High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is your ace in the hole for getting an effective workout in record time. Because you’re working out at a high intensity, it takes less time to get fitness benefits. Who doesn’t like to see change occur in record time? Studies show you can improve your aerobic and anaerobic fitness capacity through HIIT training, and you don’t need to work out for 45 minutes to get fitness benefits. High – intensity workouts as short as 10 minutes can boost your fitness level. However, you work hard for those 10 minutes. In most cases, though, people opt for 20 minutes or so of high-intensity interval training to get the benefits.
What makes HIIT different? High-intensity interval training is structured around active and recovery intervals. During the active intervals, you exercise at a near all-out intensity and partially recover during the rest interval. As you switch back and forth between active and rest intervals, the sweat pores and fatigue builds up. It’s grueling! That’s why high-intensity interval training isn’t a workout you can sustain for longer than 20 minutes. If you still feel that you can do more, you’re not pushing hard enough during the active intervals.
Because interval training is so intense, the risk of injury and exhaustion is higher. It’s easier to overreach and push your body too hard if you do frequent high-intensity workouts. You want benefits, not an injury you have to nurse back to health. Let’s look at some ways to get the most out of HIIT without increasing the risk of negative side effects.
Work up to a High Intensity
To get the full benefits, you need to push hard during the active intervals, but the first active interval of a workout shouldn’t be an all-out effort. Even if you did an appropriate warm-up, your muscles aren’t ready for such extreme intensity early on. If you launch into near-maximal exercise during the first interval and you could end up with a strained hamstring muscle. Your muscles need time to get into the swing of things. Instead, do 50% of what you’re able to do during the first interval or two. Then, switch to 75% and then too all-out effort. Consider the first few intervals to be warm-up intervals. Once your muscles are accustomed to the movement, you can give it your all during subsequent active intervals. Using this approach is especially important if you’re sprinting or jumping during the active intervals, as these movements carry a higher risk of strains.
Choose an Exercise You’re Comfortable With
Doing a variety of movements at a high intensity qualifies as high-intensity interval training as it’s the intensity that matters most rather than the exercise you do. You can do HIIT on an exercise bike, on a step bench, sprinting in a field, or by doing plyometric exercises, to name a few. When you first start out and you’re not accustomed to HIIT, select an exercise you’re familiar with. If your body isn’t accustomed to sprinting or you’ve never done plyometrics, these movements aren’t the best choice in the beginning. Maybe doing high-intensity intervals on an exercise bike would be a better choice. Make sure you understand and master the mechanics of the exercise beforehand since you won’t have time to think about your form during a fast-paced workout.
Vary Your Exercises
With so many ways to do high-intensity training, don’t do the same exercises every time you train. You may enjoy doing jump squats or box jumps but vary the type of exercises you perform during a HIIT session. Doing the same exercises over and over increases the risk of repetitive stress injuries. Also, don’t forget that not every exercise has to work the lower body. Include some upper body high-intensity exercises such as plyometric push-ups or kettlebell swings to your workout for more balance. You can even alternate between upper and lower body exercises during a high-intensity session.
Don’t Overdo It
Give yourself at least 48 hours rest between HIIT workouts. High-intensity interval training is physically and mentally demanding. Not only is it intense while you’re doing, but it also gives more of an afterburn than moderate-intensity exercises like jogging or cycling does. So, your body works harder and consumes more energy for hours after you’ve finished. Give your body the recovery time it needs after an intense sweat session. Doing so will help you stay motivated too. Plus, your body adapts and changes during the rest period between high-intensity sessions. If you do HIIT training too often, you’ll interfere with the positive adaptations and fitness benefits of this type of workout.
Wear Proper Shoes
Unless you’re doing sprint intervals, don’t wear running shoes when you do HIIT. Look for a pair of cross-training shoes made for HIIT. These shoes have extra features, like a high rubber midsole and a sole that helps you maintain stability when you jump. Running shoes have thick padding in the heel but less padding in the front. So, there’s a height discrepancy between the front and the back. That’s bad for stability. It’s worth spending a little more money on a shoe that will lower your risk of injury.
The Bottom Line
High-intensity interval training is one of the most effective workouts you can do and the most time expedient. However, make sure you’re getting the benefits and subjecting your body to the lowest risk of injury. High-intensity interval training can help you shed body fat, improve your overall fitness, and become more powerful and agile. Now you know some pitfalls to avoid.
- Dick’s Pro Tips. “What to Know About High-Intensity Training Shoes”
- Foster C, Farland CV, Guidotti F, et al. The Effects of High-Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity. J Sports Sci Med. 2015;14(4):747–755. Published 2015 Nov 24.
- British Journal of Sports Medicine 2019;53:655-664.
Related Articles By Cathe: