What is HIIT workout? Also known as high-intensity interval training,
Today we’re going to talk about, what is HIIT workout? Why do you want to do HIIT? Who can do HIIT? And how can you do HIIT workout?
There are a lot of misconceptions out there about HIIT workout, so we’re going to straighten all of them out for you in this detailed article.
What is HIIT workout? Or High-Intensity Interval Training
It’s not where you go to the gym and you work out really hard for 45 minutes,
Even though that feels like high intensity, that is not what we’re talking about.
Just like the name says, it is intense, meaning you have to get up to super high intensity (so high that you cannot sustain it for more than seconds to maybe a minute)
Therefore, it is short and very time-saving.
If you can do it for 30 minutes, it’s not high-intensity interval training.
And an interval simply means that you’re varying the intensity, you alternate between high-intensity and lower intensity or resting periods.
So why is there all this talk about high intensity interval training or HIIT workout?
Because, when we look at the benefits of exercise, and we understand what they truly are.
Benefits of HIIT workout
Some of the benefits of HIIT workout are:
- There are hormonal benefits,
- There are Fitness benefits,
- There are circulation
Hormonal Benefits of HIIT workout
Hormonal benefits mean that high intensity makes something called growth hormone and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) pretty much in proportion to how intense the exercise is.
So these hormones are extremely beneficial,
- They are muscle promoting,
- They are brain promoting.
You cannot make new brain cells or new synapses without human growth hormone and BDNF,
But with enough of those and the right nutrition and circumstances, you can actually make new brain tissue.
So those are the hormonal benefits, and high intensity again means, that you make more of these beneficial hormones in direct proportion to how intense the exercise is.
Fitness benefits of HIIT workout
HIIT workout also has to do with fitness.
The Fitness is pretty much proportional to the intensity,
Circulation benefits of HIIT workout
You are also getting circulation benefits even though the duration is shorter and we’ll talk more about that also later in the article.
You can get all these benefits in a much shorter time than it would take to go to the gym or to a spin class or do aerobics 4-5 days a week.
The next question is
Who can do a HIIT workout?
Well, pretty much everyone can do HIIT workout.
However, we have to make sure that we do it within the limits of our fitness level, so everyone can do it.
But if you have a disease, if you have pain, if you are extremely unfit,
Then you need to be aware of your situation and you have to move forward very carefully and very gradually so that your fitness level increases and so that you’re not jeopardizing your health.
So if you have a disease, then you need to consult with the doctor managing that disease before you engage in any of this HIIT workout,
If you have pain, you have to obviously accommodate the exercises to be the ones that you can handle with that pain.
And if you’re unfit, then you have to move forward very slowly.
How do you do HIIT workout?
Here, the more important question is how do you do HIIT workout correctly so that you get these hormonal and fitness benefits and that you do it within a time frame that is short and convenient.
The first thing you need to know is that it’s about producing lactic acid.
If you exercise, if you move at a level below which you produce lactic acid also known as aerobic, then there will be none or negligible hormonal benefits as far as growth hormone.
Your body only makes extra growth hormone in response to a challenge, so this is all about challenging the body.
And when we talk about lactic acid, that means it’s going to hurt, it’s going to burn and you need to push yourself.
However, the beauty is that most people are very willing to push themselves if it’s for a short time and we’re talking seconds here.
So you could do HIIT workout
- On a stationary bike,
- While walking, jogging, running,
- You can do body circuits,
- You can do burpees,
- You can do a rowing machine.
And we’ll talk about some of those.
So the activity doesn’t matter so much, but the principle is as follows:
You start warming up and you do a 5-10 minute warm-up just to get your joints ready, your circulation going your brain engaged, and all of that good stuff.
But you want to still be in an aerobic range during the warm-up meaning your part rate is probably going to be below 120 or so.
Starting the first interval of HIIT training
And then once you start your first interval, now you go all out, you hit it really hard for 20 to 60 seconds.
20-60 seconds depends on what you’re doing, if you’re on a stationary bike then your legs are going to start burning really fast and you’re probably going to tend to go into the shorter interval.
For your reference, I go for a walk or a jog on a mountain trail and then when I hit it hard, I do a sprint and I do that uphill,
And then I’m going to go probably closer to 60 seconds because I can maintain that for that period of time.
The shorter you do it, the more repetitions you’re going to do,
The longer you do it, the fewer repetitions you need to do.
Let’s just use 30 seconds, for example, you would go all out for 30 seconds and your heart rate would probably be somewhere around 120.
Here you need to understand that, everyone’s going to be different,
So you can add or subtract a lot to these numbers.
Resting period between HIIT training
Then you’re going to get up to 140 or so in the first 30 seconds, then you give yourself a rest period,
The rest period could be about 20 to 60 seconds,
You don’t want to go a lot longer because if you go longer, then your heart rate drops too low, and then you don’t get the benefit of the previous interval pushing your heart rate higher and higher.
So you’re depending on the previous lactic acid to not go away all the way before you start the next one,
And that’s how you move this higher and higher.
Why wouldn't you do one interval of three minutes?
Well, you could, and that would still be beneficial, but then you don’t get the benefit of each period pushing the next higher,
Because with each resting period, by giving yourself a little bit of time, your body is going to upregulate its circulation.
It’s going to open up the capillaries; it’s going to upregulate enzymes and the whole machinery for oxygen utilization and energy production.
So it works a whole lot better if you do it with intervals like this.
So then you rest for about 30 seconds, and now when you start over again, your heart rate might be at 130.
Second Interval of HIIT training
So it’s higher than it was, and because you have some lactic acid, the next interval is going to take you higher than the previous one.
So now your heart rate might hit 150 for example.
Then you go 30 seconds, you rest 30 seconds, and now your heart rate is going to drop, but it’s not going to drop as much as it dropped from the previous one.
Then you hit it again 30 seconds all-out, you might hit 160 and then you rest another 30 seconds and you hit it one more time.
Now you might have reached your maximum heart rate, so you may or may not get another increase there.
Typically you might get a few more points, but it again depends on your fitness level and how hard you push yourself.
Goal of HIIT training
So the goal really is only to get you up to what your maximum heart rate is.
And what is that?
It’s different for everyone, but the rough rule of thumb is,
You start with a 220 and subtract your age.
So I am rounded 27 years old, so my maximum heart rate should be 220 – 27 = 193
So, if I was to hit once between 190 and 195, I would be happy for that day.
Later on, you can try to push it higher and see where your actual level is,
It might be a little higher like I have recently gotten mine up to about 197, which is a few beats higher than I should theoretically have.
But again, everyone’s different, so just use that as a ballpark measure.
You can repeat this three to eight times, and it all depends on how high are you getting your heart rate, how are you feeling, and how fit are you.
In the beginning, I would probably stop after three or four intervals especially depending on if they’re longer, then I would not do too many.
If you’re on an exercise bike and you’re just going 20 seconds, you could probably start off with four to six intervals.
But you don’t need to go more than eight, because there is no benefit,
You’re just breaking your body down too much, it’s excessive break down to go too far.
And this is also why you want to try to get this done in a few minutes.
HIIT workout is not about going 20-30 minutes, that’s not what we’re talking about,
We’re talking about doing it in a way that you get all the hormonal benefits, all the health benefits but without causing excessive stress and without spending a lot of time.
How to maximise the benefits of HIIT workout?
So now let’s talk about a few examples:
Firstly, let’s say that you’ve never exercised or at least not in the last 20 years that you are overweight, you are insulin resistance, your knees are achy sometimes, or you’re basically pretty unfit.
Hey! Don’t beat yourself up, just do something about it,
So if you can walk, then do some walking, just start there and then you could do intervals just walking a little faster or if you get to a hill then you could walk a little faster uphill.
But if you’re not very fit, then you probably should aim for maybe 70% of where you think your maximum is,
Just start conservatively and then better be safe than sorry.
And then a few days later, you do it again and then if everything feels good, if your body recovered, then you push it a little further.
You still need to follow this pattern; you’re just walking and then you walk a little faster, and then you walk a little slower, and you walk a little faster.
If you’re not really comfortable about walking or if you feel a little unstable, but you have a stationary bike, that’s a great place to be.
Because you’re not going anywhere, you can hold on to something, and you can do the same type of intervals here again.
If you’re unfit, don’t push yourself too far, start easy, and then you can always add to it later.
Over time then, you would work your way up to a hundred percent, but I wouldn’t add more than five percent per week,
Because this is not about rushing into something, it’s about developing a healthy lifestyle that you can maintain.
So who cares if it takes a few months to get up to where you’re getting all of the optimal benefits.
If you’re a little bit more fit, now you could do a treadmill, if the treadmill has an incline, then you could use that for your intervals,
And if you’re doing something like walking on a treadmill, then with an incline, these intervals would probably be closer to 60 seconds,
Because it is going to take you a bit longer to get up to the top peak heart rate,
By Climbing Stairs
And the other option might be climbing stairs, especially if you have some stairs where you could hold on to something,
You don’t need to walk a whole lot of stairs if you just have one stair that you step up and step down while you can hold on to something,
It doesn’t really matter what it is as long as you’re doing something, you can always progress from there.
So if you’re medium fit, then you can push yourself up to 80%
I wouldn’t go to a hundred again; I would let that be a goal in the next couple of months.
And if you are really fit, then you could do pretty much anything that’s safe within the limits for you,
By doing Sprints
You can do body circuits, burpees, jumping jacks, pull-ups, sprints, etc.
You should do sprints on the flat plain, which is much more demanding than doing sprints uphill,
Because doing sprints uphill, you’re moving your body mass up, so it takes more energy and you can’t go as fast,
So it’s much safer to sprint on a plain surface, you don’t have to be as fit to run uphill as you have to be to run flat.
And I would never recommend anyone to sprint downhill because that’s just asking for trouble.
If you’re already fit, then you should aim for maybe 95% of what you think your max is.
What you’ll find if you are fit is that it takes a lot to get your heart rate up that high,
So the more you can use of your large muscles, the large body parts all at once, the easier it is going to be to get into the high range.
If you’re really fit, it’s going to hurt a lot to get on a stationary bike,
Because you’re not using your upper body, you’re using the leg muscles and you can get a severe burn and still not be even close to a hundred percent.
So everyone is different, for me, it’s tough on a stationary bike to get really high, that’s why I do the sprints.
By weight lifting
A lot of people ask about weights, well they’re great and you can actually get the same benefit as you do with maxing out your heart rate with maxing out on weights.
But to truly get the benefits of hormones, you have to raise your systemic level of growth hormone; you have to use the large muscle groups,
So the only one that would count would be squats, so if you have strong knees and a strong lower back, then you can go with really heavy weights and you can push yourself to where you miss the last rep
Why does HIIT workout works?
Because the body makes growth hormone in response to a challenge,
Why does it make growth hormone?
Because it wants to build a bigger muscle, so it can handle the challenge, so it can handle the abuse for next time.
So if you push your body to where the body says “hey! You know if he’s going to do this again I have to get better”
Then the body is going to make a lot of growth hormones.
You can still get the same benefit using smaller muscle groups like arms, but you’re not going to recruit as large a volume of muscle and you’re not going to race the body total growth hormone as much.
But weights are great, I highly encourage it and again if you do it with high intensity then you will have more fitness than if you’re just doing lots and lots of reps and going through the motions.
If you do the weights though, you have to be really fit, you have to be pain-free, you have to use good form, and all of that stuff.
So use someone to help you with the good form if you are not very used to that.
Alright, so the workout itself is pretty short, you could do get the whole thing done with the warm-up and cool down in 15-20 minutes that’s a great time-saver.
How often do you need to do the HIIT workout?
Some people suggest doing HIIT workout every day, but that is a really bad idea and we’ll talk about that.
When the body makes growth hormone, it does downgrade pretty fast, the half-life of growth hormone is 10 to 20 minutes,
What does last are the secondary effects, and they go on for days,
So what we need to understand about the growth hormone is that, while you sleep is the period where you release up to 85% of your growth hormone.
So sleeping is one of the most important ways to make sure that you get your growth hormone release,
But what they found in a study was that, even though the half-life of the growth hormone was only 10 to 20 minutes,
The people who did HIIT workout, they had improved growth hormone release during their sleep cycle.
So the growth hormone is released in sort of a pulsing wave pattern throughout the day but especially during sleep.
And the HIIT didn’t change the pattern, but it improved the volume,
So even much later you got additional growth hormone release if you had done HIIT workout.
Misconception about Exercise
The other thing you want to understand about exercise (which is a huge misconception) is that exercise makes you stronger, that exercise makes you feel better.
This is not true, exercise is a stress, and it breaks you down.
What feels good, what makes you stronger, what builds muscle, is when the body repairs the damage.
Because if you challenged, if you wore the muscle down, if you broke a few fibers, you release a lot of growth hormone, so that you can repair the damage.
That’s why you want full recovery between the days that you do the high-intensity training.
Some people also suggest doing a full recovery between each repetition, but that is not a good idea,
Because then, you’re not benefiting from the lactic acid of the previous session pushing you higher.
So you don’t want full recovery between each but you do want full recovery between the days that you do this HIIT workout,
Because it is very strenuous, it will break down some tissue in your body, and you want to give your body the time to repair it before you hit it again.
So the rule is two days complete rest which means that you do this no more than two to three times a week if you’re looking for health benefits which we already discussed.
As people get busier and busier, it’s hard to find time to go to the gym and to do something for an hour or two for 5-6 days a week.
But by understanding this, you can get all the benefits of exercise like the hormones and fitness and you can condense it into something that you can do in less than thirty minutes two to three times a week.
If you felt like you had some good understanding of HIIT workout from this article, then do share it with your friends through WhatsApp and Facebook and let me know in the comment section below about your thoughts.