HIIT the gym! Is this a typo? Not at all. HIIT is the acronym for “High Intensity Interval Training.” Although HIIT has long been an important part of training for athletes, it’s becoming increasingly popular in mainstream fitness.
I started doing HIIT sessions about 18 months ago, and I confess that I have fallen madly in love with it for a variety of reasons: it’s fun, challenging and gives me a great workout in a short period of time. The exercises and intensities also vary, so I am never bored. When I’m done, I feel strong, accomplished and I get a great post-exercise endorphin high. I’m also always looking forward to the next session!
Because of my experience with this type of exercise, I want to examine the what, why, how and who of high intensity interval training. As always, make sure to check with your doctor before beginning any new fitness routine.
HIIT is a workout that alternates short periods of intense effort with periods of recovery. During intense effort, you should push yourself out of your comfort zone. The American College of Sports Medicine recommends that the intense portions of the workout last from 5 to 8 minutes and the effort be at 80 percent to 95 percent of one’s maximum heart rate.1 During the recovery period of the workout (which may equal the length of the intense portion), the heart should work between 40 percent and 50 percent of one’s maximum heart rate. A typical workout can last somewhere between 20 to 60 minutes of alternating intense and recovery periods.1 (To calculate your estimated maximum heart rate and your target heart rate, the CDC recommends the following formula: 220 minus your age is your maximum heart rate. So if you are 50 years old, then 220-50 years =170 beats per minute is your maximum heart rate. Exercising at 80 percent of your maximum heart rate is calculated as 170 x .80 = 136 beats per minute, which is your targeted heart rate).2
Compared with a more traditional low or moderate intensity workout, a HIIT workout can be more time-efficient. Meaning you can get more bang for your exercise buck. For busy people pressed for time (all of us), it means no more excuses for not exercising! Aerobic (heart pumping, heavy breathing, long sustained type exercises) and anaerobic (high intensity activity that gets you out of breath quickly and can’t be sustained for long periods of time) capacities are improved. You can burn more calories and your metabolism stays elevated for 24 to 36 hours after the workout. In addition, HIIT workouts preserve muscle mass while shredding fat. Who doesn’t love that? HIIT workouts can help to improve cardiorespiratory health as well as lower blood pressure.
It can be done anywhere: in a group class or on your own, with exercise equipment or none at all. Think of running/walking either treadmill or outdoors. Cycling can be on a stationary bike or on the trail. Use the stair stepping machine or climb the real thing. Ski machine or cross country skiing. Swimming, rowing machines and elipticals are also fair game, but so are burpees, push-ups, squats, lunges, free weights, jumping jacks and jump ropes.
Remember to start with a warm up to prepare your body for the work to come. The high intensity portions of your workout should range from 80 percent to 95 percent of your maximum heart rate.1 No need to buy a heart rate monitor just yet. Instead, rate your perceived level of exertion. If it feels like you are working pretty hard…then you are on the right track. Are you working hard enough? You should be able to breathe sufficiently, but not carry on a conversation. After 5 to 8 minutes of intense activity, drop down to the recovery portion which should be 40 percent to 50 percent of your max heart rate for the same period of time.1 You should feel comfortable with this effort. Then alternate between intense and recovery periods until you have worked out for your desired time period. Always finish with a cool down and some stretching.
Almost anyone can participate in a HIIT workout! Choosing the appropriate activities that are safe, yet challenging and fun, will keep you engaged. Always check with your doctor before beginning any fitness program. If it’s been a while since you did any form of exercise, it’s wise to work toward establishing a baseline level of fitness before trying more advanced exercises. Don’t worry about keeping up with anyone else – just the person in the mirror! I always tell my patients, “If you did your best today, then you did your job.”
Adding a few HIIT workouts into a varied and balanced fitness routine has many benefits. Not only is it fun, but it also shreds fat, improves all around body fitness and more! Give it a try on your next trip to the gym, pool, great outdoors or in your living room!
As always, should an injury occur before, during or after your workout routine, make sure to schedule an appointment for a free injury screen at your nearest Athletico so we can get you back to doing the things you love, including HIIITting the gym!
The Athletico blog is an educational resource written by Athletico employees. Athletico bloggers are licensed professionals who abide by the code of ethics outlined by their respective professional associations. The content published in blog posts represents the opinion of the individual author based on their expertise and experience. The content provided in this blog is for informational purposes only, does not constitute medical advice and should not be relied on for making personal health decisions.
1. “High-Intensity Interval Training.” ACSM(n.d.): n. pag. Https://www.acsm.org/docs/brochures/high-intensity-interval-training.pdf. Web.
2. “Target Heart Rate and Estimated Maximum Heart Rate.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 10 Aug. 2015. Web. 02 Aug. 2017.