High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a workout
that includes bursts of high intensity followed by low-intensity rest periods. It’s a system long been used to improve athletic performance, increase speed, strength and power.
Non-athletes can also take advantage
of the known benefits that a higher intensity workout can provide. But now, HIIT has become the latest fad in the fitness arena, and a lot of misinformation is being spread with the hype. The media is promoting that the average population can do a 4 – 7 minute workout and get the same benefits as a 20 – 60 minute workout, but this is just not true. I covered the benefits, and the hype in greater detail in my last two articles.
The fad started when the media got hold of the Tabata study:
- The Tabata study measured Olympians exercising for 4 minutes – 8 sets of 20-seconds exercise at an intensity of about 170% of VO2max (100% Max Heart Rate) with a 10-second rest between each bout (7).
Other, less intense workouts have been found to give the body an hour’s worth of exercise for less time.
They resemble the following:
- Three minute intervals at 95%–100% max HR with 2-minute active recovery periods done 5-6 times in succession (that’s a total of 30-35 minutes) (6)
- Four minutes at 95%–100% max HR with 3-minute active recovery periods done 4 times in succession (that’s a total of 30-40 minutes) (6)
Yeah. That’s still pretty darn intense.
Now we see workouts galore calling themselves Tabata
and claiming they’ll give an hour’s worth of benefits in anywhere from 7 minutes to 30 minutes. But the average person isn’t going to get those benefits if they’re not exercising at intensities similar to the above.
Do you need to do Tabata?
No, you don’t.
Both high intensity interval training and steady state cardio provides the following benefits:
(Note: steady state = 70-75% max heart rate for at least an hour)
Increases fat oxidation (fat burning), increases mitochondrial density (ability of the body to burn fat and calories), increases slow twitch muscle fibers oxidative capacity (gives endurance muscles more calorie and fat burning power), lowers blood pressure, lowers heart rate, improves stroke volume (the amount of blood pumped with one heart beat), increases V02 max (the body’s ability to consume, distribute, and use oxygen in order to burn calories), improves venous return to the heart, improves strength and thickness of the heart muscle, and improves overall strength and functioning of the entire cardiovascular system. (2)
But, is there something in-between – where you don’t have to exercise so hard or so long but still get more?
Yes. There are other types High Intensity Interval Training that will help you to get further in your fitness if you don’t have an hour to spare, and you don’t have to push to 90% or more of your maximum heart rate.
And since they’re in the middle, they’ll burn more calories than a lower intensity workout, but less than the athlete’s workouts posted above.
Below is my version if HIIT that can be tailored to your needs and your fitness level. It can help almost anyone get further, faster.
Is High Intensity Cardio Interval Training for you?
As a professional with my experience and training I wouldn’t introduce HIIT to a beginner.
If you are just starting out or just getting back into exercise, high intensity levels can be very uncomfortable. Not to mention, without a proper foundation of fitness (below) pushing your body to extremes can be dangerous.
How do you know if you’re ready for high intensity interval workouts?
You’re ready when:
- You have a good cardiovascular exercise foundation. You’ve been consistently completing 4 to 6 days per week of 30 minutes minimum cardiovascular training at an intensity level of 7 to 7.5 on a scale of 1-10 (see RPE chart below).
- You have a foundation of muscular strength (working your total body 2-3x per week) to support the joints.
- You have a regular flexibility program (stretching your total body 4-6x per week) to resist injury.
- You’ve been exercising consistently for at least 8-12 weeks so your body is ready for an increased challenge.
- You’ve got clearance from your doctor to exercise at high intensity, especially if you haven’t in a while.
Important considerations when doing HIIT:
An effective program with high intensity workouts alternates high intensity, medium intensity and low intensity workouts through the week. In this way the body can keep moving, metabolizing and burning calories, and won’t risk over-training and over-fatigue.
Intense workouts demand more recovery time than moderate exercise sessions in order for the body to regenerate the muscle, build the strength and reap the rewards of the exercise. To put it plainly, if you don’t give yourself adequate recovery time, you won’t get the benefits. For this reason, no more than 3 HIIT workouts during a week are recommended in order to prevent injury (13).
Each individual HIIT workout needs a 5-10 minute warm up for safety, so your joints and your cardiovascular system are adequately prepared for the work they’ll be doing. Not to mention, your body can do more physically after it’s warmed, so you’ll get more out of the workout. With a warm up and cool down included, any safe and effective workout takes more than 15 minutes.
Below is a sample higher-intensity cardio interval workout that’ll give you more bang for your exercise buck.
It’s not as intense as those created for elite athletes. This workout tailors itself to your needs, based on how hard you feel you’re working. It’s an outline of the program I build for clients based on their own, personal physical needs.
High intensity feels different for everyone.
To illustrate the fact that everyone’s high intensity level feels different, instead of using percentage of Heart Rate Max, I’ll use a rating of perceived exertion (RPE) from 1-10 as a measurement of intensity (See the scale below).
If you’re on a treadmill and you to push yourself to what you think is an RPE level 8 on a scale of 1-10 you may be able to run 5 miles per hour and get yourself up to 75% of your maximum heart rate. But next year, when you to push to an RPE level 8 on a scale of 1-10, you might be able to run 6 miles per hour and get yourself up to 80% of your max. You’re at the same perceived exertion intensity level, but you’re doing much more.
You can do this workout on a cardio machine or outdoors.
Remember that since I’m not able to be with you for this workout, nor do I know your personal, physical needs, you’ll be performing this exercise at your own risk.
Modified RPE Scale
To be used with the interval workout below.
In this scale of 1 – 10, zero is not working at all, and 10 is an 100%, all-out effort (imagine, running to catch a cab that’s already 1/2 block away and it’s got your wallet in the back seat). Here’s the gist of how it feels:
- Very, Very Light
- Somewhat Hard
- Very Hard
- Very, Very Hard
- 100% Max Effort
(This scale is directly modified from the 6-10 RPE category scale which has a linear relationship to cardiovascular intensity. Your rating may not only depend on heart rate but on other physical factors affecting your comfort/discomfort.) (2,14, 17)
(c) LuciFit, 2015
Sample High Intensity Interval
Thirty Minute Cardio Workout
Dont’ forget to clear an exercise program with your doctor before you start this kind of training. Since I’m not able to be with you for this workout, nor do I know your personal, physical needs, you’ll be performing this exercise at your own risk.
- Warm up for 5 to 10 minutes at a level 5 on a scale of 1-10. If you’ve been sitting for a long time or sleeping for eight hours, give your body time to get the blood flowing, heat up, and increase the mobility of the muscles and joints before you push harder. Don’t increase intensity until you feel ready.
- When you’re ready, bump up the speed until you feel like you’re at about a level 7 on a scale of 1 – 10 (70% of your all out effort). Do as much as you can here (between 2 and 8 minutes). Then, take the level down to your warm-up pace or lower, until you feel ready to go another interval.
- When ready, bump up the speed again until you feel like you’re at about a level 8 – 9 on a scale of 1 – 10 (Approximately 80 to 90 percent of your all-out max). You’ll be working very hard, and although you can speak, you won’t be able to carry on a conversation. Your breathing will be very deep and faster at this level, but you will not be gasping.
- Go as long as you can at this level. This can be anywhere from 90 seconds to 8 minutes. Let your body let you know how much time you can spend at this level. If you can go for 10 minutes, you can bump it up a little higher on the next interval. Basically, the harder you work, the less time you’ll be able to spend in the interval.
- Once you’ve gone as long as you can at this intensity, bring yourself back down to a warm-up pace and give yourself as much time as you need to recover back to your warm up level. You may need to bring it down to a walk at first.
- Once recovered, bring yourself back up to a level a level 8 or 9 on a scale of 1-10 . You may find you can go just a little faster or harder than you did the first time. Test it out. See what you can do. Remember, you are in control and you can always bring the level back down. Maintain this higher pace for as long as possible. Ideally, one to 8 minutes.
- Once you’ve gone you’re longest at that pace, slow yourself back down. Repeat the sets until you’re close to the half hour mark. Make sure you have 3 to 5 minutes for a cool down at the end of your workout. In a 30 minute workout, you’ll have done at least 3 intervals.
Congratulate yourself for a job well done!
(c) LuciFit, 2015
This is the third of three articles on this subject.
Find the first article here: The Rise of High Intensity Intervals and the Fall of the Fat Burning Zone.
Find the second article here: High Intensity Interval Training – Too Good To Be True?
This is Week 1 of Mind Body Blast.
Mind Body Blast, has a new high intensity component for advanced practitioners that we cover in Week 1. Students learn and practice upping the ante to their workouts in a safe way, and moving forward with greater fitness and weight loss, with an expert to guide them. If this sounds like something you’re interested in, head over to the Mind Body Blast Site and check it out – class is starting soon.
I also offer one-on-one training and coaching for fitness and nutrition both online and in person contact me if you’re interested. Otherwise, if you want my continuing and free advice about how to live a balanced and optimally healthy life, subscribe here.
References for this article are here.
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