Is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Right For You?

by Charles Platkin, PhD

One of the biggest issues most people have when it comes to exercise is finding the time. That’s really one of the best parts of doing high-intensity interval workouts  you can exercise for less time than is typically recommended and get some fantastic health benefits.  In addition, you can do indoors or out  it’s flexible and versatile enough to fit into anyone’s schedule.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training or HIIT?
The idea is to go all out for short bursts using nearly all of your energy. These workouts typically last anywhere from 5 seconds to 8 minutes. Shorter speed intervals mean higher intensity. You’ll want to make sure your recovery time is equal to or longer than your speed intervals.

What are the health benefits of HIIT?
High intensity workouts have significantly improved outcomes for cardiovascular function, mechanical function and respiratory health, as well as for arthritis, Parkinson’s and stroke patients. HIIT even improved glucose levels for people with Type-2 diabetes. According to the researchers, HIIT seems to be an efficient way help “decrease body fat, improve insulin sensitivity, and improve VO2 max (maximal aerobic capacity) and muscular fitness.” The most important caveat — any time you’re doing high-intensity training you need to be wary of injury as you plow through the exercises as hard as you can.

How do you know you’re performing at HIIT Levels?
To know if you’re exercising at “high intensity” you can take the “talk test.” Recite something you know well, such as the Pledge of Allegiance, while exercising. If you can say it clearly, you’re probably working at 50 to 80 percent of your maximum heart rate. If you have a bit of trouble, you’re probably in the 80 to 90 percent range. If you’re able to say only a coherent word or two, you’re probably in the 90 and 95 percent range  which is the high-end of HIIT levels.

Is HIIT Right for Me?
First of all, you should talk to your health care provider before starting any exercise program. HIIT is probably right for you if you don’t have physical limitations such as a heart condition and/or joint injuries or problems; if you have limited available time, and if you can’t seem to stick to other exercise program. That said, even those with knee or back injuries may be able to do a swimming or cycling HIIT program.

How do I start an HIIT Program?

– Go slow: two or three times per week are good. In the initial stages, you really need to cut yourself a bit of slack.  You can go hard for 15-30 seconds and then rest for 90 seconds  that’s fine.

– Use a smartphone app for timing: it’s not easy to look at your watch and figure out how long you’re doing an exercise, especially a high-intensity exercise.

– Keep it short: if you do each exercise for longer than you should, you can undermine your efforts. The goal is to have short bouts of exertion, not long bouts of exertion.

– Create a plan and have a goal: Don’t just decide that “starting next week” you’re going to do a HIIT every day. Investigate your options, write them down, and make the decision as if it’s something that is important to you. Come up with a plan for exercise that will keep you excited for longer than 24 hours. Keep in mind that one of the most important things is to remain flexible with everything  including your exercise, your time, and yourself

– Make appointments to work out: Think of your workouts as “appointments.” Record them as you would any other appointment. To help you keep the appointment, re-visualize why you want to lose weight and how you will feel when you reach your goal.

– Enjoy exercise more: focus on the enjoyment, feelings of competence and social interaction that come from the experience.

– Pick a program that fits your lifestyle and health level.

What Kind of HIIT Can you do?
Here are a few examples:

7 Minute Workout
The folks at the Human Performance Institute in Orlando, Fla., published a scientific article titled “High-Intensity Circuit Training Using Body Weight: Maximum Results with Minimal Investment” in the American College of Sport’s Medicine’s Health & Fitness Journal. The article outlined a 12-station high-intensity workout with each exercise to be performed for 30 seconds and 10 seconds of rest between sets.

1. Jumping jacks  Total body
2. Wall sit  Lower body
3. Push-up  Upper body
4. Abdominal crunch  Core
5. Step-up onto chair  Total body
6. Squat  Lower body
7. Triceps dip on chair  Upper body
8. Plank  Core
9. High knees/running in place  Total body
10. Lunge  Lower body
11. Push-up and rotation  Upper body
12. Side plank  Core

American Council on Exercise’s (ACE) 20-minute calorie-burning HIIT workout:

Set 1:
·        High Knee Running – 20 seconds
·        Diagonal Jump-Ups – 20 seconds
·        Burpees – 20 seconds
·        Rest 60 seconds
·        Perform 5 rounds for a total of 10 minutes.

Set 2:
·        Ankle Touches – 20 seconds
·        Squat Jumps – 20 seconds
·        Push-up + Jump In/Out – 20 seconds
·        Rest 60 seconds
·        Perform 5 rounds for a total of 10 minutes.

ACE Fitness’s Swimming Pool Workout:
ACE also has a pool work out, which helps to reduce impact on the joints. To do this, use
the 45/15 principal: 45 seconds of high-intensity work followed by 15 seconds of rest.

You should be in the shallow end of the pool with the water somewhere between your navel and your mid-section.  Plant your feet on the floor.  Then try jogging in place for a few minutes to warm up.

– Tuck Jump Forward and Backward: Jump forward and backward as if you were trying to jump over a fence. Tuck the knees into the chest and use the arms to assist in the forward and backward movement

– Moguls: Jump side to side, as if you were jumping over a line. Similar to the previous exercise, tuck the knees into the chest and use the arms to assist in the side-to-side movement.

– Split Jump: Begin standing with your legs together. Jump up and split the legs, right leg forward and left leg back. Land with legs together. Repeat the jump and split the legs, left leg forward and right leg back.

– Star Jump: Like jumping jacks, jump up and create the letter “X” with your arms and legs. When landing, bring your legs back together, and bring your arms to your chest.

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