September 30, 2021

Is HIIT Good For You?Interval training in The Workout Tee and Training Shorts (photo: Dane Deaner)

As an exercise fad, HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is everywhere. A quick Google search will turn up thousands of “perfect” HIIT workouts, to blast your abs, ripple your biceps and so on.

Now, many of these really are terrific workouts, but trainers and workout gurus have a vested interest in making HIIT sound more complex than it really is. For your own time, and health, it’s worth taking the time to understand what it actually is.

So what makes HIIT special? And how did it get so popular?

The Basics

The Workout Tee and Training Shorts (photo: Dane Deaner)

HIIT is less a specific exercise and more of a strategy to structure a workout. The central idea behind HIIT is in name: high-intensity interval training. If you’ve done weight, CrossFit, or cardio classes like SoulCycle or Orange Theory, you’ve actually done a form of HIIT already.

You can HIIT with kettlebells, stairs, cycling, bodyweight exercises and so on.

For example, sprinting can be a form of HIIT. Warm up for three minutes with a half-effort jog. Then sprint all-out for thirty seconds. Then, walk for a minute. Do this sprint-walk interval six times, then do a slow jog or stretch to cool down. Congrats! You just did HIIT.

The health benefits of interval training are not a new revelation. Stressing your body with high intensity exercise increases your metabolic rate, helps you burn fat, reduce overall heart rate, blood pressure and sugar. It challenges your body in a way that endurance training simply doesn’t.

However, the real reason that HIIT as a routine took off is that it’s time-efficient. Perfect for busy people, many HIIT programs fit an intense workout in under half an hour. Some of these workouts are so intense, you’ll walk away with quivering legs after fifteen minutes. Plus, many HIIT workouts can be done in a hotel room, if you’re traveling.

The Downsides

Barbells (photo: Dane Deaner)

That said, HIIT is not a magic bullet. The intensity of these workouts can easily lead to injury, especially for individuals who are just starting on a road to fitness.

If you’ve been mostly sedentary, or have underlying health problems, consider a more mellow fitness program, like jogging, or yoga, to achieve fitness baseline before even attempting HIIT.

Remember: the best athletes are the ones who don’t get injured.

Another problem with HIIT is that, because these routines are so short, you don’t always allot enough time for warm-up or cool-down. Stretching and low-intensity exercise is extremely important for strengthening and relaxing tendons and joints. Plus, depending on your routine, you may only be doing exercises according to certain planes. Flexibility is at least as important as strength for your overall health.

Going back to our sprinting example, yes, there are numerous advantages to sprinting. But long-distance running, or "steady state" jogging, is very good for you too. Slower, less-intense, but longer sessions will build an aerobic base and increase your overall endurance in a way that sprinting won’t.

So What Should I Do?

Push-ups (photo: Dane Deaner)

The best athletes mix it up. You should do different HIIT routines, as well as lower-intensity workouts. By doing different types of exercises, you will improve your mobility and overall fitness. Not only that, it will keep you from getting bored. There’s no reason why a bodybuilder shouldn’t play tennis, or why a boxer shouldn’t swim. If you find you enjoy HIIT, do it during the week, but when you have a day off, do a longer, more mellow run, power-walk or yoga class.

TYPES OF HIIT

Pull-ups (photo: Dane Deaner)

Generally speaking, there are three types of HIIT exercises: cardio, bodyweight and weight/resistance. Very commonly, routines will blend these three together. For example, jumping jacks, pushups and kettlebell deadlifts.

This mixture of aerobic and anaerobic exercise is fantastic for your overall health, but if you’re just getting started, we’d recommend you stick with bodyweight before working weights into the mix, unless the weights are very light.

Bodyweight exercises build stabilizer muscles, work your core and can be just as challenging as weights. We find it’s harder to injure yourself doing pushups and burpees than, say, hurling a kettlebell around. Of course, the downside is that push-ups aren’t exactly fun.

When you’re ready, working some weights into your routine can be even more effective. This is the basis for many CrossFit classes. However, there’s a reason CrossFit gets a bad rap. Many proponents don’t pay enough attention to form, and it’s extremely easy to injure yourself with kettlebells or deadlifts. We’d recommend taking a class, or having a good trainer critique your form if you’re getting into weights. It’s cheaper than a chiropractor.

HIIT ROUTINES

In the gym with The Track Pants and The Quarter-Zip pullover (photo: Dane Deaner)

We’ll give you a sample routine below, but if you’re doing it on your own, we’d recommend looking up a video you can follow along.

Mimicking a trainer will help you more than reading a list. Just make sure the person knows what they’re doing.

Many of these virtual trainers have beginner, intermediate and advanced sets. They’re also often free! Try doing 2-3 of these per week at first, and mixing in a yoga class, long walk or stretching session.

There are a variety of HIIT routines to experiment with: the “Tabata Protocol,” “20/20 full-body” and more. But for simplicity’s sake we’ll take you through a “30s" workout below. These are very common online, because they’re simple to follow, easy to modify and effective. If you’re not using a video, try to keep a timer.

Also, for any workout, don’t skip the warmup. If you’re unsure of what to do, do a mild version of the exercises you’ll be doing later. Decrease speed and weight. The important part of a warmup is to get your circulation going and your muscles ready to work.

THE INTERVALS

Sprint! (photo: Dane Deaner)

Here is a sample bodyweight routine you can do anywhere. When you’re doing the intervals, go all-out (while still having good form). If you get tired, you can do easier alternatives, but the important thing is to keep going. You can substitute other exercises into this routine as well, according to your body's needs.

  1. Jumping squats - 30 seconds
  2. Reverse lunges - 30 seconds
  3. Mountain climbers - 30 seconds
  4. Burpees - 30 seconds
  5. Sprints (or jumping jacks) - 30 Seconds

Spend 30 seconds at each step, doing as many reps as you can safely and with good form. Take a five-second break between each step as you reset. At the end of each round, give yourself a minute to catch your breath. Do this entire circuit 3-5 times.

COOL-DOWN

Cool down (photo: Dane Deaner)

You can usually cool down by walking and / or stretching after your workout.

FROM HERE

If you’ve made it this far, it’s time to experiment with HIIT. Don’t just do this routine a few times a week. Like we said above, it’s good to mix it up. Try other routines and other exercises.

As an athlete, you need to listen to your body... except maybe when it tells you to eat a box of donuts.

But this is all to say that HIIT cannot achieve all your workout goals at once. If you’re trying to lose weight, diet will get you farther than frantically exercising. Fitness, as always, is about establishing a healthy new routine. You won’t feel motivated every day. Making it a fun, sustainable part of your daily life is the only way to make it stick.