What you should know about HIIT workouts – and how to get going

  • Workouts don't always have to last for hours to give the best results
  • With gyms still closed, high-intensity interval training is ideal to target various muscle groups without equipment
  • There are, however, some downsides and risks which beginners should take into account

Ever wanted to incorporate exercise into your lifestyle and achieve results, but don’t have hours to work out? And now that gyms and fitness centres are still closed during lockdown level 3, you might want to add some variation to ordinary running or walking, but you don’t have any equipment at home.

Not to worry, as high-intensity interval training workouts (HIIT) can become a real saving grace, especially when you need to take responsibility for your own fitness, without the structure and camaraderie of a gym class.

What is HIIT – and why does it work?

High-intensity interval training focuses on a variety of short cardio or body strength exercises done in short bursts, with an interval of rest between each exercise. The aim of this structure is to focus on all the main muscle groups in your body, while raising your heart rate in short bursts.

But it’s not only the fact that repeated intensive moves in short bursts will make you sweat buckets and get your heart beating faster – you might even reap the reward long after you’ve hit the shower. This is reportedly known as the “afterburn effect” or excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC) and refers to the amount of oxygen your body needs to replenish itself after a workout.

Whether this effect does help us to burn more calories have scientists divided or not, HIIT is still impactful as you can get a decent amount of aerobic exercise in a very short time, which can speed up your metabolism. 

The rapid increasing and decreasing of your heart rate can also improve your cardiovascular health in the long run, as proven by research.

Then, there is the theory of increasing your so-called VO2MAX – the uppermost rate at which your body can utilise oxygen as energy during exercise. This is not a new concept. In 1996, Dr Izumi Tabata (you might recognise the name “Tabata workout”) has established through a study published as early as 1996 that people who worked out in bursts of 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated eight times for four minutes, increased their VO2MAX by as much as 15% in as little as six weeks.

As you push your body to the limit for a short period of time, it forces your body to tap into its so-called anaerobic system (where your body obtains energy without oxygen). The study by Tabata also established that those who followed the 20-on 10-off method increased this anaerobic system by 28%.

'A short workout sounds great – can I do this every day?'

While HIIT certainly has its benefits, you need to vary your workouts to include strength training, flexibility, and stretching, as well as steady-state cardio such as running or walking, too.

According to a study in the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology Journal, this intense training can halve the function of mitochondria, especially in exercise newbies who are not yet fit enough to push their bodies completely into an anaerobic state.

You also run the risk of injuring yourself, especially when you include several repetitions of full-body moves such as burpees or mountain climbers and you don’t obtain the correct shape as you push yourself to go hard and fast.

The combination of complex movements and intensity is also not always a good idea for a complete beginner, especially as these structured workouts do not include warm-up and cool-down sessions – you need to be disciplined enough to add these to help avoid injury.

And if you already swear by HIIT workouts, be sure to incorporate other types of workouts as well.

Are you ready for HIIT?

If your workout is feeling a bit stale, your best start is to search for free online HIIT workouts. Watch through them first and familiarise yourself with basic movements such as squats, lunges, crunches, burpees, and push-ups to ensure that your form is correct, and you avoid injury.

Working out with a trainer may be the best option for you if you are committed. While gyms remain closed, there are online training options available to help you remotely.

Here are some tips to help you start:

  • Don’t incorporate too many moves into one session yet. Karisa Curtis, a certified personal trainer in Los Angeles, suggests no more than four exercises per session so that you can perfect your form first. This can include basic exercises like running on the spot, crunches, squats, and lunges that target various muscle groups.
  • Keep your intervals short at first to ensure that you can sustain the number of repetitions without losing form and injuring yourself.
  • Not in the mood for jumping or hopping around? You can incorporate dumbbells for more static strength exercises, too.
  • Pay attention to your posture and form before you increase your tempo. Always keep your core strong.

READ | Running with a mask: What you should know and how to choose the right one

READ | Tips for exercising during lockdown

Image credit: Pexels

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