High Intensity Interval Training

Oh hey, is your resolution to burn off some fat? Yes, well, welcome to This Is What Everyone Wants Always.

Today we’re going to get all up on High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT.  This is not the thing you do when you want to blast your lats or get huge biceps. This is the thing you do to burn fat in the most efficient way possible. And don’t we just love efficiency. Yes, we do.

WHAT IS THIS THING.

HIIT is alternating between short intervals of very high intensity cardio and low intensity cardio. It’s also often called “Sprint Intervals” because the most basic form is alternating between a sprint and a light jog. During your high intensity intervals, your body is working at near full capacity — around 90% of your max heart rate — so those intervals are short, and only range from 30 seconds to 2 minutes (Because your body is working so hard during that time that it is LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE for you to do more than that).

THIS SOUNDS LIKE REALLY HARD WORK. I’M NOT SURE IF I’M INTO THAT.

Yes well here is the good part: because your body is working out SO effing hard, you can (and should, actually must) do this for a fraction of the time as a normal steady-speed cardio workout. HIIT workouts range from only 10 – 30 minutes, AND you increase your metabolism and burn calories for up to 24 hours afterwards (you burn almost no calories after a steady speed cardio workout, only during. What a jerk workout, amiright?).

Bonus: you’re also increasing your heart’s efficiency during HIIT, building your overall speed and endurance. Neat!

OK I’LL TRY IT. BUT ONLY ONCE, AND YOU HAVE TO TELL ME EXACTLY WHAT TO DO.

Way to take initiative. The best way to most effectively do sprints is to get a heart rate monitor, so you can really make sure you’re working hard enough during those high intensity sprints to hit your target heart rate. There are a lot of ways to figure out your max heart rate, but the simplest and most common is 220 – your age.  Then you want to take 90% of that (trust me you guys, I know it’s math, but this is grade school level, you can do this), and there is your target heart rate for those high intervals.  A heart rate monitor is pretty reasonable, you can get a really good one for around $70 on Amazon (get the ones that use a chest strap, the ones that just take it from your wrist are unreliable, which can be super annoying when you’re in the middle of a workout. Don’t be scared of the chest strap).

Anyway, if you don’t want to do the heart rate monitor, you can still do sprints, I just find it helps me push myself harder and make sure I’m in the right heart rate zone. BUT YOU DO WHAT YOU GOTTA DO.

You can do sprints on pretty much any cardio machine, my favorites are the bike and the treadmill (or the outdoors). Here’s a good starter one:

  • 3 minute warmup
  • 1 minute low intensity
  • 30 seconds high intensity
  • 1 minute low intensity
  • 45 seconds high intensity
  • 1 minute low
  • 1 minute high
  • 1 minute low
  • 1 minute 15 seconds high
  • 1 minute low
  • 1 minute 15 seconds high
  • 1 minute low
  • 1 minute high
  • 1 minute low
  • 45 seconds high
  • 1 minute low
  • 30 seconds high
  • 1 minute low
  • 3 minute cool down

Start to finish, it’s 22 minutes, and 7 minutes are at full sprint (whether you’re cycling or running, whichever you prefer). Start out with this one, just to give it a try and see how your body feels for different high intensity times.  Since starting with this one, I’ve found that I work best with a 1:1 ratio, so I do one minute high, one minute low, with 3 minute warm-up and cool-down, for a total of 30 – 35 minutes. Since I use the heart rate monitor (get one), I can extend the high intensity period if I haven’t quite reached my target (172), or increase my rest by a few seconds if I haven’t slowed to my low intensity target (140).

One thing that’s important to note is that you shouldn’t switch to ALL sprint interval training. I’d say use this for anywhere from 1/3 to 1/2 of your weekly workouts. Because your body gets so fatigued during those sprints, you really shouldn’t be doing this more than 3 days a week, or on consecutive days. Part of efficient training is knowing when to give your body a break, so the rest of the days, do some circuit training, steady cardio, or weight training. If you are really not into HIIT, just try adding it for one day a week, it will still make a big difference. But make sure you make an awesome playlist, because this shit gets hard.

So. Did you just do this workout? And then you had 40 minutes of extra time to read Gawker? But you burned more calories than if you did elliptical for an hour? Well. You’re welcome.

QUICK NOTE: The “fat burning” zones on cardio machines refer to 60% – 70% of your heart rate, which is just where your body burns a higher percentage of fat calories, but higher intensity burns more fat calories overall.  Which is really what we’re going for here. Don’t be fooled.

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