Best Way to do High-Intensity Interval Training – Get the Most Out of HIIT

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David Lee

Best Way to do High-Intensity Interval Training - Get the Most Out of HIIT

There are lots of exercise pursuits you can incorporate into your weight loss routine: weight training, jogging, zumba, boxercise… There are so many choices! HIIT is one of them. It’s become an increasingly popular option over the last couple of decades, not only with overweight people but also with those seeking improvements in muscle tone and physical fitness.

Research shows HITT can be very effective in all these areas and, not surprisingly, many healthcare professionals recommend it to their patients.

HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training ) is a dynamic exercise approach that alternates between short bursts of intense activity and periods of rest or lower-intensity exercise.

Why has HIIT gained such a following among fitness enthusiasts and researchers alike? It’s the allure of its time-saving workouts and the promise of rapid results. Designed to push the limits of your cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength, HIIT is the key to unlocking a faster metabolism and a leaner physique.

This article peels back the layers of this powerful training method, explaining why it can be such a valuable weight loss tool. By the time you have finished reading, you will have a better understanding of how HIIT works and the best ways to incorporate it into your weight management regimen.

What is HIIT?

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a cardiovascular exercise strategy alternating short periods of intense anaerobic exercise with less intense recovery periods. Typically, these intense workouts last from 20 to 90 seconds, ensuring that the high-intensity periods are performed at near-maximum effort.

HIIT is grounded in the principles of exercise physiology. The method capitalizes on the body’s energy systems: the phosphagen and glycolytic pathways, which are highly active during short, explosive bouts of physical activity, and the oxidative pathway, which is predominant during longer, sustained exertions.

By repeatedly stressing these systems, HIIT enhances the body’s mitochondrial density, which is crucial for energy production. It also improves insulin sensitivity, which helps regulate blood sugar levels.

Compared to traditional endurance training, which typically involves prolonged, steady exercise like jogging or cycling, HIIT is characterized by its variability in intensity. While endurance training predominantly utilizes the oxidative energy system, HIIT engages all three energy systems. This results in a more comprehensive stimulus for cardiovascular and muscular adaptation.

HIIT training

Comparison to Traditional Endurance Training

  • Duration: Traditional endurance sessions often last anywhere from 30 minutes to several hours, while HIIT can be effective in as little as 15 to 30 minutes.
  • Energy Systems: Endurance training relies mostly on aerobic metabolism, while HIIT taps into both aerobic and anaerobic pathways.
  • Afterburn: Post-exercise oxygen consumption is higher after HIIT than after endurance training. This results in greater calorie expenditure even after the workout is over.
  • Accessibility: It’s possible to perform a HIIT workout with or without equipment. You can also tailor HIIT to many levels of fitness, whereas endurance training often requires sustained activity that might be challenging for beginners or those with joint issues.

Benefits of HIIT for Weight Loss

HIIT workouts are not only time-efficient but also incredibly potent in driving weight loss and promoting a healthy body composition.

Here’s how HIIT supports these goals:

Faster Metabolism

The intense exertion of HIIT raises the body’s metabolic rate significantly. The result is a higher calorie burn during the workout. This higher level of calorie expenditure continues long after the workout is over.

Fat Loss Without Muscle Loss

One of the most compelling advantages of HIIT is its ability to encourage fat loss while preserving, or even building, muscle mass. This is in stark contrast to many forms of prolonged, steady-state cardio, which can sometimes cause muscle catabolism (breakdown).

Time Efficiency of HIIT Workouts

For those who are unable to commit to longer exercise sessions, HIIT is a godsend. It’s typically possible to complete the workouts in 30 minutes or less, making them much easier to fit into busy schedules.

The Afterburn Effect (EPOC)

Excess Post-exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) refers to the oxygen required to restore the body to its resting state. HIIT creates a significant EPOC effect, meaning that the body continues to consume oxygen at a greater rate post-exercise, resulting in higher calorie expenditure—sometimes for hours after the workout.

Different Types of HIIT Workouts

HIIT workouts come in a variety of flavors:

  • Tabata: Developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata, this method involves 20 seconds of ultra-intense exercise followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes.
  • Little Method: Designed by exercise physiologist Jonathan Little, it consists of 60 seconds of intense exercise followed by 75 seconds of rest, repeated for 8 to 12 cycles.
  • Turbulence Training: The brainchild of fitness expert Craig Ballantyne, Turbulence Training mixes 8 reps of strength training with 1-2 minutes of high-intensity cardio, repeated for 45 minutes.
  • Customized HIIT Routines: These routines are modified to individual needs and preferences. They can vary in intensity, duration, and exercise types, ensuring a wide range of adaptability to address specific fitness or weight management goals.

Getting Started with HIIT

Before diving headfirst into High-Intensity Interval Training, it’s important to assess your current fitness level. Especially if you are very overweight, haven’t exercised in a long time, or have any health problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, or cardiovascular disease.

HIIT is demanding and requires a solid foundation of both cardiovascular and muscular endurance to be performed safely and effectively. It’s no good jumping in with both feet, you need to be certain your present state of health is good enough to cope with the rigors of intense HIIT training sessions.

It may be possible to gauge your current level of fitness by performing basic exercises. For example, note how many push-ups or squats you can do at a time, or how breathless you feel after a brisk walk or jog.

Alternatively, you could consult a doctor or other suitably qualified healthcare professional. This is always the best route to go if you have any ongoing medical conditions or have concerns about your present state of health.

Choosing the Right HIIT Workout

After the initial fitness assessment, you will need to choose a HIIT workout that best matches your present physical condition.

Although it may be possible for you to start at an intermediate or advanced level, it may be best to start with a beginner’s workout. Then, if it proves to be too easy, take things up a notch the next time.

HIIT workouts for beginners are likely to have less intensity during the training periods and/or longer rest periods. At the advanced level, it will be a very different story.

When you are selecting a HIIT workout, it’s also a good idea to consider your personal preferences and goals. For instance, do you prefer to train with equipment or perform exercises such as push-ups that utilize your body weight? Are you only interested in fat loss or do you want to take things further and build a more muscular physique?

Safety Considerations and Injury Prevention

As with any form of exercise or sports pursuit, when you are doing HIIT, there is always a risk of injury. You can reduce this risk by always performing a suitable warm-up session.

It’s also important to always use proper form. Learning to perform all the exercises correctly and always doing so is another good way to reduce the risk of injury.

Adequate recovery is important too. Ensure you have enough rest days. This will  allow your body to fully recover between workouts and reduce the risk of overtraining.

At the beginner level, it’s best to stick to only 2 or 3 HIIT sessions per week.

HIIT Workout Structure

A well-structured HIIT session encompasses several components: a warm-up, high-intensity intervals, rest or low-intensity intervals, and a cool-down.

Each one plays a vital role in the safety and effectiveness of the workout.

Warm-Up

  • Duration: 5-10 minutes
  • Purpose: Increase heart rate, blood flow to muscles, and body temperature to prepare for high-intensity work.
  • Activities: Dynamic exercises like leg swings, arm circles, and light jogging that mimic movements used in the workout.

High-Intensity Intervals

  • Duration: 20-90 seconds
  • Intensity: 80-95% of your maximum heart rate; should feel like 8-9 on a 1-10 effort scale.
  • Structure: Can include sprints, burpees, or other explosive movements.

Rest or Low-Intensity Intervals

  • Duration: Equal to or longer than the high-intensity intervals for beginners. Those with more experience can shorten rest periods for a greater challenge.
  • Intensity: 40-50% of your maximum heart rate; should feel like 2-3 on a 1-10 effort scale.
  • Activities: Walking, slow cycling, or light bodyweight exercises to aid recovery.

Cool-Down

  • Duration: 5-10 minutes
  • Purpose: Bring heart rate and breathing back to normal and promote recovery.
  • Activities: Stretching and flexibility exercises targeting major muscle groups used during the workout.

Examples of HIIT Exercises

The beauty of HIIT is its versatility, allowing for a variety of exercises that can be modified to suit any fitness level and preference.

Here are some examples:

Bodyweight Exercises

  • Push-ups: Perform as many as you can with good form during high-intensity intervals.
  • Squats: Add a jump for more intensity, ensuring you land softly to protect your joints.
  • Burpees: Combine a squat, push-up, and jump for a full-body workout.

Cardio Machines

  • Treadmill: Alternate sprinting with walking or jogging.
  • Stationary Bike: Cycle at maximum effort, then pedal slowly to recover.
  • Rowing Machine: Row vigorously for your high-intensity interval, then slow down for recovery.

Free Weights

  • Dumbbell Snatches: Lift the weight from the floor to overhead in one motion, then rest.
  • Kettlebell Swings: Use your hips to swing the kettlebell; rest after a set number of reps.

Resistance Bands

  • Band Pull Aparts: Strengthen the upper back by pulling the band apart during the high-intensity phase.
  • Squat to Press: Use the resistance band to add difficulty to squats during your high-intensity interval.

When integrated carefully and thoughtfully, these and similar exercises can create a HIIT routine that is challenging, effective, and a good match for your personal fitness or weight management goals.

However, always prioritize safety, listen to your body, and don’t hesitate to modify exercises to fit your needs and abilities.

HIIT foods

Diet and Nutrition: Fueling Your HIIT Sessions

Success in High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) isn’t solely determined by the effort in the gym or on the track. How you fuel your body is important as well. Proper nutrition can enhance performance, optimize recovery, and contribute to the overall success of your HIIT regimen.

Pre-Workout Nutrition (What to Eat Before HIIT)

Before engaging in a HIIT session, it’s best to consume a meal that helps sustain energy, increase performance, preserve muscle mass, and speed up recovery.

The focus should be on carbohydrates, as they are the primary fuel source for high-intensity activities. However, including a moderate amount of protein can help prevent muscle damage.

  • Carbohydrates: Opt for quick-digesting carbs for energy without discomfort during the workout. Examples include fruit like bananas, pears, or apples.
  • Protein: Include a lean protein source, such as Greek yogurt or a small portion of chicken breast, to support muscle health.

Timing Your Meals

The timing of your pre-workout meal is also important:

  • 2-3 hours before: If you have the time, a balanced meal containing carbs, protein, and a little fat will provide sustained energy.
  • 30-60 minutes before: For those with less time, a small, carb-focused snack with a little protein can give you a quick energy boost.

Post-Workout Nutrition (What to Eat After HIIT)

After completing a HIIT workout, your body needs to replenish glycogen stores and repair muscle tissues. This is the time to consume a mix of carbohydrates and protein.

  • Carbohydrates: Restore glycogen levels with carbs like rice, quinoa, fruits, or sweet potatoes.
  • Protein: Facilitate muscle repair with proteins such as chicken, fish, tofu, or a protein shake.
  • Antioxidants: Foods rich in antioxidants, like berries or dark leafy greens, can help combat oxidative stress caused by intense exercise.

Hydration is another critical factor in the recovery process. Fluids help transport nutrients to the cells, remove waste products, and regulate body temperature.

  • Water: Drink water throughout the day, not just after your workouts. The amount you need depends on many factors, including workout intensity, duration, and ambient temperature.
  • Electrolytes: For particularly intense or long sessions, or if you sweat profusely, you might need an electrolyte solution to replenish sodium, potassium, and other key minerals.

Aim to consume your post-workout meal or snack within 45 minutes to an hour after your session to maximize recovery and prepare your body for the next workout. This window is when your muscles are most receptive to the nutrients that aid muscle repair and growth.

In essence, your diet should work in tandem with your HIIT sessions. A strategic approach to nutrition will elevate your performance and recovery, ensuring that each session is as effective as possible. However, if you are trying to lose weight, you will still need to remain within the constraints of a low-calorie diet.

Overcoming Plateaus with HIIT

A weight loss plateau is a common and frustrating experience where progress stalls despite maintaining diet and exercise routines. A plateau typically involves a persistent inability to lose weight over a period of weeks.

Plateaus happen for several reasons: the body adapts to the current level of physical activity, the metabolic rate slows as you lose weight, or dietary habits may unconsciously shift.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) can be an effective strategy to overcome these plateaus. HIIT challenges the body with bursts of intense activity, which can increase calorie burn and jumpstart metabolism. This form of exercise not only burns a significant number of calories during the session but also elevates metabolic rate for hours afterward, a phenomenon known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). By incorporating HIIT, you create a new stimulus for your body, encouraging adaptation and renewed weight loss.

To effectively break through a plateau with HIIT, consistency and variation are key. Regularly incorporating HIIT workouts into your routine can prevent your body from becoming too efficient at a particular activity, which can lead to fewer calories burned.

Additionally, varying the type of HIIT workouts — alternating between running, cycling, swimming, or bodyweight exercises — can keep the body guessing and adapting. It’s also important to reassess your dietary habits to ensure you’re not consuming more calories than you need, as even small increases in portion sizes can counteract the benefits of HIIT.

Finally, adequate rest and recovery are essential. Overtraining can lead to fatigue and decreased performance, which can halt your weight loss efforts. Ensuring you get enough sleep and incorporating rest days into your exercise regimen allows your body to repair and strengthen, setting the stage for continued weight loss when you return to your HIIT workouts.

Tracking Your HIIT Progress

Incorporating High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) into your fitness routine or weight loss journey is a step that requires monitoring to gauge its effectiveness. Tracking your progress is the key to understanding how well your HIIT sessions are paying off and whether you need to adjust your regimen for better results.

Measuring Your Success

When it comes to HIIT, the evidence of progress can be multi-faceted, extending beyond the scale.

Weight loss is the most common metric, and regular weigh-ins can help you see changes over time. However, weight alone isn’t a comprehensive measure of HIIT’s impact on your body. Body composition measurements, such as body fat percentage, provide a clearer picture of your health and fitness.

This can be tracked using tools like skinfold calipers, bioelectrical impedance scales, or even more advanced methods such as DEXA scans. These measurements can offer insights into how HIIT is helping to build muscle and reduce fat, even if your overall weight doesn’t change dramatically.

Tracking fitness level assessments is another crucial aspect. You might measure improvements in your cardiovascular endurance through a timed run or observe advancements in strength and power with exercises like squats or burpees. Completing more repetitions or lifting heavier weights than when you started HIIT are tangible signs of increased fitness.

Adjusting Your HIIT Plan

As you track your progress, you’ll reach points where increasing the intensity of your HIIT workouts is necessary to continue seeing results.

This could mean shortening rest intervals, increasing the length of high-intensity bursts, or incorporating more challenging exercises. It’s essential to do this progressively to avoid injury and to allow your body to adapt to the increased demands.

Incorporating a variety of workouts prevents plateaus and keeps the routine engaging. This could involve alternating between different types of HIIT sessions, such as Tabata, cardio-focused workouts, or strength-based intervals. Variety challenges different muscle groups and energy systems, ensuring a well-rounded approach to fitness.

Listening to your body is paramount in the process of adjusting your HIIT plan. Recognize the difference between pushing yourself to healthy limits and overtraining, which can lead to burnout or injury.

Symptoms like prolonged fatigue, decreased performance, or a lack of enthusiasm for workouts may signal the need for extra rest or a reassessment of your current HIIT strategy. Keeping a detailed log of your workouts, including how you felt before, during, and after each session, can help you tune into your body’s signals and optimize your HIIT regimen accordingly.

Get the Most from HIIT – Summary and Conclusion

Although there are many ways to burn extra calories via exercise, HITT offers certain advantages to people who are trying to lose weight.

Due to the need for shorter workouts, it can be a great choice for anyone who is pressed for time. HITT can also increase calorie expenditure and fat loss long after workouts are over and also help improve overall body composition.

This article provides an insight into HIIT and the benefits it can provide. It also provides tips that make it easier to get started with HIIT and reduce the risk of injuries or other unwanted complications.

Finally, it advises on how to track progress and modify workouts to compensate for plateaus or help keep things fresh.

If you are currently trying to lose weight and exploring all the various exercise options that can help, we hope our article has provided the answers you sought.

Research and Further Reading

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About the author

David Lee is a leading obesity specialist based in Singapore. As a clinician-scientist with a National Hospital, David Lee advises patients with complex metabolic conditions and participates in clinical trials exploring new therapies. His research focuses on adipose tissue metabolism and how it impacts whole-body energy levels and disease risk. He continues to expand understanding of obesity and its link to diabetes through groundbreaking genetic and molecular studies published in top journals.