginner: 15 seconds load, 45 seconds active break
Advanced: 30 seconds load, 30 seconds active break
If you are aiming for 20 minutes of high-intensity interval training, you can reach 10 intervals with this HIIT unit.
Professionals: 20 seconds load 10 seconds active break
Whatever your goal looks like, when aiming for a 20 minutes workout, you can reach 20 intervals with this interval division.
At the end of the HIIT training, a relaxed and slow leakage is recommended to slowly lower your pulse again.
The body gets used to HIIT stress relatively quick which means that you need to adapt the training programme to your progress.
Below I linked you a sample workout for beginners which you may want to try out to get your HIIT training started!
Let us know what you think about it!
For whom is HIIT suitable?
The duration and intensity of the exercise and recovery intervals can be adjusted according to your condition and training level.
Both beginners and more advanced athletes can benefit from HIIT training.
Improved performance and quicker results boost the joy of doing sports respectively.
Furthermore, being aware of your results helps you staying motivated to keep pushing forward!
Even experienced athletes who have been training for years can further optimize and improve their performance with HIIT.
Moreover, for endurance athletes who want to enhance their basic stamina but don’t have enough time to do multiple longer sessions during the week, HIIT can be the perfect solution.
On a final note, in order to lose weight, improve endurance and build muscles, a lot of parameters need to be aligned properly.
Firstly, keep a healthy and balanced diet. If you’re not eating consciously, you neither lose weight nor do you build muscles. Check out our full guide about the basics of nutrition to dive deeper into this topic.
Secondly, you should be aware of the risk of injury, especially beginners.
In order to keep up with the required speed, exercises are often done half-heartedly or with a bad technique. This promotes over- and under load and eventually reduces the effectiveness of the workout.
Ensure to maintain adequate technique, execution and range of motion all the time!
Thirdly, particularly when doing HIIT you need to pay attention to your recovery.
Not only during the training session keep the active recovery phases as planned but also beyond your training days.
Sufficient sleep and regeneration phases will further enhance your performance and make you feel more energized. If you want to know more about regeneration, I recommend reading our article about sleep.
Conclusively, I hope you enjoyed this article about HIIT training and may give you some inspiration to try out new stuff.
Do you have any experience with HIIT yet? If yes, how was your experience? If not, would you consider giving it a try?
Leave a comment below and share your opinion with us!