When HIIT is Not HIIT
When HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) is Not HIIT
This is not the first time I’ve written about HIIT training, aka High Intensity Interval Training. It’s been around for a long time. In fact, I first heard about it back in the 90’s when the book “Body For Life” came out. It was such a new concept for me at that time…. running for 20 minutes, three times a week, to get some amazing results? C’mon.
Well, it’s true. HIIT has some major advantages over other forms of exercise for fat loss and retaining muscle mass. And because of that, almost all fitness gurus have jumped on this bandwagon.
But are they all really doing HIIT? Here’s a simple way to tell….
Anytime you hear about how someone does 40 minutes of HIIT…. they are lying. Well, lying may be a strong word but the truth is, they may not even know they’re lying, but they are. The bottom line is that most people who think they’re doing HIIT are not. And it’s pretty simple to immediately recognize someone who’s not really doing HIIT – in short, nobody can do 40 minutes of HIIT! In fact, 20 minutes is pushing it.
Most people confuse HIIT with just regular interval training. Sure, HIIT is a form of interval training, but not all interval training is considered HIIT. Interval training is varying the intensity of the exercise within the workout. For example, you alternate low intensity (walking or jogging) with higher intensity (running fast). You may walk for 90 seconds, and then run fast for 60 seconds, or something like that.
Now, this stuff is good and it does burn calories. In fact, I always encourage this type of interval training for those who want to burn calories in the most efficient ways. But…. this ain’t HIIT. While HIIT also uses low intensity alternating with maximum intensity, the big difference is the word MAXIMUM. By maximum, I mean 100% effort, which obviously, no one can achieve for more than 20-30 seconds at a time.
There are many ways to perform HIIT, but to truly be classified as HIIT, the workout must include the MAXIMUM intensity concept. If it’s just running fast, then it’s just interval training – it’s not High Intensity Interval Training unless you are in a dead sprint moving as fast as you possibly can.
I do a lot of basic interval training – where I run hard for a minute, and then jog for a minute – and I’ll usually do this for about 20 minutes. Do I burn calories when I do this sort of training? Heck yeah! But is it HIIT? No, it’s not. It’s interval training, which is good training and very effective… but it’s not HIIT.
There are many ways to perform HIIT, from Tabata to cycling, to running. My favorite is just hopping on the treadmill for about 12 minutes – warming up for 2 minutes with a light jog, then sprinting at 100% for 20 seconds, hopping off the treadmill for 10 seconds, then (extremely carefully) hopping back on at 100% sprinting for 20 more seconds. I can do that for about 8 minutes before I’m about to die, and then I’ll finish with a 2 minute cool down jog. But keep in mind…. during the 20 seconds of 100% sprinting, I’m literally going at 100%, as fast I can move my legs.
Please note that HIIT is not for everyone. It requires a high level of fitness and it’s never a good idea to do it too often. If you do HIIT too often, or combine it with other forms of high intensity exercise (e.g., weight lifting, etc.), then it can lead to over-training and injury. Don’t ignore that part!
Personally, I do HIIT training about once a week and usually do basic interval training twice a week. I also take a break from HIIT every few months or when my calfs, knee, or hip flexors are acting up, which seem to be a lot more often lately.