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HIIT: How to structure your workout to reap maximum benefits


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HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is a form of cardio exercise that has become immensely popular across the globe. In this blog article, we walk you through what HIIT is (and what it isn’t!), and teach you how to structure your HIIT workout to reap maximum health benefits.


What is HIIT?


HIIT is a type of interval training workout that involves cycling through short bursts of intense exercise and lower-intensity exercise.


During the bouts of intense exercise, your heart rate should reach at least 80% of its maximum capacity. To estimate your maximum heart rate, simply deduct your age from 220. For instance, someone who’s 35 years old would arrive at the following calculations:


Maximum heart rate = 220 - 35 = 185 beats per min

80% of capacity = 0.8 x 185 = 148 beats per min


If your heart rate doesn’t reach 80% of its maximum capacity, this means that you should push yourself harder. Otherwise, your workout doesn’t count as high intensity, and you’re not actually doing HIIT!


How do you structure a HIIT routine?


There are two tried-and-tested HIIT routines that have been heavily studied, and are proven to be effective.


First, there’s the 4-by-4 from Norway. With this routine, you warm up for 10 minutes, then do 4 x four-minute intervals of intense exercise with a three-minute recovery between, and finally finish off with a cool down.


If you’re doing the 4-by-4, this might look something like:


  • Warm up

  • 4-min intense exercise: burpees

  • 3-min recovery: jogging on the spot

  • 4-min intense exercise: mountain climbers

  • 3-min recovery: jumping jacks

  • 4-min intense exercise: burpees

  • 3-min recovery: jogging on the spot

  • 4-min intense exercise: mountain climbers

  • Cool down


There’s also the 10-by-1, which involves 10 x one-minute intervals of intense exercise with a one-minute recovery in between.


How about other HIIT routines? Do you need to stick with the 4-by-4 or 10-by-1?


It’s common to see other variations of HIIT at commercial gyms, or even in YouTube tutorials. For example, some HIIT classes might be structured around eight-minute bursts and two-minute recoveries.


While these classes may be branded as HIIT classes, they actually fall into the category of interval training (involving lower to moderate intensities) rather than HIIT. To be clear, HIIT calls for extremely intense “bursts” of exercise where you push yourself to the limit, and it’s physically impossible for your intense intervals to last for, say, 10 minutes.


Bearing this in mind, if you specifically want to do HIIT and not other forms of interval training, then stick with the 4-by-4 or 10-by-1!


What benefits do you get with HIIT?


HIIT does wonders for cardiovascular health. According to research, HIIT and interval routines lead to greater gains in VO2 max (read: the maximum amount of oxygen someone can utilise during exercise), which is one of the best predictors of heart health.


HIIT can also help prevent heart disease, reduce blood sugar, and results in you burning more calories even after you’re done exercising.


Common mistakes that people make with HIIT


Want to get started with HIIT? Steer clear of these two mistakes people commonly make with HIIT:


#1: Making workouts too long


If the 4-by-4 is a good HIIT workout, why not double the amount of reps to arrive at 8-by-4 instead? By doing this, won’t you reap more benefits from your HIIT workout?


Well, that’s not necessarily true. The intense bursts of exercise are designed to be extremely challenging, so it’s impossible for you to double your number of reps and still exercise at that same level.


If you do more reps, chances are that you’ll pace yourself so that you can last the entire workout, and that will defeat the purpose of HIIT.


#2: Not paying attention to form


Yes, you need to go all out in HIIT, but that doesn’t mean that you should be trying to get in as many reps as possible without caring about your form.


Remember: when your form is bad, this might strain your joints and work the wrong muscle groups, and make you more likely to injure yourself. Always pay attention to your form, instead of blindly powering through your HIIT workout.

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