You’ve seen the little acronym everywhere - HIIT. Everyone is talking about it, doing it, or posting about doing it, and you may be thinking about having a go at it too. The problem is, if you prefer reading about these workouts without the usual noise about fat burning, chiseling and toning, then it can be hard to find enough information about this form of training to assess whether it will compliment your existing training regime.
High intensity work can be intimidating, particularly when you are exposed to mainstream versions of sessions in the media and on social media. We automatically think of moves that can be incredibly challenging for us to pull off, such as burpees or mountain climbers, and this form of training becomes less relatable to us. The truth is however, that HIIT is one of the most flexible and accessible forms of training going around.
Before I get too far into that, however, let us just quickly take a step back and cover what HIIT actually is. In its purest form, High Intensity Interval Training describes a method of training whereby the individual is performing a single activity or a range of activities that elicit a high heart rate (also known as the anaerobic zone) for a short period of time, followed by a shorter rest period. The activities, work and rest periods will vary according to the goals of the session.
Since being touted as the new ‘miracle workout’, endless versions of high intensity sessions have come into existence. You can find methods of training that use work periods of anything from 30 seconds to 2 minutes, and rest periods of anything from 10 seconds to 1 minute. Sounds terribly confusing, but here’s where the beauty of this form of training becomes apparent: you can design your sessions to suit YOU. Because at the end of the day, the core focus of this session is working to YOUR heart rate, not someone else’s.
Another great aspect of this training method is the flexibility of activities you undertake. You can literally modify any activity into an interval session. There’s obviously the more traditional activities such as boxing, skipping, or bodyweight moves, and then there are run intervals, a lighter-load weights interval, swim intervals, running in water intervals, spin bike intervals - you get the drift.
Here are a few reasons why I like to incorporate HIIT sessions into my own programs and my clients’:
1. Mental Training: this is the main reason why it features in my own training. It gets me comfortable with discomfort. Since returning to racing after having my son, Ravi, I have been focused on short-course racing, which is essentially ‘full throttle’ racing. I need to operate comfortably in a high heart rate zone for the entire race, so I use interval training to not only condition my body to working in this zone, but to mentally condition myself to sustain the efforts and to overcome my mental ‘chatter’ that I tend to get when working at effort.
When my goals are to work these mental aspects, I tend to design what I call ‘break down’ sessions, where my work period is between 40 seconds to a minute, with a 20 or 30 second rest period depending on what the move is. The moves for these sessions vary from a single boxing move, to work with resistance bands or working in the biggest gear on the bike for a set period.
2. Flexibility: HIIT sessions can be done in anywhere, anytime, using anything. This can be a blessing on days where you can’t make it to your gym or out for your walk, run or have time for your normal training sets. A full-tilt Tabata session can take just under 7 minutes to complete. Trust me, my lounge room and children have seen many impromptu HIIT sessions taking place! Once your activity repertoire is established the session options are endless.
3. Fitness Benefits: HIIT sessions are brilliant for building your anaerobic fitness, which is essentially your ‘high effort’ fitness. We use this element of our fitness during surges in effort in whatever we do (be it running, boxing, lifting weights, or riding), so by doing these sessions we are not only developing this fitness but also making our recovery more efficient. Mentally, it also allows us to develop a work/recovery strategy where we essentially ‘coach’ ourselves to recover efficiently ready for the next round. For example, I have developed a breathing technique in my rest periods which helps me steady my breathing and heart rate ready for the next round.
Are you thinking that a HIIT session may compliment your existing training program, or sounds like something you would like to try? Here are some tips to help get you started:
- Set a plan. Decide how long your ‘work’ period will be and what your rest period will be. Start off with something relatively basic like 30sec work, 20sec rest and a maximum of 8 rounds. Consider these 8 rounds a full ‘set’, and you can do this set a number of times ensuring you are taking the FULL 2 minutes rest break in between the overall sets.
- Keep it simple. Pick one movement or a couple of moves remembering to keep it relatable to you. If you are starting out or having trouble knowing some moves to do, think of everyday moves that may get your heart rate up, like walking up stairs, or picking up a ball off the ground, lifting it over your head and returning it to the ground.
- It’s your workout. Like any form of fitness or exercise, there is a whole lot of noise around HIIT sessions and it can get confusing and as mentioned before the moves can get complicated. Just remember that these sessions are a heart rate/exertion based session and therefore unique to each individual. Never be afraid to ask for something to be modified or to modify something yourself. I always view modifying as a form of creativity with training and it is also boosting your own repertoire of moves - who knows, you may just create a totally new move!
- Rest. Due to the exertion required in the work sections of these workouts, it is crucial to observe the rest period in between the sets (if you do more than one) and consider a rest day following these sessions.
- Fuel accordingly. These are not designed to be done on an empty stomach, no matter what anyone tells you. The nature of this work will see your body tapping into glycogen stores for fuel, and if there’s no fuel in the tank, then your workout will tank also.
If you’ve come to the end of this and still need some convincing, ask your trainer or coach about trying a HIIT session, or follow a good plus size trainer who specialises in this area of work, such as Wendy Welsher out of HIIT Fitness in Sacramento.
About the Author:
Leah is the Founder of Body Positive Athletes, a community who celebrates the physical diversity of athleticism and fitness. A sponsored endurance athlete and mum, this Aussie is classed as a global thought-leader in the area of Body Positive Fitness and in promoting the notion that the term ‘athletic’ defines a lifestyle and not a body type.