According to the American College of Sports who has released a top of the most preferred fitness trends, HIIT is what everyone’s doing now. And we can understand why. But what, in fact, is HIIT workout routine? If you want to know more about that and why it’s so loved by everyone, read along.
The Definition of HIIT
A quick HIIT definition is given by deciphering each of its initials: High-Intensity Interval Training. So basically it’s a training technique that uses intervals, which are very brutal. In-between these intensive intervals, you get a few active breaks in which you aim to recover as best you can.
That’s what HIIT stands for in a nutshell, and the main difference to cardio is that you’re not doing a sustained effort at an intensity of maybe 6/10 or 7/10 for 30 minutes at a time. You can complete a HIIT session in as little as 5 minutes, though the optimal duration is about 15-20 minutes, to which you add a warm-up and a cool down if you’re not jumping in another workout afterwards.
During this time, the high-intensity intervals should be at a 9 or 10 on your effort scale, so you’ll be gasping for breath at the end of each. Consider making each active interval about 20-30 seconds, followed by a low-intensity interval of 10 seconds, during which you’re doing something very light, like walking in place.
But this isn’t the only possible framework for the intervals. You can also use a 1:1 ratio, depending on how challenging the intervals are for your muscles and how much time you need to recover.
For instance, if you’re doing jump squats, which are really difficult on your quads, a 1:1 ratio would be best, with 20 seconds active intervals and 20 seconds of rest. But running is easier on the legs, although it’s equally strenuous on your heart and lungs, so in this case, you can choose a 1:3 ratio with 30 seconds full-on speed, followed by 10 seconds of rest.
It’s also important to understand that you shouldn’t overdo it with HIIT. It’s important to let your body heal, so don’t do it more than 3 times each week. Besides, if you’re wearing a heart rate monitor, make sure the active intervals bring you to about 90-95% of your maximum heart rate. Your low-activity intervals should take your heart rate to about 45%, so don’t stop moving completely.
You can’t understand completely what HIIT cardio is unless you know its benefits, so you can understand how this sort of routine can be of use to you.
HIIT burns more fat and calories than cardio or strength training, especially if you’re doing total-body exercises. The reason can be found in that breathlessness you’re feeling at the end of each active interval. Because you’re depriving your body of oxygen, you’re bringing it to an anaerobic state, while regular cardio, for instance, is an aerobic exercise. That means your body will need more oxygen to recover from anaerobic exercises than from aerobic ones.
And because you need more oxygen, your heart works harder to pump blood, and your lungs work harder as well to oxygenate your body. All that translates into more calories consumed, which helps you lose weight faster.
Accelerates Your Metabolism
With HIIT, you’ll get a metabolism boost so that you’re burning more fat and calories even after you finish your workout. Of course, these numbers aren’t as high as they are when you’re actually working out, but they’re increased to the numbers you usually see when you’re resting.
So if you do HIIT on a regular basis, 2 or 3 times each week, you can increase your Basal Metabolic Rate for good. That means you end up with faster resting metabolism, which means you’re burning more calories and fat even during your rest days. With Human Growth Hormone (HGH) levels 450% higher than usual for 24 hours after, you’ll also feel rejuvenated and stronger.
It’s really important to take this into account, especially considering that regular cardio done back-to-back day after day can actually decrease your BMR. Therefore, if you’re only doing cardio and you feel like you need to restrict your caloric intake constantly just to maintain your current weight, maybe you should think about adding a few sessions of HIIT into your workout routine.
It’s Fast and Convenient
One of the advantages of HIIT is that it’s so convenient and quick. With workouts ranging from 15 to 30 minutes, just a couple of times each week, you can rip all its benefits in no time.
Besides, you can do HIIT anywhere, not just at the gym. You can use it for power walking: instead of jogging at a steady pace for 30 minutes, run as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then walk for another 10. Or, if your routine includes bodyweight exercises or running on the treadmill, you can apply the same principles. And don’t forget that plenty of gym machines have built-in HIIT routines of their own.
It’s Fun and Makes You Smart
No one ever accused HIIT of being boring. You can’t read a magazine while doing it, but you won’t feel the need to. Your brain will work very hard to stay focused and keep you coordinated, which is great for reducing boredom levels. That, in turn, does a lot for your motivation.
More than that, seeing as your brain is working so hard, you’re actually improving your neuroplasticity. In other words, you’re working out your brain too, so you can focus better on your tasks at work or on the problems you face in your personal life. But having a healthy young brain also helps with some neurological diseases, keeping the effects of old age well at bay.
You Don’t Need Equipment
Another thing that makes HIIT so great is that it doesn’t require gym equipment like dumbbells. HIIT aims to increase your heart rate as much as possible, not building muscle mass.
But even if that’s the case, high-intensity interval training doesn’t lead you to lose muscle mass either. With other exercises, people lose muscle mass too, along with their lost pounds of fat, which makes them weaker in the long run, along with decreasing their metabolism.
Seeing as you’re working at a 9/10 intensity during each active interval, your muscles will also have to do a lot of effort, which keeps them in top shape. The fat you’re losing is mostly thanks to the combination of active and low-intensity intervals, which makes your body work differently than it normally does.
HIIT is perfect for building up your endurance thanks to this combination of very intense intervals and low-intensity ones. During the tough intervals, you need to give it your best shot, working as hard as you possibly can. If you’re new to HIIT, you might not last for the whole interval, but you’ll certainly get there.
The breaks are challenging too, at first. You need to learn how to recover really fast, catch your breath and move on to the next interval as fast as possible. So even if you can’t do that right from your first HIIT session, your body learns how to do that eventually.
All that means you’re gaining stamina and endurance. And that helps you with various things throughout the day, not just your fitness routine because you learn how to handle stress efficiently.
Besides, do you know what an increased endurance equals? A healthier heart. So you’re actually working towards decreasing the risks of various cardiovascular diseases, like high blood pressure or heart attacks.
That said, if you want to know what HIIT means, you also have to understand the challenges it poses.
The first thing that’s challenged is your proper form. Since HIIT is so complex, with fast movements that use your entire body, you find it hard to keep the right form during all the active intervals, which might lead to injury.
But the solution isn’t so power through as fast as you can, ignoring your form. It’s better to slow down until you gain enough strength and balance, and then you can worry about getting to that 90% level of your max heart rate.
You might be tempted to exclude cardio altogether from your workouts once you start HIIT. But people who do cardio on a regular basis get through those low-intensity intervals faster and recover fairly well before another very intensive interval. With an already well developed cardiovascular resistance, these people can also handle the very active intervals better, and learn how to master the proper form for HIIT faster.
Your Stress Levels
HIIT might be really stressing because it combines these active and low-activity intervals, so your brain gets into that fight or flight zone. While a good dose of adrenaline during your workout sessions is great for burning more calories, it can make you feel quite anxious after. So the best thing would be not to plan a HIIT workout before going to bed, but rather in the mornings, soon after you wake up.
Now that you’re here, you truly know what a HIIT workout routine is and what it can do for your health. So, have we convinced you? Are you going to try it? Have you decided which sorts of exercises you want to do? What scares you the most about HIIT and what sounds like the best?