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High Intensity Interval Training is ALL THE RAGE these days, and for good reason! HIIT has been studied extensively and was shown to be the most effective AND efficient means of getting in shape available to everyone. You don’t need fancy equipment, you don’t need a lot of time, and you don’t need a huge list of exercises. If you have a handful of compound movement exercises that you can perform safely, you can bring about some serious changes in your health. When you do intense bouts of exercise, with minimal rest time, it puts your body under a lot of (good) stress. This means more work, in less time, and more importantly real results. But, as always, for optimal results you need to eat healthy and reduce your calories. For those reading this as part of the Home Workout Series, you can head over to our Calisthenics page if you don’t quite feel ready for HIIT, or if you have mobility issues (or just want to start from absolute basics) you can head to our Introduction to Exercise page (which is useful for those who may have mobility issues).
Before undertaking ANY new routine, always check with a qualified physician!
This is the Wingate Test, which, along with sprint intervals, is used in most of the research done on HIIT… it ain’t fun.
So, as always, let’s start at the beginning: what is HIIT and why is it good!?
HIIT is, as you’d imagine, training at high intensity using intervals to break up the training. What this means in practice is doing something at a very high intensity for a short period of time, taking a break, and then doing it again. Not unlike SIT (Sprint Interval Training), the exercise interval will usually be shorter than the rest interval, and the intensity should be quite high (anything from 75-95% of your max capabilities). The reason you don’t exercise to 100% (i.e. turn your amp to 11) is because you won’t be able to recover in time for your next bout (interval) of exercise, so your HIIT becomes HIT (not as useful). HIIT training should go something like this:
The intensity (above) dictates your Exercise/Rest time ratio, meaning that the important thing is you challenge yourself sufficiently and then recover enough to challenge yourself sufficiently again (and again). This isn’t an excuse to take huge breaks, but merely a caveat when reading routines that give specific exercise/rest times. If you need to rest a little longer, then do. If the exercise is too easy then reduce the rest or (more appropriately) make the exercise more difficult. Even the numbers above aren’t set in stone! Some people will fatigue VERY quickly initially (depending on their baseline fitness) and will need to make adjustments, but the idea remains the same: Exercise at as high an intensity as you can manage (keeping in mind you have multiple sets), rest, repeat. That’s it! As for the benefits… well, they are too numerous to mention, but I’ll try to give you a quick run through what’s happening.
HIIT helps to develop not only aerobic capacity but also anaerobic capacity. Simply speaking, your body has different systems through which it can get energy (ATP) and can use oxygen or glucose for this energy (I did said simply speaking). These are separate systems that are both used and BOTH improved using HIIT as it requires (or at least should) sufficient muscle activation and has sufficient duration to push the body past what it can do using glycolysis (glucose fuel) only. This means that after you have exhausted your ability to use glucose to fuel your muscles, oxygen becomes the primary means of producing energy. For more information on energy systems, take a look here (and here is good too). Improvements in both of these systems then lead into our next health benefits (aerobic fitness needs oxygen and therefore the heart and anaerobic fitness needs glucose and therefore involves insulin)
HIIT improves insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance, as well as lowering fasting insulin levels, though, basically ALL exercise that isn’t walking does this (any form of anaerobic training). More studies are needed to ascertain whether these benefits are as a result of changes in the muscle or are due to the workouts themselves, though it would seem that longer term training would lead to changes in muscle architecture (such as a greater capacity for glucose usage by increasing the number of mitochondria) allowing for better insulin sensitivity and healthier glucose levels.
HIIT can improve heart health and overall health by improving fitness. Surprisingly, HIIT can result in a substantial increase in your VO2max in as little of 2 weeks of training (sometimes even upwards of 7% for untrained individuals). As was mentioned before, Hight Intensity Interval Training is an exceptional way to build cardio fitness, which will contribute to a number of health benefits (blood pressure, the aforementioned insulin resistance, sleep quality, circulation, etc.)
HIIT is better for fat loss. Notice I said better, and not a magic 10 minute Beyonce maker (FINE! You found me out… I don’t actually know the names of any famous hot girls). HIIT has shown to be better than LISS (Low Intensity Steady State exercise, think treadmill) and even just plain old HIT, though be sure to compare apples with apples (a 10 minute bout of HIIT is not going to have the same fat-loss benefits as a hard 90 minute workout with compound exercises, but it will be FAR more efficient when you factor in for time). They’re still not entirely sure of the mechanisms through which this fat loss occurs (though they can make a pretty reasonable guess). There are really only a few things that it would be, and it’s probably a combination of these, so: EPOC (basically increased post exercise metabolic rate), actual calories burned during the workout, changes in muscle tissue (both amount of muscle and how effectively they use energy), and post exercise appetite suppression (naturally occurring). Lastly, and this is purely anecdotal and wouldn’t be part of any research studies, but HIIT will normally form part of an OVERALL lifestyle change that will include better eating and therefore fat loss.
As was mentioned in the GREEN TEA DIET PLAN-Part 3 (and in our article – Why Diets Aren’t The Answer), most diets cause you to lose weight, not fat. This can be done by manipulating your body’s water reserves, or by cutting down the amount of “residual food” in your body, but these won’t result in fat loss (and WILL result in you gaining the weight back). We cover this in more detail in both the articles listed above AND in our Body Composition Page, Getting Started With Exercise Series, as well as our Home Workouts Review Page, so if you’re interested in the diet side of things, there’s plenty of resources there!
1. Exercising will not cause you to bulk up. I cannot stress this enough for any women who don’t lift weights because they are worried about getting big. That is completely crazy. Women on average have less than ONE TENTH the testosterone of men, and just think of how hard most guys you see at the gym work just to put on a few pounds of muscle. It’s not going to happen like that. You need to make a very concentrated effort to “bulk up”. What you will get instead is a leaner, healthier looking body. There is not a model (male or female) that gets chiseled features by doing crunches or running on a treadmill (and your body will hate you for trying).
2. Exercising in a fasted state can actually help to increase fat burning, and WILL NOT cause you to lose muscle.
Your HIIT Protocol: Ideally, what will happen is that from Monday – Friday you will do your workout at home before you eat dinner, and it won’t be long before you’re hooked. Alternatively, you could do it every morning before your shower, and I guarantee you will leave the house every day with more energy than you’ve ever had. All you will need is a cheap timer, and something comfortable to do your workout in.
Below are 3 sample HIIT routine progressions, one for absolute beginners and one for those who don’t have any mobility issues and would like more of a challenge. Keep in mind that the beginner routine isn’t particularly easier, but involves simpler movements so that you ease back into exercise while minimizing injury risks. The advanced routine is just that, designed to challenge people who are ALREADY in good shape. Do not open with it if you enjoy things like breathing and moving.
HIIT Beginner: Find your baseline with each of the movements, so if you have 20 seconds of squats and initially can do 10-15, look to build up to 20-25 in the 20 seconds. Do each of the beginner routines (1, 2, and 3) for about 2-3 weeks (depending on how long it takes you to build up the muscle memory necessary to perform the movements efficiently and the core stability to perform them safely). The idea with these routines is to lay the foundations for more challenging exercises. So, while it’s completely possible to get in shape with these exercises, it’s the intermediate and advanced routines that will really drive visible changes. Any questions about the routines, let us know HERE!
*If it’s too difficult in the beginning, then try taking longer breaks in between sets. Alternatively, if this is too easy, you need to check that your form is good. If you lack tension in your squats or push-ups, they will feel easier but provide very little benefit. Also, try to ensure that you’re exerting yourself fully at each exercise. If you’re only doing 3 or 4 push-ups in 20 seconds, well… you know what kind of results to expect.
It should have taken you about 6 weeks to get through the beginner workouts depending on where you started and how long you spent on each routine, so now it’s time to make things a little more challenging. Again, spend 2 weeks an the first intermediate workout, after which your body should be starting to adapt and starting to develop the aerobic capacity necessary to progress to more complex movements. It’s important then to increase the reps, and if possible decrease the rest period as this will help prepare for the 3rd intermediate routine (which has a fifth exercise added). So the intermediate routine progression would then look something like…
For those who have stuck with this for the 3 beginner and 3 intermediate routines (that’s 3 months of training!), here’s a reward for all your hard work (above and beyond the obvious healthier body, more energy, weight loss, less stress/anxiety…). When you’re doing any plyo jump squats, take it easy on the first set to allow the joints and muscles to find a comfortable path and do any necessary stretching before you start. Remember, any questions, get in touch!
Or for the ladies…
**As always, please don’t fall astray of these miracle routines/diets promising impossible results (…unless as you start taking THIS NEW DIET PILL! Hahaha). The issue with exercise routines promising to have you losing huge amounts of weight (a few kilos in a few days is a HUGE stress on your body and it will correct for it) and/or simultaneously putting on “lean muscle mass”. To lose fat, you need a caloric deficit. To gain muscle, you need a caloric surplus. While it is in fact a little more complicated that this, and can in some cases be done, most of the time you’re looking at steroids in action. “Easy come easy go” will never be truer than for your body, and if you drop a ton of weight in a week (which, without literal starvation, isn’t possible so don’t fall for the BS military diet routines) you will get it back just as fast. DON’T BOTHER WITH ARBITRARY WEIGHT-LOSS NUMBERS… look at this as a chance to do something amazing for yourself, and embrace all the challenges/successes along the way. What’s the worst that could happen??? (… broccoli breath)