A Big HIIT: Basics of High-Intensity Interval Training

Interval programs are suddenly hot. The reason: big fitness benefits in short bursts

Looking to torch fat and calories, keep your workout exciting, and improve your fitness without having to spend hours each day in the gym?  High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is an excellent form of exercise that involves alternating short periods of maximum intensity effort with longer intervals of lower/more moderate intensity. Benefits include:

• More calories burned during and after the workout
• More calories burned that come from fat 
• Improved cardiovascular conditioning and endurance
• Less time required
• Less muscle loss

HIIT programs are typically completed in short durations of time and can be equally or even more effective than longer, less intense workouts. There are differing opinions when it comes to time ratios for the intervals. Some sources recommend one minute of maximum intensity followed by two minutes of moderate output; others say shorter or longer for each. It varies depending on the person, their goals and their current fitness levels. Essentially, in a HIIT program, you will be at 70-85% of your maximum heart rate for the high intensity bouts, and at 70% or less during the recovery periods. A heart rate monitor is the most accurate way to track this.

HIIT can be applied to many different types of workouts, based on the individual's preference. Some examples are as follows: 

Running, Elliptical, Stair Climber
HIIT running routines will alternate sprints with a low-to-moderate pace run/jog. You might sprint for a minute, then run at a comfortable speed for 2 minutes, repeated anywhere from 5-12 times. In a similar fashion, high- and lower-intensity intervals can be used with cardio equipment such as the elliptical or stair climber.

This training system can also combine the aforementioned types of cardio with various other forms of high intensity moves -- for example, running at a moderate pace can be followed by plyometric exercises, jumping rope, BOSU Balance Trainer jumps, etc.
Here is a sample HIIT workout routine:
• 4 minutes moderate pace on the elliptical
• 1 minute maximum intensity on the elliptical followed by 1 minute of plyometric squats/shuffles/lunges and BOSU Balance Trainer jumps/lunges (so 2 minutes total)
• 4 minutes moderate pace on the elliptical
• 1 minute maximum intensity on the elliptical followed by 1 minute intense jump rope and plyometrics
• Repeat all of the above for one more round

Tabata is one method of HIIT that calls for a specific breakdown: approximately 20 seconds high intensity followed by 10 seconds of rest, usually performed in 8 repetitions. These workouts can include an assortment of exercises -- some examples are pushups, mountain climbers, jumping rope, sprinting, skate jumps, burpees, jumping jack variations, lunges -- the list goes on and on. You can repeat the same few exercises, or mix them up to help avoid fatigue. One major selling point for Tabata is that it only takes four minutes (not including warm up and cool down) and the moves do not require equipment. Often a great option for those trying to exercise under time constraints, at home or while traveling.

There are plenty of phone apps that are available to time and track your HIIT workouts. Just do a quick search!

Keep in mind that HIIT is not ideal for everyone, as it does place great demands on the body, particularly the cardiovascular system. When just starting out, it is necessary to build up over time as you work toward increasing the quantity and intensity levels of intervals. Any workout should always start with at least a five-minute warm up and end with a cool down. 

This story originally appeared in Karina's Fitness Zone