Superior to many other exercise strategies, High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has led to successful fat-burning and improved fitness for tons of exercisers. It is far more efficient than many other programs and can require 10 minutes or less to be effective.
Unfortunately, not everyone has been successful using HIIT. Maybe you have been disappointed with your own results, or lack thereof?
Don’t give up on HIIT just yet.
There are three likely reasons why HIIT is not meeting your expectations, and rest assured, there are several effortless adjustments you can make to get back on track.
First, let’s get an understanding of what HIIT is.
Understanding HIIT and Why It Can Be So Effective
HIIT is an exercise strategy that utilizes alternating intervals of intense physical activity and rest.
Instead of moderate exercise being performed for a lengthy period of time, HIIT’s purpose is to provide an intense workout in a short time period. Providing briefer workouts, coupled with superior results, is why HIIT has seen widespread growth in recent years.
The intense exercise intervals and subsequent rest periods that make up a HIIT workout spike and drop your heart rate respectively. This pattern creates an inefficient use of energy in your muscles and cardiovascular system.
Inefficient? Is that a good thing?
Yes, in this case it’s the inefficiency that you want. Imagine you are trying to lose 10 pounds of unwanted fat. Jogging on a treadmill at a steady pace for a prolonged period of time will help you burn a few calories, but this steady-state exercise also allows your body to become very efficient. Your body gets comfortable jogging at the same pace and you therefore use less energy (i.e. calories) to perform this work.
Note: HIIT or steady state cardio won’t do anything unless your diet is on track. You need to consume high quality gym meals and monitor your overall caloric intake.
In contrast, a HIIT workout, with it’s varying levels of intensity, prevents that “comfort level” from setting in. Your body is always adjusting, therefore energy usage (a.k.a. calorie-burning) remains high, and those 10 pounds will melt away much more quickly.
In fact, research has shown time and time again that HIIT is your answer if you hate running or cycling, but still want to drop a few pounds.
Not only is this true during the HIIT exercise, but also after you’ve finished working out. After an intense HIIT workout, your body greatly lacks oxygen. Some studies have shown that the body will continue to work at balancing this oxygen deficit for up to 40 hours post-workout. This is know as Exercise Post Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) and it leads to a ton more calories being burned than you’d ever experience doing regular cardio.
Despite all the great reviews, some people who use HIIT still aren’t reaping the rewards. If you fall into this camp, below are three mistakes you may be committing during your HIIT workouts.
Mistake No. 1: Prolonged HIIT Workouts
It is imperative that your HIIT workouts are short. The best HIIT routines should last 10-20 minutes. If you go beyond 20 minutes, it is impossible for your body to recover from the high-intensity nature of HIIT and you may be damaging your body instead of helping it.
The solution is to ensure your intense intervals are exactly that, intense. The Journal of Physiology has stated that ten 1-minute sprints are equivalent to moderately-paced cardio that lasts for several hours. This is just one simple HIIT protocol that demonstrates the effectiveness of keeping the timer on your workouts set short.
Mistake No. 2: Too Frequent HIIT Training
After HIIT, your body is in dire need of rest and recovery time. The high-intensity level of HIIT workouts (think back to those ten 1-minute sprints) breaks down your muscles much more so than a traditional workout, and can cause inflammation around your muscles and in your joints.
This isn’t necessarily bad, but it can be if you keep pushing through HIIT workouts without proper recovery time build in between. Too much HIIT leads to increased cortisol release (which triggers fat storage!), and potential for injury.
Performing HIIT minimally is your best solution. For beginners, consider doing only one HIIT routine during the week. Eventually, after building your endurance, you can perform the recommend maximum of 2-3 HIIT exercises a week.
Mistake No. 3: Fake HIIT Intensity
This principle is vital: You cannot be participating in HIIT, and will not experience its advantages, if you do not give the workout your full, 100% effort. Anything less is what I call “fake HIIT” exercise.
Think about everything we’ve discussed so far. The power of a HIIT workout is predicated on your commitment to give it your all for a very short period of time. Slacking off, even just a little, during the work intervals of a HIIT routine will leave you with just a short workout.
Back to our ten 1-minute sprints example: Jogging ten times for 1 minute each is NOT the same as sprinting for those intervals. It’s not even close.
Yet many people are accustomed to what a moderate-intensity workout feels like, so that’s what they bring into their HIIT workouts. Sorry, but this strategy will not work.
If an all-out effort seems too daunting, start with just 1 or 2 such intervals. Your body can push extremely hard for just a minute or two. Test it out and see how you feel. Then, add one more interval to your next HIIT workout. Then add another. Soon you’ll be able to complete 10-20 minutes at a very intense level.
Dave Smith is a fitness and weight-loss coach who was chosen as “Canada’s Top Fitness Professional” in 2013. He works with clients from around the world using the Total Coaching training platform, helping each client institute the right habits that will lead to meaningful results. You can catch Dave’s weekly Q&A fitness podcast or learn about all things health-related on his blog at makeyourbodywork.com.