What is HIIT, why is it beneficial, and how can you add it to your life?

pexels-maksim-goncharenok-4775205 Maksim Goncharenok

If you're just beginning to explore the health and wellness lifestyle, you may have heard of HIIT and maybe don't quite understand what the heck it is. Many people have been raving about the benefits of HIIT, and how it can upgrade your fitness routine. But, what is HIIT, why is it beneficial, and how can you add it to your life?

What is HIIT?

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training and is a popular training method where you alternate between short periods of intense aerobic exercise and less intense resting periods. This type of training gets your heart rate up and burns more fat in less time than other cardio methods. The goal of other cardio methods is to conserve your energy and try to keep doing the exercise over a longer period of time, whereas with HIIT you are giving 100% of your energy for a short period of time.

When your body is exerting an unsustainable amount of energy, you will feel your muscles start to burn and you will find yourself out of breath. This happens because you are pushing your body to its extremes. Your muscles start to build up lactic acid, which causes the burning sensation you feel and depletes your body's oxygen levels. In fact, "High intensity training forces your body to work even harder to build the stores of oxygen back up, and research shows that your body continues working to build oxygen stores for sixteen to 24 hours after you cease exercise" (HIIT Workouts How-To: The Science, Benefits, and Workouts You Can Do Today).

Benefits of HIIT

  • Convenient and fast: Since you are only pushing your body for short periods of time, HIIT can be fit into anyone's schedule. Whether you have just 10 or 30 minutes to get in a workout, this method of exercise can help you optimize your time, while still getting you the results you want.
  • More enjoyable: Unlike typical cardio, which can sometimes feel repetitive and boring, HIIT can be altered in order to fit your preferences and goals. You can add in your favorite exercises, change the length of time for each exercise, or throw in more resistance movements if your goal is to build muscle. Making exercise more enjoyable can also make it easier to stick with it in the long run and see better results.
  • Strengthens your heart: In a study by Liverpool John Moores University, it was found that HIIT can make the aorta blood vessels more flexible. When there is less stiffness in the arteries, oxygen is able to flow easier throughout the body, which reduces the risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
  • Aids in weight loss: HIIT spikes your heart rate during its intense periods, which helps contribute to weight loss because you burn more calories per minute doing high-intensity exercise compared to low-intensity exercise.

How does it work?

A few things you need to consider before jumping into a HIIT workout are the length of your intervals, exercises you want to include, and how long you want to work out. To maximize your energy, a 1:2 or 1:3 work to rest ratio is the most effective length for your intervals. This way you are getting adequate rest to be able to give 100% effort during your more intense workout periods. For example, in a one-minute round, you could exercise for either 20 seconds on with a 40 second rest time or exercise for 15 seconds with a 45 second rest time.

The next factor that you should consider is the types of exercise you want to include. This can vary depending on your goals, but it is best to implement exercises that elevate your heart rate and prioritize anaerobic endurance. If your goal is to get your heart pumping and build endurance, cardio exercises can be a great way to do this. You can implement exercises, such as sprints, rowing, biking, or jumping movements. If your goal is to build muscle and prioritize strength, you can also include bodyweight or weighted movements. Some examples include push-ups, squats, and kettle-bell swings.

In addition to the length of your intervals and the exercises you want to include, the last aspect you should consider before starting your workout is how long you want to work out. This can vary from person to person, but it is recommended that you keep your HIIT exercise to 30 minutes max. Since you are pushing yourself as hard as you can, even if it is only for a short period of time, it can be hard on your body and difficult to maintain the same intensity for an extended period of time. This can hurt your progress because you won't be able to put in as much effort to the exercises. What's more, overworking your body can cause numerous health issues, including lowered energy levels to heart problems. An optimal time for a HIIT workout is anywhere from 10-15 minutes depending on the length of your intervals.

Mistakes to Avoid

Although there are many benefits to HIIT, there are also a few common mistakes that you should try to avoid.

  1. Bad form: When you are going all out on your HIIT exercise, it's easy to focus on going as hard as you can and forget to pay attention to your technique. When your form is off and you are pushing yourself, you put a lot of pressure on your joints and muscles which can lead to injuries. To avoid this, make sure you have the form down at a slow pace before picking up the intensity.
  2. Not warming up: Although warm-ups may seem unimportant, going into an intense HIIT workout, without warming up can cause injuries and affect performance. A tip to remember is the more intense the workout, the more important the warm-up. You should always prepare your body before working out to get the most out of your workout and avoid injury.
  3. Underestimating recovery: Like any other form of exercise, it is crucial to allow your body time to recover. When you focus on doing frequent, intense workouts, but don't allow your body to rest, your performance suffers and you risk injury, fatigue, and burnout. You should allow your body one full rest day a week, limit your HIIT workouts to one to two a week, and avoid combining them with other forms of intense exercise to ensure you are taking care of your body.

Final Thoughts

HIIT can be an extremely beneficial exercise method for burning fat and getting your heart rate up while also prioritizing strength and muscle mass. It can easily fit your specific time constraint needs, making it a quick and convenient way to exercise even for people with busy schedules. HIIT also tends to be more enjoyable than other forms of cardio, so it is easier to stick with for the long run. This makes it something you can do and build a habit around to help you reach your wellness goals. Additionally, this method of exercise has a positive impact on your health by strengthening your heart and maintaining a healthy weight. However, be sure to have proper form, warm-up, and get adequate rest to avoid any injuries and get the most from your workout. Try implementing some HIIT exercise routines into your workouts, and see the difference it could make!