How to match the fitness of your sporting heroes using HIIT Cardio

Whilst HIIT sounds like the ‘next big thing’ in fitness training, it’s actually been around for quite some time and can offer some real gains in achieving your fitness goals.

Below we’ll explore the benefits of HIIT for beginners and how you can get started.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)?

Also known as ‘sprint interval training’ or ‘Tabata training’, HIIT is a technique that can maximise the potential of your cardiovascular exercise. It reduces your training time and offers accelerated results over more traditional, steady pace cardio.

Typically, a HIIT session will incorporate three distinct phases:

  1. The warm up. This involves a short period of steady pace exercise at a moderate level in preparation for what’s to come.
  2. The intervals. Alternate periods of exercise at ‘working’ pace followed by ‘recovery’ pace. Typically your ‘working’ intervals should be at twice the intensity of the ‘recovery’ intervals, but more on that later.
  3. The cool down. A short period of steady pace exercise at a moderate level, allowing time for your heart rate and breathing to return to a more comfortable level.

What are the benefits of HIIT?

The benefits that can be achieved through HIIT vary from individual to individual. Whilst some of this is thought to come down to genetics, an individual’s current level of fitness and ability to push themselves have a huge influence on results.

As HIIT allows you to achieve maximum exertion for part of your exercise session, increased gains can be made from a shorter training period.

Studies have found that HIIT offers almost double the improvement to fat burning, endurance and athletic condition when compared to steady state cardio.

An important benefit that HIIT provides is an increase to your resting metabolic rate. This results in your body burning more calories for up to 24 hours after your training.

Beginners Guide to HIIT Cardio

Ease in gradually

It’s important to have a base level of aerobic fitness before attempting HIIT. This helps to avoid undermining your self confidence as well as preventing injury.

When first starting out, begin with steady state cardio. Once you’re comfortable with that, introduce 2 or 3 intervals towards the end of each session.

Build up to full interval sessions, starting with one per week. Then gradually increase the intensity over several weeks.

HIIT should never be a daily event in anybody’s schedule. A good target could be 2 to 3 times per week depending on your training program and goals.

Before getting started with HIIT, make sure you don’t have any medical conditions that could be made worse by your training. If necessary, consult your doctor.

Adapt your training to suit current fitness levels & goals

There is no specific formula for a HIIT session. It is simply a technique that can be adapted to suit your current goals and level of fitness.

Typically ‘working’ intervals will be twice the length of ‘recovery’ intervals, but that doesn’t have to be the case when you’re starting out. Use your first session to test your abilities, then build from there by setting short term targets for intensity and ‘working’ duration.

As a beginner starting out from a poor level of fitness or if you are using HIIT as a method for tackling obesity it is better to have longer, slightly higher intensity ‘recovery’ intervals and slightly lower intensity (around 60% of your maximum) ‘working’ intervals. Your interval periods could be 20 seconds ‘working’ followed by 40 seconds ‘recovery’.

Typically you will need to set your targets from the perceived intensity of your training. A better way however is to buy a heart rate monitor.

Calculate your maximum heart rate (and thus intensity) by subtracting your age from 220. So, if your age is 38 then your maximum heart rate would be 182.

It’s worth noting that heart rate monitors incorporated into some gym equipment tend not to be too accurate and can be influenced by heart rate monitors worn by other gym goers nearby.

Choose an exercise that you enjoy, or at least don’t mind

HIIT training can be applied to all types of cardio exercise including running, cycling, rowing, even the cross trainer. Choosing the right exercise is important as it will help with your motivation and self discipline.

Fuel your workout

The intensity of a HIIT workout requires the availability of calories to be effective.

Without fuel, your intensity will soon diminish along with the effectiveness of your training. Anybody on a reduced calorie diet should stay away from this type of training.

Keep a water bottle to hand, drinking regularly throughout your session.

Listen to your body

If you feel fatigued before a planned HIIT session, it’s better not to go ahead with it. Perhaps go for a steady pace session instead.

Requires a level of determination and self motivation

HIIT sessions aren’t the easy option. Pushing yourself during a session requires a high level of determination and self motivation. But the pay off is a shorter training session with all of the benefits mentioned above.

Maintain your progress by using short term targets to drive yourself forward. Setting yourself goals for increased intensity and ‘working’ duration.

A good way to distract yourself from the intensity is to listen to music, preferably through headphones in order to remove yourself from your surroundings.

If you struggle with the motivation required for HIIT, Spinning classes are a great alternative. Here you will be motivated by the group activity and lead by a fitness instructor to keep you working at optimum levels.

Can HIIT be used in the real world, on the street?

The simple answer is Yes, absolutely!

Set intervals on a stop watch or use objects such as lamp posts or road junctions as targets. For example sprinting for one lamp post and jogging for two.

Although running in the ‘real world’ offers tremendous benefits over the tread mill, for beginners it may be easier to set even interval periods using cardio equipment in the gym.

To sum up

Employing HIIT for your cardiovascular workouts can, when done right, produce a more effective workout in a shorter amount of time.

Everybody can benefit. From the sedentary person aiming for a new fitness goal to existing athletes trying to improve on personal bests.

Good luck, and let us know how you get on in the comments below.