Are you ready to lose fat and build endurance and strength in less time? If so, get ready – you’re about to learn about a cardio method that only takes 20-30 minutes three times a week and gives you the same (if not more) benefits as steady-state cardio.
I frequently mention HIIT – high-intensity interval training – on Facebook and Twitter because it’s my get-it-done cardio method. I get bored doing long bouts on the elliptical and HIIT makes the time go fast. Not only can I burn mega calories but I feel energetic for hours after HIIT and have seen my aerobic endurance increase.
And just as with weight lifting, you need to vary your cardio workouts to continue seeing results. If you use the same speed, for same amount of time, on the same machine day after day, your body will soon adapt and stop working as hard. You’ll be in a replay loop instead of losing more weight, building more endurance, and gaining more strength.
Plenty of studies have reported that HIIT raises your resting metabolism and burns 10% more calories over a 24-hour period than steady state. Other studies have shown that more body fat is dropped when using a HIIT program over a period of weeks than with steady state.
A researcher from a March 2010 study says:
“Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously.”
What do you need to take advantage of HIIT? You can use a succession of weightlifting exercises for HIIT, outdoor running/sprinting, or cardio machines such as the elliptical, treadmill, or stationary bike. You also need access to a heart rate monitor (see below).
HIIT is not for everyone and requires an intermediate to advanced level of fitness. You need to have the ability to stay at about 90% of your maximum heart rate for 30 seconds and return to a lower heart rate fairly quickly. You can work up to longer bouts of intense “sprint” intervals and do HIIT at a lower intensity until you get there.
With HIIT, your sprint periods need to be at a high intensity to get the benefits of the calorie burn and after-burn effect (EPOC). That’s not a level we can maintain for very long, thus the short intense periods of HIIT. The active recovery intervals can be longer and are just that – a chance for your heart rate to come back down to a moderate level. And that’s also why you need a heart rate monitor.
Using Your Heart Rate Monitor for HIIT
Ideally, you should have a heart rate monitor that you wear so that can get an instant, accurate reading of your heart rate. Using the monitors on the cardio machines means you have to grasp the bars and wait for the results. You’ll be doing short blasts (30 to 60 seconds) of work – you want an instant feedback so you can reduce the intensity a bit or amp it up accordingly. Also, how do you know how accurate the cardio machines monitors really are?
The first step is to find your maximum heart rate. Subtract your age from 220. The three heart rate zones you need to target are:
Zone 1: 65-75% Used as a warm up and recovery zone
Zone 2: 80-85% Sprint zone
Zone 3: 86-90% Sprint interval zone for experienced HIIT users
Next, find out your target heart rates for each zone. Multiply your maximum heart rate by the percentage. For example, a 30-year-old’s heart rate max would be 190 (220-30). Her warm-up heart rate is around 133 (190 x .70), her recovery zone is around 161 (190 x .85), and her sprint zone is 171 (190 x .90).
Here’s a sample beginner HIIT routine:
- 5 minute warm up – 65-75% of maximum heart rate
- 30 seconds – 80-85% max
- 1 minute – 70-75% max (recovery)
- 30 seconds – 86-90% max (all-out effort)
- 90 seconds – 70-75% max (recovery)
- Repeat steps 2 through 5 for a total of 20 minutes.
- 5 minute cool down – 60% of max rate
- Don’t use HIIT every day, or two days in a row, or you risk overtraining. Every other day is fine, or three times per week. You should cycle through all three heart rate zones during the week to vary the intensity of each workout.
- If you can’t hit the target heart range in the specified amount of time, increase the intensity.
- Over time, your heart rate will drop more quickly in the recovery phase. Newbies may find that it takes several minutes. Give yourself more time to recover if your heart rate doesn’t go down accordingly in the recovery phase.
- Vary the sprint intervals for greater fat burning.
- Vary the recovery intervals to avoid overtraining.
- Do different lengths of time: 10 minutes of intervals and 20 minutes of steady state, followed by another 10 minutes of intervals. Or do 20 minutes of intervals one day and 30 minutes of steady-state the next.
References:High Intensity Interval Training and Natural Bodybuilding Fit with HIIT: Science Is Dropping the Hammer On Endless Bouts of Steady-State Cardio The Complete Guide to Interval Training [Infographic] Should you worry about the ‘fat-burning zone’? The Best Cardio For Weight Loss: A HIIT Workout Routine to Burn Belly Fat Fast NASM Essentials of Personal Training