HIIT-ing Up the Gym for Interval Training

High intensity interval training (commonly abbreviated as HIIT) is a super hot topic in the fitness world these days. It has tons of benefits with regard to cardiovascular training and fat loss, and it is one of the most time-efficient ways to work in some cardio training. For those who are unfamiliar, HIIT involves quick bursts of exercises with short “rest” periods, often involving lighter exercise. The bursts of exercise can include anything from sprinting to loaded movements like a barbell clean to bodyweight movements like squatting or push-ups. The point here is that HIIT is a broad concept that can be applied to just about any exercise style you would like. The dosage and programming is what separates HIIT from more standard interval training concepts.

Let’s compare an interval training session to a HIIT session as it might pertain to running.

Standard Interval Training


Light Jog for 2 minutes                    (Rest)

Quick Jog for 1 minute                    (Effort)

Light Jog for 2 minutes                    (Rest)

Quick Jog for 1 minute                    (Effort)

Repeat for total of 30 minutes

Light Jog for 30 seconds                    (Rest)

Sub Maximal Sprint for 15 seconds   (Effort)

Light Jog for 30 seconds                    (Rest)

Sub Maximal Sprint for 15 seconds   (Effort)

Repeat for total of 10 minutes

Bear in mind, this is an example. The intervals for both can be adjusted based on a person’s fitness and needs. With the standard interval approach, the intervals are longer, and the total duration is typically going to be longer as well. This means that the amount of effort that is applied in any interval is going to be relatively light. With HIIT, the intervals are very short, which is intentional. In this specific example, trying to sprint (even if it’s not an all out sprint) is not something most people can do for more than 15-20 seconds. The amount of time for the light jog (the “rest” period) is supposed to give your body juuuust enough time to recover to able to sprint again. Given the degree of effort, the total time of a HIIT training session needs to be shorter than a normal cardio training session or regular interval training session.

Again, HIIT can be used for a ton of exercises beyond running or bike sprints. Resistance exercises work really well while also increasing muscle strength. Things like lunges, squats, step ups, push ups, and pull ups involve many large muscle groups that will require the heart to funnel more blood throughout the body, which can quickly elevate your heart rate.

One of the most well-known HIIT protocols is called the Tabata protocol. Tabata is a 4-minute routine made up of 20-second intervals of high intensity effort with 10-second intervals of very light effort. The Tabata protocol has been researched fairly extensively and has consistently shown good results as far as improving endurance or as a tool for fat loss in a variety of populations. In terms of efficiency, the Tabata protocol is fantastic.

As far as programming, try leaving some time for a short HIIT session at the end of a weight training workout 1-2 times per week. Another good option would be to replace a cardio session with a HIIT session – just remember to warm up! A Tabata session can be it’s own workout as well, but a good warm up (at least 10 minutes) is recommended.

One very important factor with HIIT is that it is very hard, and heavily stresses the cardiovascular and pulmonary systems. Before doing any HIIT session, you absolutely need to make sure that you are safe to do so. If you have any known or suspected heart or pulmonary conditions, you need to talk to your doctor before trying these. The amount of stress the body goes through with HIIT sessions also elevates certain stress hormones, so make sure you get adequate sleep and nutrition.

When it comes to quickly improving cardiovascular health and fat loss, HIIT is one of the best forms of exercise out there for healthy individuals. For those with known heart or respiratory issues, this is still true, you just need to get clearance to ensure safety.

Got questions? Feel limited in what you’re able to do? The staff at Limitless Physical Therapy in Eugene, OR can show you how to discover your future without limits

***The above information, including text, images, and all other materials, is provided for educational purposes only, and not as a replacement or supplement to professional medical advice.  Please contact a certified physical therapist, your primary physician, or a certified healthcare professional for any personal concerns.

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