What are HIIT Workouts, and Are They Worth It?on
What are HIIT workouts, and why are they so popular?
If you’ve seen this acronym or hashtag on social media, you’re probably curious about how this type of exercise differs from other workout routines and whether they’re truly worth the hype.
So we’ll answer all your questions in today’s quick guide. We’ll dive into what’s considered a HIIT workout, touch on all the benefits, and help you decide whether to add them to your training schedule.
To start, let’s answer the basics first:
What Are HIIT Workouts?
The acronym HIIT simply means high-intensity interval training. It’s a form of exercise that uses short bursts of high-intensity movements (hence the name) mixed with low-impact recovery periods.
So you may go all out on one activity for 60 seconds, then rest for 60 seconds, and repeat this pattern for as long as you plan to work out.
HIIT is considered one of the most time-efficient exercise programs because you can pack in a killer (read: intense) workout in a very short period of time. Plus, since there are several different variations you can do with HIIT, they’re also highly-customizable for your fitness level, equipment on-hand, and schedule needs.
You can choose to work your whole body at home for 30 minutes or isolate and burn out specific muscle groups at the gym in 15 minutes, for example.
HIIT Workouts at Home vs. HIIT Workouts at the Gym
Because HIIT cardio workouts are so flexible, you can use them on your gym days or your at-home exercise days.
For HIIT workouts at home, you could do jumping jacks for 30 seconds, rest for 30 seconds, work your abs for 30 seconds, rest, alternate lunges for 30 seconds, etc. You can also add exercises with free weights or resistance bands too.
If you’re at the gym, feel free to combine bodyweight exercises (like squats and planks) with time on your favorite machines. You may want to practice a burst at full speed on an elliptical trainer or stair climber for 60 seconds, then recover for a minute or two before repeating the circuit or trying a different machine.
Perform the cardio moves of your routine as many times as you can in 10-20 minutes. Leave the rest of your workout time for warm-up and cool-down stretches.
HIIT Workouts for Beginners
The Wingate-based HIIT workout model is a popular version, especially for beginners. You’ll get your heart rate up for 30 seconds and follow that period with a recovery break lasting between 30 seconds to 4.5 minutes.
You may want to take shorter recovery breaks for easier cardio activities and longer breaks for more strenuous high-intensity exercises. Watch your breathing and heart rate to tell the difference (i.e., the harder it is to breathe, the longer you’ll need a break to recover).
Repeat this pattern a few times to complete your workout. Beginners following this model should aim to do this no more than three times per week.
8 HIIT Workout Benefits
These eight incredible HIIT workout benefits may convince you to add this form of exercise to your rotation:
1. Shorter Workouts Not Short On Results
Efficiency is the major selling point of HIIT workouts. You can achieve a roughly 10x more effective workout that’s as much as three times shorter than a traditional continuous workout. And you can do HIIT at home or the gym, making it perfect for people with tight schedules.
2. Improved Exercise Performance
Despite being a shorter exercise program, HIIT workouts help improve aerobic capacity, which is essentially how much oxygen your body uses during exercise. Boosting your aerobic capacity means your body becomes more efficient at using oxygen. And this has been shown to correlate with improved athletic performance and fat oxidation (so you may burn more calories during workouts and at rest).
3. Better Heart Health
With higher aerobic output, HIIT workouts improve your cardiorespiratory fitness, which can be very beneficial for your heart health. This positive result was even seen in people with cardiometabolic disorders, such as high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and elevated cholesterol levels.
4. Improved Blood Sugar Control
Another study shows that HIIT workouts may help improve insulin sensitivity and reduce high blood sugar levels.
5. Higher Enjoyment During Exercise
On top of saving you time, people who practice HIIT workouts find greater enjoyment during their sweat sessions. This may be because HIIT workouts are fast-paced and keep boredom at bay. And you don’t have to work out long to see real results.
6. Greater Fat and Weight Loss, Especially in the Belly
Another body of research discovered that high-intensity interval workouts are great for targeting abdominal and stubborn subcutaneous fat (the type of fat that sits below the skin’s surface) compared to other forms of exercise.
7. Heightened Exercise Endurance
Research confirms that people who practice HIIT may improve exercise endurance in as little as 2-6 weeks. This means you may struggle to get through your first HIIT workout, but your body will find them easier with continued practice. And you may even start to look forward to them (see benefit #5).
8. Lower Risk of Chronic Disease
Since high-intensity interval training can help reduce your blood pressure while increasing fat metabolism and insulin sensitivity, it may lower your risk of developing chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes and heart disease. It may also decrease your chances of early death if you already have conditions like these.
Now, as exciting as these health benefits sound…
Before You Try HIIT Workouts, Read This
HIIT workouts may not be suitable for everyone.
Because they’re so intense, they can be especially hard on your joints. They may also aggravate existing injuries if you’re not careful. Overusing a HIIT workout is also a recipe for disaster and injury.
So before you set out on a HIIT journey, follow these best practices:
Start slow and don’t burn yourself out. Incorporate one HIIT training session per week before gradually working your way up to 2-3/week only.
For HIIT workout beginners, focus on a total high-intensity time of 10 minutes in a 30-minute workout period (including a warm-up, the workout itself, and a cool-down).
Switch up your moves so you don’t overwork one muscle group.
Recover and listen to your body. Don’t perform two days of HIIT back-to-back; give your body a recovery day with low-impact activities like yoga, swimming, or a daily walk.
This will help you gauge how your body reacts to HIIT workouts before you cause any damage.
Over time you’ll be able to tell if your body responds well to HIIT activities or if this form of exercise is too much on your muscles/joints. Then you can taper back a bit or ditch it altogether.
Final Thoughts on HIIT Workouts
HIIT workouts pack a ton of incredible health benefits in a tight timeframe. And while it may not be right for everyone, you can easily adjust high-intensity interval training to suit your own needs and fitness level. Then you can reap the rewards without putting yourself at risk for injuries.
Have you tried HIIT exercise programs before? Would you after reading this guide? Let us know in the comments below!