04 Dec Five key elements of a great HIIT workout
High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a popular and effective way of exercising because it packs a lot of work into a short space of time. But creating the best possible HIIT workout is not easy, and you need to know how to make it really work for you.
The key to a great HIIT session is in forcing your body to work extremely hard for a short burst, then allowing it to rest, then repeating that pattern. Different systems, including Tabata and Wingate, are variations on this idea.
As long as you understand this fundamental principle, you can unleash HIIT and achieve amazing results.
Plan your HIIT workout carefully
Before any training session you should have a plan for what you want to achieve, and this is even more important with HIIT. You will be working and resting for short, precisely timed periods so you don’t have the time or energy to be working things out as you go.
Try different systems to see what works for you. Wingate workouts tend to be built around 30 seconds of maximal effort, followed by around four minutes of rest; this is repeated four to six times. Tabata has shorter bursts of around 20 seconds, with shorter recovery sessions of just 10 seconds.
The speed or resistance of the work intervals needs to be tailored to suit you, ensuring you get the greatest benefit but minimising the risk of injury.
Warm up to get the most out of your workout
HIIT sessions are intense, which means your muscles will be working quickly and demanding a lot from your heart and lungs to get oxygen into your body.
If you don’t warm up you run the risk of muscle injuries as the fibres will be cold and more likely to tear when they begin to contract and extend rapidly.
Your heart and breathing also need to ready to start working harder as your body demands more oxygen. Your lungs respond by breathing faster, and your heart rate goes up to deliver the oxygen. Getting your heart and breathing rates up before you start exercising helps you to get the most of your HIIT session.
Be prepared to push as hard as you can
The most important aspect of HIIT is pushing yourself hard, which can be difficult physically and mentally. The idea is to drain your body’s stored energy reserves and then force it to do so again after just a short rest.
As you do these sessions, your body soon gets more efficient at using energy and at recovering. The harder you push yourself, the more you will get out of the session, which is why it is so important to have a good plan. Putting in maximal effort should not create a risk of injury.
Make the most of the short rest periods
The rest periods of a good HIIT workout are just as important as the work intervals.
The rest period enables you to do the next burst of exercise. If you just kept on pushing as you could without a rest you wouldn’t be able to go for more than about 90 seconds.
Even the world’s best runners or cyclists look exhausted after sprinting for more than a few seconds at their top speed.
A good HIIT session should leave you exhausted after each burst of work, while the rest periods are long enough to let you do another burst. Your top speed will slowly fall, but that’s fine as long as you are pushing as hard as you can.
Leave yourself time to recover from your workout
The power and beauty of HIIT is the way it enables you to really push your body hard to improve your fitness and strength.
But you need to allow your body to recover from such an intense session. HIIT depletes the stocks of glycogen in your muscles so you may also feel symptoms like “wobbly legs” or “shaky arms” afterwards, depending on which muscles you have worked.
The exact amount of time required to recover from a HIIT workout varies considerably between different people, but 48 hours is a useful rough guide. It will depend on how hard and long you have worked in the session, and on a range of factors unique to your physiology.
Overall, HIIT is a fantastic way to make big gains in fitness and strength. Make sure you have a plan and warm up well. Once you start the session, push yourself hard and use the rest periods sensibly, then allow your body time to recover after your workout.