HIIT is simply an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training, and the term cardio implies training which stimulates and exercises your cardiovascular system. Most HIIT will train your cardiovascular system, due to the fact it's high intensity, but it can also improve muscular tone and endurance.
Why do HIIT?
If getting the most results from the least amount of time sounds exciting, then HIIT is definitely for you. Alternatively if your primary sport requires that you exercise in bouts of high intensity followed by short periods of rest (boxing, martial arts, racket sports, sprinting etc.) and you're not including HIIT into your training, you're missing out! It has the added benefit of increased fat burning over steady-state cardio thanks to a higher level of excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC). This doesn't mean you shouldn't use steady-state cardio at all, but there's lots of benefits to HIIT over steady-state cardio, if it's done correctly.
How to do a HIIT workout correctly
HIIT workouts alternate a period of high intensity work, where you exercise as hard as possible, and a rest period that feels way too short! The rest periods aren't necessarily equal in length to the work periods, but a 1:1 work to rest interval structure is popular. Normally the work period will be less than a minute, because in order for HIIT to be effective it's important that you're giving everything in the work period anything longer than this and it's hard to maintain full intensity.
Rest periods can be active or passive, but most people prefer passive rest, with a focus on deep breathing to repay any Oxygen debt you will have acquired during the work interval.
The most important thing to bear in mind with HIIT is the intensity, it is not HIIT unless you are operating at at-least 80% of your maximum effort during the work phase. This is why it's a good idea to use a heart rate monitor for HIIT sessions in order to ensure your work and rest periods are accurate and also to be certain that you are working hard enough in the work period. You should aim to maintain a level of exercise at 80-95% of your maximum heart rate during the work period.
Start gradually. You'll need a base-level of cardio fitness before you start, so make sure you've been doing regular cardio exercise a few times a week for at least three months before attempting HIIT, it can be a shock to your system! Start with an entry-level HIIT workout such as the Timmons method (see below) and listen to your body. Make sure that you've planned a rest day after your HIIT workout for your first few sessions.
Avoid down days. If you're not feeling 100% then cancel your HIIT session and do something else instead. You'll struggle to give it your best and may risk injury.
HIIT Workout Ideas
The Timmons Method - Beginner
This was developed by exercise scientists at Loughborough University and is a great introduction into HIIT. Simply alternate 2 minutes of very light exercise (walking, no-resistance cycling, slow star jumps etc.) with 20 second max effort work period. Do 9 rounds of this to make 21 minutes total exercise.
Tabata - Advanced
This 4 minute workout is named after Dr Izumi Tabata, a Japanese doctor who conducted a study over six weeks that compared 1800 minutes of moderate exercise to 120 minutes of HIIT at a specific ratio (20 seconds work to 10 seconds rest, repeated 8 times). He found that the anaerobic fitness levels of the high intensity group increased 28%.
To do a Tabata workout, set yourself an interval timer of 20 seconds rest followed by 10 seconds rest, do this eight times and you have an incredible 4 minute workout. This can be applied to a cardio exercise such as cycle sprints, treadmill sprints, skipping double-unders, even calisthenic exercises such as burpees.
Reverse Tabata - Intermediate
This HIIT workout simply reverses the original formula so that you get twice as much rest as work, therefore is a lot easier. So 10 seconds of maximal effort, followed by 20 seconds of rest, for a total of 8 rounds.
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