Firstly, I am sorry if this title offends anyone but I am seeing an increasing number of people banging on about how brilliant there 45 minute HIIT workout was. If you truly were doing ‘HIIT’ in its purest form, then I assure you you wouldn’t last 45 minutes…. not without dying anyway.

HIIT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. This exercise protocol has been around for several years and it was developed to be a more time efficient way to workout. It has been vastly researched over the years and has been shown to increase fat metabolisation (meaning your body burns fat at a faster rate), increase basal metabolic rate (the rate at which you burn calories at rest) and improve athletic performance in both sports which require aerobic (slower steady work) and anaerobic (faster more ballistic work intervals) capacity (Barr-Or et al., 1977, Gibala and MaGee, 2008, and Weston et al., 2013).

The best part of the HIIT workouts was that they were extremely short in time. Some could be done in under 20 minutes and that included a warm up and cool down!

Amazing! I hear you cry.

Most definitely.

But one thing these workouts aren’t and that is easy.

You have to push your body to its absolute maximum during each of the high intensity intervals. You need to go to the point in which your body wants to quit ¾ of the way into the sprint. Where your legs and lungs are screaming at you to stop and it’s only through pure grit and determination (and not passing out) that you don’t stop prematurely. This is true HIIT. A workout so hard that even 4 rounds leaves you feeling broken.

The most researched and so called ‘best’ format of HIIT is usually performed on a stationary exercise bike. Although all-out hill sprints, rower intervals and pushing a sled/prowler have recently been found to fit the HIIT mould extremely well.

The typical HIIT protocol is as follows:

4-6 rounds of 30 seconds MAXIMAL INTENSITY SPRINTING followed by 90-120 seconds REST.

Now, if you are thinking that 90-120 seconds’ rest is a long time then I assure you that you have never completed a proper HIIT workout. As I have already mentioned you need to work at 100% effort each and every interval. If you push your body as hard as it can physically work on the chosen piece of equipment for the full 30 second time period (no stopping a few seconds early), then the rest time will feel extremely short.

This is where your mountain climbers and high knee ‘HITT’ workouts just don’t cut it. Even my beloved kettlebell swings don’t elicit the required response for HIIT. You literally won’t be able to work yourself hard enough to cause such utter devastation to your body and force adaptation to occur. HIIT needs to be brutally hard to perform and so very short in nature. You are working so hard during each interval that your bodies homeostasis is thrown out of sync. It thinks that you are working above and beyond what it is currently capable of and so once you finish one of these gruelling workouts it knows that it needs to adapt and get stronger, faster and fitter in case it needs to deal with such an ordeal again.

So, if you are doing a HIIT workout which makes you do high knees for 30 seconds followed by 10 seconds’ rest before doing the same thing with mountain climbers or squat jumps or burpees then you aren’t doing HIIT. You are doing a conditioning workout or an interval weight training session. Don’t get me wrong, when used appropriately alongside a high-quality resistance training program these sessions can fast track your results. But if you are doing these workouts every day for 45 minutes or more then your time could be better invested in looking at getting stronger. Weight training may not feel as intense or hard on your body when you first start out BUT over time you will see how lifting as heavy as you can (with good form) can provide the best results you’ve ever had.

How would I program HIIT in a weekly training cycle?

This all depends on an individual’s goal and training age. If they are more advanced and looking to reduce body fat and or boost athletic performance, and they already follow a structured resistance training program, then 2 HIIT sessions could be beneficial. If you are more of a novice or beginner with regards to exercise, then drop the HIIT workouts and get good at lifting weights. You will look, move and feel better in no time at all!

Written by: Adam Wakefield

I have been working as a personal trainer for over 9 years. I began my career in the fitness industry after completing a degree in Sport Science where I graduated with Upper Class Honours. I have always had a thirst for all things related to health, fitness and nutrition and it wasn’t before long that I owned my own gym.

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