I remember a few years back, HIIT workouts were all the craze, people of all shapes, fitness abilities and levels of health were (dangerously) being encouraged to do it. Still today, they are often encouraged, and they have great benefits, but some of the initial amazing claims about them have proven to be a little too good to be true.
What are HIIT workouts?
HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. Essentially it means going hell for (vegan) leather for a short period of time repeatedly until you nearly pass out. Some HIIT workouts only last a few minutes, whilst some can last as long as 15 minutes or so. They’re all, however, relatively short periods of time – largely because you are pushing yourself so close to exhaustion that you simply cannot sustain this for a long period of time. They’re also all high intensity (the clue is in the name, right).
How would you do a HIIT workout?
An example HIIT workout would be a weights circuit. You may do a circuit of say 10 different exercises, with no rest between exercises. You’d go full throttle, massively exhausting your muscles and working mainly in the anaerobic zone (you’re not using oxygen to create most of the energy, however much it might feel like you’re using tonnes of oxygen)! Once you’ve done one circuit at this pace, you would then have a short rest period of say 1.5 to 2 minutes, then repeat twice or three times more.. The good thing about this is it takes very little time out of your day and can be great for you. Especially if you’re a busy person – which we all seem to be nowadays!
Another example would be cycling on a bike. If you’re cycling on a bike, you might do a little warm up first, then after a few minutes start your HIIT workout. This would involve going as hard as you can for say 30 seconds, then reduce the speed for 10 or 20 seconds, then as hard as you can again for another 30 seconds. You might do this over a period of 5 minutes, or 15 minutes, whatever you can withstand, or have time for, or simply just want to do.
When would you do a HIIT workout?
One of the advantages of a HIIT workout, which I’ve included in the pro’s and con’s below, is it doesn’t take a lot of time. This means, you can often find the time to fit a HIIT workout in different times of the day. There’s lots of different ideas when is best to workout etc but really the only consensus is - it’s best not to exercise right before bed. So don’t go trying to do a HIIT workout just before jumping into bed – it’ll likely keep you awake.
Also, don’t do it straight after eating. Because of the intensity of the exercise, if you try doing it right after eating, the likelihood is you’ll just end up with your dinner all over the gym floor. No one want’s that. No one.
In reality you have do it when you can. Just any time of day that’s not too soon after food (try and give it an hour after eating minimum) and not too close to bed (try and leave an hour between finishing a workout and your bedtime. Some people work better in the mornings, some in the evenings. Just remember, if you’re doing it in the morning, the warm up is even more important. Your body is going to be hell’a stiff and you’ll be more prone to injury.
That being said. With HIIT workouts – warm up’s are ALWAYS so so important. You’re going to be working at maximum capacity – that’s where injuries are oh-so common. Do all the warm ups, literally all of them. Feel free to remind yourself of our post on stretches and our subsequent one on warm ups.
Why do a HIIT workout?
The headlines a few years back were trying to claim just 3 minutes of HIIT a day could turn you into an exercise powerhouse. It offered significantly reduced risks of certain diseases (some of which are true!). They were also coming out with statements like 3 minutes of high intensity can be better for you than 30 minutes of jogging.
However, what they weren’t saying in those headlines were in what terms it was better for you. It’s true, HIIT has it’s advantages over 30 minutes of jogging say, so in some respects is better, but then jogging also has advantages over HIIT, so in other respects not better, just depends on what metrics you’re using to determine which is “better for you”. Also their term better for “YOU” is not correct. As with all exercise, there isn’t a one size fits all. Actually in some cases HIIT workouts can be fatal – which I would argue is perhaps not “better for you” – this tends to be in people with pre-existing medical conditions or severely overweight.
Pros vs Cons
- Usually requires a short amount of time
- Often able to do some form of HIIT workout at home
- Increases your ability to work in the anaerobic zone
- Muscles repair for hours after, which means more calories burnt for hours
- Gives a “toned” look by often improving hypertrophy of multiple muscle groups and reducing bodyfat percentage
- Reduces cardiovascular disease, improves insulin sensitivity and improves heart strength
- Puts a lot of strain on your heart, blood pressure etc, so only suitable for healthy, already fit individuals
- Due to the muscle fatigue, can be difficult to perform them often enough – may need a few days rest between
- Due to the intensity, it may be a deterrent mentally to actually gear yourself up to do it
- Demanding on the body, those who are weaker or older may find it too challenging
- Doesn’t train endurance as much
- If you’re combining with resistance work, HIIT will pre exhaust your muscles, so you may be unable to lift as heavy
- Easy to over-train with HIIT (can cause negative changes to hormones and brain function if putting too much regular strain on the body)
Armed with all this knowledge, hopefully you can make up your own mind if HIIT training is right for you. As I said, it certainly is great for some people, but isn’t a wonder cure.