When you hit the gym or go for a run, do you push yourself to your maximum limits? In most cases, probably not. Moderate exercise usually focuses on pushing you a little for an extended period of time, and this certainly has its benefits. But if you’re looking for a way to ramp up your exercise routine, something like high-intensity interval training (HIIT) might be the right choice.
HIIT workouts take many different forms, but the premise is always the same. The workout consists of very high-intensity periods of activity, or work, followed by brief periods of rest. This cycle is repeated multiple times.
During each work period, you should be operating at near-maximum capacity—between 80 and 90 percent of your maximum heart rate. By only taking brief rest periods between these bursts of movement, you force your muscles to work harder without truly recovering.
HIIT workouts are particularly good for women because of the range of benefits they offer. Although they shouldn’t be the only workouts you do—light to moderate cardio and moderate strength training are also important—consider adding HIIT to your fitness routine a few times a week.
How to do HIIT workouts
The exercises you do during HIIT matters less than how you do the workout itself. Each period of activity should only last around 60 seconds or less. This allows you to maintain the intensity of the exercise until your rest period and can reduce the risk of injury. During this period, you’ll want to work hard! If you’re not pushing yourself almost to your max, the session won’t be nearly as effective.
After each work period is a shorter rest period. During this time, you want to allow your heart rate to drop back to its normal resting levels. Exactly how long you rest for will depend on the exercises you’re doing.
Then, you’ll want to repeat this cycle. How many times you repeat the work-rest cycle in a single workout will depend on the type of exercises you’re doing, as well as your desired workout length and your fitness abilities. It’s important to find the balance that allows you to work your body hard without pushing it past its limits. Additionally, you should always warm up and cool down before and after your workouts.
Benefits of HIIT workouts
This type of workout pushes your body to its max repeatedly. While exhausting, HIIT can have great results when it’s done properly!
- Increase fat loss: HIIT is known for burning a lot of calories—even more so than other types of workouts—in a short time. Forcing your muscles to work near capacity without fully recovering is a part of anaerobic exercise, during which your muscles don’t have the oxygen they need. By depriving your muscles of oxygen during your workout, you increase excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), causing your body to continue burning calories as it heals, well after your workout is over. HIIT also stimulates human growth hormone (HGH), which bolsters your metabolism. Together, these things contribute to fat loss.
- Improve heart health: Pushing your body during anaerobic exercise also helps improve your heart’s capacity for work. Doing repeated HIIT workouts can improve your heart health and increase your stamina by increasing your VO2 max, allowing you to work out harder for longer. It’s also been shown to reduce blood pressure and blood sugar!
- Build different muscle groups: Part of the fun of HIIT is that you can vary the exercises you do during each workout. This means you can target many different muscle groups in the same short routine. Combine a range of movements together to effectively target different parts of your body and build muscle. (What’s more, HIIT doesn’t cannibalize your muscles like other extended anaerobic exercises do. Instead, it activates the fast-twitch muscle fibers and builds muscle.)
- Fast workout, fast results: HIIT is a great workout type for people who don’t have a lot of time to exercise each day. Most HIIT workouts are completed in around 30 minutes, but they are very effective. Plus, when done a few times a week, they produce results quickly. This means that you can reap the benefits of exercise without spending hours in the gym each week!
Despite its benefits, though, HIIT isn’t right for everyone. People with health ailments that prevent them from doing high-intensity or high-impact exercises should probably avoid HIIT workouts. Even healthy and fit people should only do HIIT around three or four times a week, with rest days or low-intensity workouts in between. You need to give your body ample time to recover in order to prevent injury.
If you haven’t tried HIIT before, try adding it to your routine once a week and build up from there. You might start to see results before you know it!