One of the biggest fitness fads in recent years has been high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workouts built around short bursts of all-out effort. Proponents of this fitness approach claim that it’s more effective conditioning than endurance exercise, or longer steady state workouts, and that they lose more weight and build more muscle.
There’s debate over whether or not HIIT is a better approach to fitness than endurance, but one thing is clear when it comes to your training style: For best results, do it safely and follow expert guidelines. To get the most out of your HIIT, know the dos and don’ts.
High-intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Workout
You can turn many forms of exercise into HIIT. Just pick an activity (for example, weightlifting, sprinting, or push-ups) and do it in short bursts with maximum or near-maximum effort with short periods of recovery; workouts generally last no more than an hour. Popular HIIT group classes include Cross Fit, Tabata, and Kettlebells, which each demand big cardio and strength efforts in brief bursts.
Fans of HIIT enjoy the fast-paced workout and the fact that they can fit a lot of conditioning into a short session. Some people claim that to get the same amount of fitness benefit in an endurance workout, you’d have to dedicate hours to the activity and risk fatigue and overtraining.
Getting the Most from HIIT
To get the most out of HIIT and reduce your risk of injury, you’ll want to keep in mind a few things. As with any activity, injury prevention is key.
- Make sure you’re performing your exercise of choice properly. If, for example, you’re hitting the rowing machine, ask a fitness instructor to show you correct technique so that you’re engaging desired muscles and avoiding stress on other parts of the body. This is important for any activity you perform at high intensity, and especially when you use weights, as a heavy object mishandled just once can cause major injury. Remember that if you have good technique at an easy level, you may lose your form as you pick up intensity and get tired.
- Listen to your body. You want to feel like you’re working hard, but not to the point of injury or illness. If you have pain other than muscle fatigue, stop. And stop if you’re feeling extremely lightheaded or nauseous; while it’s normal to feel stress when you’re exercising hard, learn the difference between appropriate strain and signs that you could be fighting an illness, dehydration, or fatigue beyond the point of reasonable recovery. After all, if you go so hard one day that you have to miss your next few workouts, you’ll slow your progress.
- Warm up before you go hard. Give your body a chance to get ready for HIIT. Light aerobic activity for 10–15 minutes before HIIT will get your heart and lungs going and loosen up muscles and joints. You’ll then be able to exercise more safely and get more conditioning benefit from your workout. A jog on the treadmill or spin on the stationary bike is a great warm-up.
- Cool down and recover. Part of the appeal of HIIT is that it’s a quick workout that you can fit into a busy day. But don’t rush off too quickly to your next activity. Cool down with stretching or an easy aerobic activity and rehydrate. A lot of people also like to have a snack after a hard workout to aid recovery. A good post-workout routine will help you be ready to go next time.
You also may want to consult a sports medicine doctor or physical therapist before you try HIIT. He or she can tell you if an activity is safe for you and may have tips for preventing injury.