Do you dread going to the gym because you get easily bored doing the same steady state workout on the cardio equipment; counting down the minutes until you’re done? I’m here to tell you there’s a better way! A way that can give you superior results in less time!
As a lover of high-intensity interval training (HIIT), I’m glad to see the benefits are becoming better known to the public through articles like these posted here and here from the New York Times. Interval training is something I’ve been doing with my clients and in my Spinning classes for years. Studies have shown (see links above) that HIIT can greatly enhance fat burning, improve insulin sensitivity, increase aerobic capacity, and is also one of the most time-efficient forms of cardiovascular exercise. Although athletes have used HIIT for many years to work on conditioning and speed, most of the recreational exercisers that I speak with may have heard of the concept but they aren’t quite sure how to perform them in their own fitness routine. Let me explain!
Simply put, HIIT means alternating short periods of intense work with periods of rest and recovery. Not everyone should start out with HIIT if they haven’t been exercising regularly or aren’t in good health. These people can still try interval training but will just need to work at a lower intensity (think LIIT instead) during the work periods, listen to their bodies, and stay in control of their breathing. When performing HIIT, work periods can range anywhere from 10 to 60 seconds. The recovery period is typically at least as long as the work effort (1:1 ratio) but will vary based on the length of work done. Generally, the shorter the work period the longer the recovery time needs to be. This is because the shortest work periods have the highest muscular demand and require the most intensity. For example, a 15 second work effort might require a 30-45 second recovery whereas a 60 second effort would probably require a 60 or 90 second recovery. You’re probably asking yourself at this point, now that I know how long to work for, how hard should I be working? Good question!
There are a few ways you can gauge your intensity when performing intervals. One of the best ways is to invest in a basic heart rate monitor that will show you how hard you’re working. Using the Karvonen method (try this calculator) to estimate your max heart rate (MHR), multiply MHR by .6 to get 60% of your max and aim to bring your heart rate down to this number during the recoveries. Once you hit 60% you can begin your next intense effort. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor the best thing to do is keep track of the time you’re resting for (suggestions above) and once you’ve caught your breath, start the next work period. For HIIT, you will try to work as hard as you can during the intense efforts until you’re breathing heavily and become winded. The efforts are really difficult but the nice thing is they’re very short. Those just starting out and using LIIT will not need to push this hard but can still work to an intensity that feels somewhat challenging.
One of my favorite things about HIIT is that it can be done almost anywhere. Try it on any of the pieces of cardio equipment in the gym, in the pool, or even walking, running or cycling outside. If you usually walk a hilly course, try charging up the hills faster than normal then very slowly descend as you recover. If you’re in the pool try swimming a lap as fast as you can then either swimming the next lap very slowly or even resting at the edge. Remember to get in a good 3-5 minute warm-up and cool-down too as part of your workout. Beginners might try just 3 or 4 of these low intensity intervals to start, while more seasoned exercises can work their way up to 6 or 7 high-intensity intervals. Depending on your fitness level and the length of work and rest periods, 10-20 minutes is all you need!
I’d love to hear from you! Have you ever tried HIIT or LIIT before? How did it go?
In good health,
Ryan Healy, BS, NSCA-CSCS