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HIIT Workouts: How to Do Them (and 3 Mistakes to Avoid)

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HIIT Workouts: How to Do Them (and 3 Mistakes to Avoid)

Workout less and gain more benefits. Could it be possible? HIIT workouts seem to defy common sense that would say more exercise is always better, offering positive outcomes in as little as 10 minutes.

With HIIT workouts, you can transform your approach to exercise and finally start getting results. The best part? You don’t have to invest a lot of time to reach your fitness goals. Whether you want to build strength, improve your cardiovascular health or lose weight, HIIT can help you get there.

Discover what you’ve been missing in this article that will offer you a true guide to HIIT workouts. From the science of how they work to, sample workouts, best practices and mistakes to avoid, we’ll cover everything you’ve always wanted to know about HIIT workouts.

What Are HIIT Workouts?

Man Working Out High Intensity Interval TrainingHIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. As you can guess from the name, it’s an intense workout done in intervals. Basically, this means that you try to get your heart rate up and work as hard as you can for a short bursts, with more moderate exercise in between. These workouts are quick and to the point. Often, they are designed to last as little as 10, 15 or 20 minutes.

Often focusing on cardio and bodyweight movements, HIIT is all about working as hard as you can for a short time and recovering in between. There’s plenty of variety in HIIT workouts that you can try. From classes at the gym to Youtube videos made by fitness enthusiasts, 20 minute treadmill workouts HIIT style and more, you can choose a HIIT workout that fits your needs and preferences.  

HIIT workouts have been getting a lot of attention recently thanks to science. Researchers have been curious to discover how these workouts are different from traditional workout methods. The answers are pretty fascinating. Basically, HIIT workouts may actually be superior to other kinds of exercise.

The Science Behind HIIT Workouts: Why You Need Them

Group Working Out High Intensity Interval TrainingWould you like to exercise in the most efficient and effective way possible? Then you need to try a HIIT workout. You can get way more out of this style of workout than jogging on the treadmill for 30 minutes. But, how does it work?

The most fascinating thing about HIIT workouts is that there is loads of scientific research pointing towards the many benefits it offers. First, it’s important to note exactly what researchers defined as HIIT workouts. Let’s take a look at a few examples:

HIIT Workouts: Defined

Professor and researcher, Todd Astorino has conducted his own studies on HIIT. He says that a HIIT workout should get your heart rate way up, above the 80% of your maximum range, during the “intense” part of your workout. How do you know what your maximum range is? For an estimate, you can subtract your age from 220 and you’ll have a good idea of your maximum beats per minute. It should really get you breathing hard!

Astorino says a workout might be 30 seconds of sprinting followed by 4 minutes of jogging or walking. Then, you repeat the process 4-6 times and you’re done! Within 20 minutes, your workout is done and you get all the benefits that come with it.

Most of the research studies cited in this article use a similar approach – using either running or stationary bikes as the chosen method for carrying out the workouts. However, researchers point out that getting your heartrate up is the key. So if you’re out of shape, even walking briskly on an incline can do the trick. (1)

There are currently many other types of body weight HIIT being promoted. It’s important to note that most research touches on cardio focused HIIT workouts. However, an expert in HIIT, Dr. Marcus Kilpatrick, believes that all types of developing HIIT including resistance exercise and calisthenics is also highly beneficial (2).

Your Body’s Cells in a HIIT Workout

HIIT literally changes processes in your body’s cells. It’s wild, but decisions that we make such as how to exercise are what change our bodies and influence our health. These decisions can alter your body’s physiology on a cellular level.

So, how does HIIT affect your body’s cells?

Exercise in general changes your body’s mitochondria, a cellular organelle that’s basically responsible for creating energy in the body. Mitochondria are key for helping you age healthily and keeping your energy levels up.

HIIT workouts are very efficient at producing positive changes and growth in mitochondria, as this study showed. A 2-minute sprint session offered similar results to 30 minutes of moderate exercise, results showed.

The intensity of HIIT exercise also produces positive effects in the body in other ways, as you’ll read about below.

Benefits of HIIT Workouts

So, HIIT workouts can benefit your body by creating more mitochondria. What other benefits can you reap from this type of workout? Check out the many benefits below:

You Don’t Need Much Time

Woman Working Out At HomeIf you’re one of the 42% of people who claim that a lack of time is what keeps them from exercising, make excuses no longer. When you choose a HIIT workout, you can gain the benefits equal to exercising for 30 minutes or more in as little as 10-20 minutes daily.

In one study, participants that did 20 minute HIIT workouts 3 days a week achieved similar outcomes to participants who exercised 30 minutes 4 days a week. That means participants who exercised at moderate levels spent 1 more hour exercising than the HIIT participants.

If time is your kryptonite, make sure you’re exercising smarter by doing HIIT workouts. You don’t even have to feel guilty about cutting back on your exercise time since you’ll achieve the same outcomes in your body on a cellular level.

Improve Your Performance

Already a dedicated athlete? If you exercise regularly, but seem to have hit a plateau, HIIT workouts can help you move to the next level (3). In particular, it can improve your mechanical efficiency. This basically means that you can achieve better outcomes with less effort.

Because you’re challenging your body at a more intense level, this type of workout can help you improve your times on the track, swimming lap times or other performance indicators.

Lose Weight

Woman Losing Weight Thru High Intensity Interval TrainingIf you’re overweight and want to slim down, you may wonder if HIIT workouts will still work for you. The answer is a resounding “Yes!”

Believe it or not, HIIT study participants burned significantly more calories when participating in this type of exercise than participants who did moderate exercise.

Furthermore, researchers have found that those who practice HIIT lose more weight than those who do more moderate exercise for longer periods of time. Over a period of 4 weeks, those who did HIIT workouts lost an average of 3.5 pounds while those who did moderate exercise only lost 2.5 pounds.

Experts who analyzed the results suggested that HIIT may produce metabolic changes in the body. They also argued that more moderate exercise may produce more hunger in participants and affect people psychologically. Have you ever gone to the gym for a good 30-40 minute session and then lazed around the rest of the day and even eaten unhealthy food because you “earned” it? This sort of response to exercise limits the number of calories you’ll burn and in the case of unhealthy eating, counteracts your efforts.

However, researchers are finding that HIIT may even help suppress your appetite! That’s great news for those who are looking for the ideal weight loss exercise solution.

Boost Your Metabolism

Your metabolism defines how many calories you burn while resting. If you’re able to increase your metabolism, that means your body will burn more calories, even while you’re asleep. Some ways you can boost your metabolism include increasing your muscle mass and exercising.

There’s exciting research that shows that HIIT can help boost your metabolic rate, even better than traditional moderate workouts.

Improve Your Cardiorespiratory Health

Couple With Good Health High Intensity Interval TrainingConditions such as high blood pressure, artery disease, heart failure and obesity are all related to your cardiorespiratory health. Exercise is one of the best ways to improve health in this area of the body. But, HIIT style exercise was found to be twice as effective as moderate intensity continuous training in improving cardiorespiratory fitness, one study found.

You can effectively control blood pressure and heart rate by practicing HIIT workouts, research shows. The research review also showed that participants effectively lost weight, which can also help improve cardiorespiratory health. However, to obtain these positive results, they exercised for at least 12 weeks. So, as you can imagine, if you start your HIIT regime a few times a week, you’ll get the best results if you keep at it over time.

As you can see, scientific evidence overwhelmingly points towards the positive results that HIIT workouts can achieve. Not only can you lose weight and enjoy better cardiorespiratory health, but you can spend less time working out!

It’s important to note that the biggest advantage HIIT offers is its efficiency. You can achieve similar results in less time than if you did moderate continued exercise.

However, if you prefer those long jogs to HIIT style workouts, then, by all means, continue. Research shows that in the long run, health outcomes are similar for those who exercise regularly, no matter how you choose to exercise.

3 Sample HIIT Workouts

Ready to overcome that plateau or sneak in an efficient, effective workout? Then you’re ready to give HIIT a try. Here are 3 sample workouts that you can use for a fantastic workout that will improve your health and help you achieve your fitness goals:

20 Minute Sprinting HIIT Workout

Man Sprinting High Intensity Interval TrainingHead to the track or your favorite running spot with your stopwatch in hand and try this workout! Alternatively, you can modify this workout as a 20-minute treadmill workout.

Here’s how to do it:

Warm Up: 5 minutes of light jogging

Sprint: 30 seconds (make sure you’re at your max speed!)

Jog: 3 minutes

Repeat sprinting and jogging sets 4 times.

Cool-down: 1 minute of walking

This workout is great because it requires little effort and planning on your part. You need no equipment and there’s little involved when it comes to form and technique. Just put on your sneakers, grab your watch and head to your favorite running spot.

Take this workout to the next level by doing it with an exercise buddy and really push each other on the sprinting portions.

10 Minute Bodyweight HIIT Workout

Try this 10-minute workout by Mike Donavik who will walk you through a bodyweight workout: no equipment needed.

Here are the exercises you’ll do:

Jump Squats

Sprinter Hop Complex

Push Ups

Heismans

180 Jump Squats

Walking Planks

Knee Drivers

Ninja Burpees

Toe Touches

The great thing about this type of workout is that it gives you a full body workout. You’ll get your heart pumping while also working out all major muscle groups in your body: upper body, lower body and even your core.

Because this workout is quick, it’s very intense and the rest periods are shorter than in other HIIT workouts. If you’re a beginner, you can modify to give yourself a bit more rest. Then, over time as you get fitter, decrease your rest times until you’re able to complete the whole workout without modifying.

10 Minute Bike HIIT Workout

Hit up a stationary bike at the gym or use your own home recumbent bike to complete this killer, effective workout that’s just 10 minutes long.

Here’s how to do it:

Warm up: 2 minutes of slow cycling

20 seconds of cycle-sprinting

2 minutes of recovery slow cycling

20 seconds of cycle-sprinting

2 minutes of recovery slow cycling

20 seconds of cycle-sprinting

Cool down: 3 minutes of slow cycling

You can make sure you get your heart rate up by increasing the resistance during the sprinting stage if necessary.

Best Practices for HIIT Workouts

Best Practices In High Intensity Interval Training WorkoutYes, HIIT workouts are efficient, effective and just great all around. But, they only work if you follow the important principles that define what HIIT workouts are.

What can you do to make sure that you’re getting all of the benefits possible from your HIIT workouts? Make sure you follow these important best practices:

Invest in a Heart Rate Monitor

There are plenty of heart rate monitors you can use while exercising that won’t interfere with your workouts, but will help you achieve your goals. Remember, for a HIIT workout to be effective, you should be reaching 80% of your heart rate maximum during the intense portions. With a heart rate monitor, you can make sure you’re hitting that goal.

While you don’t need to check every single intense interval that you do during your workout, you can check during one or two. This will help you monitor your efforts to make sure you’re reaching the goal zone. There are also heart rate monitors that can log your heart rate throughout the workout and send the information to an app. This way, you can take a look at your heart rate trends after your workout is over and adjust as necessary during your next workout.

Use a Watch

To do a HIIT workout, you must use a clock to make sure you’re completing the intervals. This means you must go all out for brief periods and then rest by doing more moderate exercise in between. Use a watch to make sure that you’re doing the intervals correctly.

There are plenty of helpful apps that you can use to time your intervals. For example, this HIIT clock allows you to create different segments that you can even label. Then, a timer goes off as you finish each interval or rest period, indicating it’s time to move on to the next part of your workout.

Switch It Up

As with any kind of exercise, variety is key. If you want to get toned and work all muscles in your body, plan to do more than just cardio in your HIIT workouts. In addition, do bodyweight workouts that help you tone your upper body, lower body and core.

Plan Your Workouts

The Mayo Clinic suggests that you schedule your workouts in as if they were important appointments. By making exercise a priority, you can make sure that you actually follow through and complete your workouts.

HIIT workouts are quick and efficient, so you don’t have to schedule a lot of time. But, if you say “I’m going to workout sometime tomorrow,” you might not follow through. Instead, set a time and stick to it. Exercise is only effective if you actually do it and follow through regularly. By writing your workout times into your calendar, you’ll feel more committed to actually completing them.

Get A Buddy

Another way to boost your performance and increase the chances that you’ll complete workouts is by working out with others. With a buddy to hold you accountable, you’ll follow through on those workouts and really start making progress.

In fact, you can reap even more physical and mental health benefits if you exercise in a group, research shows. So, if you’re having trouble sticking to a routine on your own, sign up for a HIIT class at the local gym or commit to working out with a friend.

Adjust Your Plan According to Your Goals

Are you hoping to lose weight? Don’t forget to diet in addition to doing your HIIT workouts. Hoping to tone up those arms? Don’t do just cardio, do some bodyweight HIIT workouts featuring pushups and other upper body moves as well. You have to tailor your plan so that you are able to meet your goals.

When in doubt, speak with a personal trainer or dietician to make sure that you’re doing the right things when working towards your goals. Otherwise, you’ll put in all that hard work and only end up disappointed because you won’t get the results you’re hoping to achieve.

HIIT Mistakes to Avoid

Don’t sabotage your exercise efforts by making these common HIIT mistakes. The last thing you want to do is to limit the effectiveness of your routines by making rookie mistakes. What should you be aware of to make sure you’re doing HIIT right? Take a look at the most common mistakes:

Not Achieving Intensity

HIIT workouts are all about intensity. You should be putting 100% of your effort into the intense portions of your workout. That’s what earns you the right to the longer rest portions of the workout.

Some people, however, make the mistake of using their normal workout levels of effort, adding rest periods and calling it a HIIT workout. It doesn’t work that way. You have to increase your intensity significantly beyond what you’d do in a moderate workout to do a HIIT workout.

If you’re not sure if you’re achieving the right intensity level, invest in a heart rate monitor. Make sure that your heart rate is reaching a rate of at least 80% of 220 minus your age. For example, if you’re 35, then your max heart rate would be 185. To reach 80% would mean your heart rate gets up to 148 beats per minute during the intense portions of the workout.

Skipping Intervals

HIIT means that you have to do intervals. You must change between intense effort and moderate, relaxed effort. Doing a longer, moderate workout isn’t HIIT. So, make sure you use a timer or clock and adhere to your intervals.

Skipping Your Warm-up

Injuries to your muscles can put you on the bench for weeks or even require surgery. Research shows that stretching and warming up can help reduce injuries significantly. Spend even a few minutes before your HIIT workout doing a warm-up and you’ll help reduce the chances that you’ll be injured.

How to Incorporate HIIT Workouts into Your Exercise Routine

Incorporating HIIT To Your Regular WorkoutDo you already have an exercise routine in place? If you are already lifting weights or doing regular cardio workouts, you can still make room in your routine for HIIT workouts and enjoy the benefits they offer.

Let’s imagine that you work out 4 days a week. What might your routine look like?

Monday

Lower body workout including resistance training

Tuesday

Rest

Wednesday

Cardio based HIIT workout (either sprinting or using the stationary bike)

Thursday

Upper body workout including resistance training

Friday

Rest

Saturday

Bodyweight HIIT workout

Sunday

Rest

Alternatively, you can do only HIIT workouts, alternating between bodyweight and cardio HIIT workouts, while taking your rest days as well.

Are HIIT Workouts Right For You?

HIIT workouts can benefit just about anyone, no matter how experienced you are. But, there are some considerations you should take into account when determining if this type of workout is right for you:

Health Concerns

HIIT workouts can be dangerous for people with heart conditions because of the intensity of the workouts. Make sure that you talk to your doctor if you have any special heart issues before you get started.

However, in general, it’s more dangerous to not do HIIT workouts than it is to do them. The benefits you gain for your body and health from exercise are too many to count!

Workout Style Preferences

What if you can’t handle the intensity?

If you don’t enjoy the format of a HIIT workout, that’s ok too. You can try doing more moderate exercise for longer, continuous periods. Some people like going for long jogs or doing slower, but longer weight lifting sessions. There’s nothing wrong with that! It just means that you’ll have to invest more time to get the same benefits you would get with a HIIT workout.

Convenience

Thanks to the simplicity of performing HIIT workouts, they are easy to do just about anywhere. If you have 10 minutes and a timer, you can do the workout at home or even outdoors on your lunch break at work. So, if you’re looking for an easy way to incorporate effective workouts into your life, HIIT workouts are the way to go.

Plenty of people look at it logically: 10 minutes of suffering and your workout is out of the way. You hack the system and get the benefits of doing 30 minutes of exercise in a third of the time.  If this is your attitude, then go for it!

Make Progress

As mentioned earlier in the article, HIIT workouts can help you if you’ve reached a wall in your training that you can’t seem to break through. Improve your times and increase your efficiency with HIIT workouts.

The Bottom Line on HIIT Workouts

HIIT workouts are a fantastic way to exercise. Whether you do HIIT workouts exclusively or you fit them into your exercise routine that also features longer, slower cardio workouts and weight lifting, you can benefit from HIIT workouts.

HIIT workouts are undeniably efficient and offer so many health benefits it’s hard to say no to trying this type of workout. There’s good reason that so many researchers and exercise enthusiasts like HIIT workouts: they’re extremely effective and relatively easy to do.

So, give them a try and find out how they can transform your body and mind!

Already a HIIT fan? Tell us about your favorite HIIT workouts and why you love them in the comments below.

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