A Beginner’s Guide to HIIT

In talking about LISS workouts, I briefly mentioned HIIT workouts, but I didn’t go into much detail. So now let’s talk about those. As I mentioned, HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. In a nutshell, it means that you exercise at the highest intensity you can for short bursts. Then you rest for a slightly longer period. You alternate those (that’s where the interval comes in) until you’re finished.

In a common form of HIIT, Tabata, you do sets of 4 minutes. You exercise for 20 seconds at your highest intensity, then rest for 10 seconds. Lather, rinse, and repeat until you’ve completed 4 minutes.

That’s the basics of HIIT. You can do any exercise you like to complete your sets, but the easiest choices for beginners would be something like running or indoor cycling. You could even do brisk walking, if you’re very new to exercising.

The benefit of HIIT workouts might seem obvious, but there are other benefits you might not have considered. First of all, the most obvious benefit is that you can finish your workouts in mere minutes. You might remember the 7 Minute Abs workouts from the 90s. Well, obviously, they’ve got nothing on 4 minute HIIT.

But beyond time-saving, HIIT keeps your body burning fat and calories long after you’ve collapsed. It also can improve your cardiovascular health and help strengthen your muscles. And it helps you build endurance. The first time I tried Tabata, I did it where I regularly exercise, at a track that circles a duck pond. After I finished, I lay there in the grass, feeling like I was dying, as ducks quacked around me. Now I still hate it, but I feel a lot less like I’m near death.

I hate it, but it’s all over in four minutes. And I hate it because you must go at a high intensity. If you’re able to do HIIT two days in a row, you’re doing it wrong. That’s because if you’re able to do it the day after you did it, that means that the previous day, you weren’t exercising at the highest intensity. That also means that you’re not getting the best benefit.

Doing HIIT on consecutive days also ups the likelihood of injury, because your muscles need time to repair themselves. You also risk burnout, because you’ll get tired of doing the same exercise every day.

To get the maximum benefits of HIIT, do it no more than 2 or 3 times a week and always leave a day off in between. You can exercise on the other days, but choose another form of exercise, like strength training. Soon you’ll be seeing the amazing benefits of HIIT, too, even if you never love it.