Less Time, Better Results: HIIT Workouts
Andreea Macoveiciuc | On 27, Nov 2013
I happen to be a list person. I love lists, and statistics as well, and one of my favorite routines as the end of the year approaches is creating the New Year’s Resolution List. My usual approach is to write down all the things that I plan and hope to accomplish during the next year, but this time I decided to change the strategy a little.
I was curious to see what other people place on top of their NYRL, and was not surprised to find out that 37% of people who do lists set weight-related goals. This is outnumbered only by resolutions related to education and self-improvement, so it’s quite obvious that people are interested in managing their weight more efficiently.
And as I write this word, “efficiently”, the first thing that comes into my mind is TIME. If people would manage their time better, they would have more time for workouts and therefore better results in terms of weight management, in the long run. But the truth is, with our crazy schedules and busy lifestyles, finding time for workouts can be a real challenge even for the well-intended people.
So what’s the solution then? Pin the “lose weight” goal on top of your New Year’s Resolution List year after year, or find a better strategy for incorporating workouts in our crowded schedules?
I vote for the latter and give you my own, tested and proven solution: HIIT workouts!
What are HIIT workouts?
The acronym comes from High Intensity Interval Training so it’s not hard to guess what HIIT is all about. In very simple words, these workouts consist in short intervals of high intensity exercises that target all your muscle groups through compound movements. And now let’s explain these a little, as I’m sure not all of you are fitness junkies as I am.
First, what’s an interval in the fitness world? It’s a suite of exercises, usually 3 to 5, which is repeated several times during the workout session. Here’s an example of an effective, calorie-burning and metabolism-boosting interval that only takes 3 minutes:
- Jog for 10 seconds
- Sprint for 30 seconds
- Jog for 10 seconds
- Do push-ups for 30 seconds
- Do burpees for 30 seconds
- Do squats for 30 seconds
- Sprint for 30 seconds
- Jog for 10 seconds
It may not seem too demanding at first sight, but if you do this first interval, then take a 10- second break and repeat it 2 more times, you might actually start to feel your muscles burning. And the best part about intervals is that you can always pick other exercises and personalize your routine, so that you never get bored of your workout.
Moreover, if your fitness level is good enough, you can spice up the routine by adding some dumbbells or ankle weights and do a weighted squat instead of a classical one, or a biceps curls/squat combo for burning more calories and working your upper and lower body at the same time.
The key in building your own HIIT routine is to pick as many different exercises as possible and to mix cardio with strength exercises. So if you start with a 30-second sprint, make sure to add a weight lifting suite right after it, as this will strengthen your muscles while keeping your heart rate high.
If you’re not familiar with this form of training you can always find beginner, intermediate or advanced routines online, but keep in mind that:
- Heavier weights and fewer repetitions bring better results if you want to build strong and lean muscles.
- Cardio exercises have to be performed at 90% of your max heart rate in order to be effective, this is why you’ll never see a HIIT routine consisting in 30 seconds of jogging. Sprints and highly intense cardio exercises are the key to burning more calories with this type of workout. This is why it’s called high intensity!
- Breaks between sets shouldn’t be longer than 10-20 seconds. This prevents your body from adapting to the new form of training and it forces it to push its limits in order to answer to the received stimuli. So the result is more burned calories and faster weight loss!
HIIT kicks your EPOC rate (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption rate) and triggers the so-called afterburn effect. This means that after you finish your workout, your body keeps burning calories at higher than normal rates and this ensures a faster destruction of the fats stored underneath the skin. Long term effect? A leaner physique and a lower body fat percentage!
At this point you’re probably asking yourself if this form of workout has its risks and I’ll briefly talk about its advantages and drawbacks immediately. But before jumping to these aspects, here’s another way of defining HIIT: intense periods of work followed by short recovery segments, which transform your physique by building stronger muscles and trimming down fat.
HIIT benefits and risks
First, let’s say it out loud: HIIT workouts are not for everyone. It’s the ideal form of workout for people who are healthy but too busy to hit the gym daily and want to do some efficient, fat-burning and muscle-building exercises in the comfort of their home. BUT only if:
- You have no heart condition
- You have no muscle problem
- You have no respiratory condition
- You have no fractures or other bone problems
Although HIIT is not contraindicated to clinical populations, it’s better for these people to do their exercises in the presence of a personal trainer. Also, HIIT is not for overweight people and it’s not designed for beginners. If you’re out of shape and used to spend your free time on the couch, this form of workout is not for you unless you’re willing to do some preparation weeks, change your eating habits and start with easier workouts.
HIIT workouts are intense, very intense, and this is exactly what makes it so efficient. And the best part is you don’t have to repeat this routine daily – 2 to 4 sessions per week, lasting for 20-30 minutes, are more than enough to kick-start your metabolism and reprogram your body to burn more calories with minimum time investment.
Curious to learn about the main benefits of HIIT workouts? Here’s a brief list:
- More burned calories
- Stronger muscles
- Enhanced flexibility
- Better coordination
- Improved cardiovascular performance
- Enhanced fitness level
- Stress relief
- Enhanced bone density
- Leaner physique
- Improved self-esteem level
- Enhanced mood
- Higher energy levels
- Stronger immunity
- Plus, you’ll look a lot hotter in your swimsuit!
As for the risks of HIIT, it’s quite obvious that if you’re out of shape you’re more likely to get injured while doing these intense intervals and theoretically you could suffer a heart attack if you push your body way over its limits. But then again, this could happen during any form of physical exercise if you don’t follow the simple principle that says one should always know their limits.
HIIT workouts can lead to increased muscle soreness and fatigue when you overdo them, so this is why it’s recommended to only repeat such routines 2-4 times a week, unless you’re a professional athlete or your fitness level is really good.
Example of HIIT routines
You can create your personalized HIIT routine, based on your current fitness level. Here are some exercises you can incorporate in your workout – for each of them, do 60 seconds or 3 sets of 10 repetitions with 10-second breaks:
- Bench press
- Dumbbell press
- Cable crossover
- Barbell bentover rows
- Reverse crunches
- Oblique pushups
- Biceps curls
- Triceps overhead extensions
- Dumbbell lateral raises
- Dumbbell shrugs
- Barbell wrist curls
- Russian twists
- Triceps dips
- Leg presses
- Leg extensions / curls
- Calf raises
- Romanian deadlifts
- Dumbbell lunges
- Rope skipping
- Jumping jacks
- Mountain climbers
The video in the beginning of this article is a good example of a simple, beginner-friendly full-body HIIT workout that can be performed at home and requires no equipment!
So now that you’re more familiar with HIIT workouts, maybe you can find a way to plan your daily schedule so that you can incorporate a high intensity interval training session in your routine 3 times a week. 20 to 30 minutes are enough for getting maximum health and fitness benefits with HIIT! And if you stay committed, maybe you’ll no longer have to add weight loss on your next New Year’s Resolution List!
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