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If you’re a sports, fitness or bodybuilding enthusiast, you see a lot of new methods every year. The HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) method is one of them, but it’s based on extensive scientific studies and has proven its worth, especially for losing fat faster and seeing your abs appear, for example!
In this post, I’ll help you to find out all you need to know about it, to help you decide whether or not to adopt this Crossfit-like method.
What is HIIT?
HIIT, short for High-Intensity Interval Training, is a form of intense exercise that alternates periods of intense effort with periods of recovery or low intensity. The aim of HIIT is to maximize the benefits of training in the shortest possible time.
Here’s how a HIIT session typically works:
- Warm-up: You start with a warm-up to prepare your body for the effort ahead.
- High-intensity interval: You perform an exercise or series of exercises at maximum intensity for a short period, usually 20 seconds to 1 minute.
- Recovery period: You follow the intense interval with an active or low-intensity recovery period, often equal to or slightly longer than the intense interval.
- Repetition: You repeat this sequence of high-intensity interval and recovery several times, usually 3 to 5 times or more, depending on your fitness level and goals.
- Cool-down: You end the session with a cool-down period to allow your heart rate to return to normal.
The principle of interval training
As the name suggests, the HIIT method is based on interval training, as opposed to long-distance training. You should know that scientific studies have already demonstrated the effectiveness of interval training: doing several intensive 6-minute sessions a day provides as much fitness gain as jogging for an hour, for example.
Of course, if you’re training specifically for long-distance running, there’s no substitute for running training: effort management, mental toughness, regular hydration. Nevertheless, interval training allows you to build up the necessary fitness as a base from which to work on specific aspects.
The practical advantage of this type of training is that it can be spread out over a day. Rather than having to set aside a time slot for an hour’s running, and then for recovery, you can distribute your sessions according to your schedule. If you telecommute, this can be particularly useful for boosting your energy in the morning before settling down in front of the screen, waking up at midday and letting off steam after work.
Example of HIIT training
The HIIT method involves creating intervals within your micro-sessions. Depending on your sport, your sessions could look like this (non-exhaustive list of possibilities): 10 times 30 seconds of effort followed by 10 seconds of recovery, i.e. a session lasting almost 7 minutes.
Then 7 times 30 seconds of effort followed by 30 seconds of recovery. After that, 10 times 10 seconds of effort followed by 20 seconds of recovery, i.e. a 5-minute session. Finally, 3 times 60 seconds of effort followed by 75 seconds of recovery (Little method, to reduce the difficulty of the workout).
It’s also possible to combine these sessions, depending on your abilities. As a general rule, you should allow one minute for recovery between these sessions, and aim for a total of 15 to 25 minutes.
Looking at these structures, you’ll no doubt notice that the HIIT method isn’t particularly easy, hence the existence of the Little method for beginners or those lacking in fitness.
It requires an iron will to start the last series of exercises, as well as a good dose of know-how to make the most of the short recovery periods. HIIT takes you out of your comfort zone and helps you build mental strength as well as physical strength.
Examples of HIIT workouts
The HIIT workout can be adapted to a variety of exercises, sports and activities, making it a versatile training format. Here are some examples of exercises you can include in a HIIT workout:
- Sprints: Run at full speed for a short distance, then recover by walking or jogging.
- Burpees: Start standing, then lower yourself into a push-up position, jump up to return to a standing position, and repeat quickly.
- Jumping Jacks: Make wide jumps by opening and closing your legs while raising your arms above your head.
- Skipping rope: Jump rope at high intensity for an interval, followed by a short recovery period.
- Cycling: Pedal at high intensity on a stationary bike for one interval, then reduce intensity for recovery.
- Jump squats: Perform squats, then jump into the air from the squat position.
- Push-ups: Do push-ups at a fast pace for an interval, then take a short break.
- Mountain Climbers: In plank position, alternately bring your knees up to your chest.
- Lunge jumps: Alternate lunges by jumping from one leg to the other.
- Box jumps: Jump up onto a stable bench, box or platform, then back down and repeat.
- Plank Jacks: In plank position, rapidly spread and close your legs.
- Jump Squats: Perform squats, then jump up from the squat position.
- Treadmill: Run at high speed on a treadmill for an interval, then walk or run slowly for recovery.
- Swimming: Swim at an intense pace for an interval, then slow down for recovery.
- Bodyweight training: Use exercises such as push-ups, squats, lunges, pull-ups, dips and burpees to create a HIIT workout.
The benefits of HITT training
A 1996 study (Tabata I.) compared endurance gains on a cycloergometer between subjects performing daily one-hour workouts at 70% VO2 Max and subjects performing 4-minute sessions (8 times 20 seconds effort followed by 10 seconds recovery) at 170%.
After 6 weeks, the interval-trainers had improved their anaerobic capacity by 28%, while the long-trainers had gained nothing.
The HIIT method is reputed in training circles to help burn fat. This is linked to a number of factors, such as the body’s inability to adapt its metabolism to intervals.
When we train on conventional endurance, our bodies adapt to manage energy expenditure in the most efficient way possible, enabling us to run 42-kilometer marathons, or even extreme endurance races of over 100 kilometers. These adaptations reduce lipid consumption. With the HIIT method, if your aim is to lose fat mass (either to get back into shape, or to dry out in bodybuilding), fat consumption can be up to 9 times higher than with classic endurance.
Another reason for the fat loss observed in HIIT adapters is the afterburner effect: basal metabolic rate is increased for several hours (up to 24) after exercise. In other words, the body continues to burn fat at rest.
HIIT program: for whom and what sports?
The method is suitable for all types of sport, whether for muscle mass gain (with drying) or endurance gains. It works on running, cycling, squats, push-ups, pull-ups, burpees, lifting weights…While it works for everyone, its level of difficulty nevertheless requires a little adaptation.
We strongly advise you to start with intervals that include a recovery time considerably longer than the effort: don’t be ashamed to start with 10 seconds of effort followed by 50 seconds of recovery. By listening to your body, you can gradually move towards symmetrical intervals, before reducing the recovery time below the effort time.
With this method, you’ll be able to reach your fitness goals without losing time in your daily life.
Tips for avoiding injury
To minimize the risk of injury during HIIT training, follow these tips, which are very important in my opinion:
- Proper warm-up: Before starting a HIIT session, take the time to warm up properly. Perform dynamic warm-up movements to increase body temperature and prepare your muscles, joints and tendons for the effort ahead.
- Slow progression: If you’re new to HIIT, start with low-intensity, short-duration intervals, then gradually increase intensity and duration over time. Don’t try to push yourself too hard right from the start, as you’ll quickly run out of breath and lose motivation.
- Correct form: Make sure you perform each exercise with correct technique. Poor form can lead to injury. If you don’t know how to do an exercise, ask a health professional or trainer for help.
- Adequate recovery: Allow yourself sufficient recovery time between intervals to allow your body to recover. Don’t sacrifice the quality of recovery to increase the intensity of effort.
- Hydration: Stay well hydrated before, during and after your HIIT session. Dehydration can increase the risk of injury.
- Respect your body’s signals: Listen to your body. If you feel sharp pain or unusual discomfort during exercise, stop immediately and consult a health professional if necessary.
- Appropriate footwear: Wear sports shoes that are appropriate for the activity you’re doing, with good foot support.
- Training surfaces: Choose a suitable training surface. Avoid uneven or slippery surfaces that could increase the risk of falls.
- Exercise variety: Avoid doing the same high-intensity exercise every session. Vary your movements to avoid overuse of the same muscle groups.
- Cool-down: End your HIIT session with a cool-down and gentle stretching to promote recovery and reduce muscle tension.
- Medical consultation: If you have any medical concerns or existing health problems, consult a health professional before starting a HIIT program to make sure it’s safe for you.
It’s essential to consider these tips to avoid injury and get the best and safest results from your HIIT program. HIIT is an intense workout, so be mindful of your body and exercise caution to prevent injury. Enjoy your training!