The Truth About HIIT Workouts

If you have ever felt stuck in a rut when it comes to your workouts at the gym or you've hit a plateau in your fitness progression, then it may be time to change things around and shake up your usual steady state cardio queen workout.

If you've ever heard someone talking about HIIT workouts and wondered what that meant, HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. According to Men's Health, "High-intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of exercise in which you alternate between very intense anaerobic periods and slower recovery periods for a shorter, more efficient workout."

Personally, I love incorporating two interval training workouts to my fitness schedule each week, but as with all forms of exercise, it's important to ensure you're allowing for ample rest time. As trainer Josh Bryant says, "Overtraining leads to overflow. If you're overtraining, intervals can tax your CNS (central nervous system) and cause muscle damage, mechanical tension, and metabolic stress. Like lifting heavy iron, interval training must be allotted sufficient recovery time."

What's so great about this form of exercise? I'm so glad you asked.

You can do it anywhere

I love having access to a gym; the variety of equipment, weights and barbells, and the energy of everyone gathered in one location looking to improve themselves and their health. With that said, I understand that we all can't afford a gym membership and many people don't find that same comfort in that type of space that I do. Or maybe you're someone who travels regularly for work and your hotel has a small or no fitness center at all, so you're left unsure of how to squeeze in your workout. That's where HIIT training comes in perfectly.

ISSA certified personal trainer, Christel Oerum says, "You can do HIIT training anywhere! You can run sprint drills outside, do circuit training at your gym, intervals on a stationary bike, or even design a HIIT workout you can do in your living room. As long as you get your pulse up quickly, you will see the benefits from HIIT."

It takes less time than traditional steady state cardio

When I first started working out, I was what you would call the "cardio queen." I would plant myself on the elliptical or stationary bike for an hour with a magazine or my iPod and not move until I was done. Looking back now, there's no surprise that during those days, I really didn't see the physique changes that I was hoping to accomplish.

When it comes to HIIT training, the workouts are short, sweet and to the point. With the increase in intensity, we don't need — or want — the workout to last a long time. According to Women's Health & Fitness, "An ideal duration is 15 to 20 minutes. If you are training for too long, the level of exercise intensity will decrease and, with it, the effectiveness of the cardio will wane."

Boosts metabolism for hours

One of the benefits of interval training is the boost to our metabolism. The combination of high intensity work, followed by short breaks for rest, helps our bodies break into burning fat stores well past the duration of our workout. As trainer Bryan Falchuk said, "I'm a fan of mixing HIIT and recovery intensity throughout a week, but the best part of HIIT is that you keep the burn going after the workout is done. Talk about efficient workouts!"

No equipment required

"I love that HIIT workouts can be put together using bodyweight exercises or equipment. Whether I'm teaching at the gym, at a park or just trying to get in an intense workout while traveling, HIIT workouts allow me to provide all levels of participants with a great workout," said trainer Cassandra Burke.

This brings me to my next point about HIIT training. It doesn't require any equipment, allowing you to take your workout anywhere you please: the gym, the park, or your living room. HIIT training can also be done with added weights, as long as you're sure to maintain proper form. One of my favorite exercises to do when I'm HIIT training is the burpee. Talk about a total body burner!

It's adaptable for all fitness levels

We all start somewhere when it comes to our fitness and it can be really intimidating to go to the gym or a local group fitness class, when you worry about not being able to keep up with everyone else. The great news is that HIIT is adaptable for people at all levels of fitness, just by simple modification of the moves.

As trainer and group fitness instructor, Jen Elliott, says, "HIIT training is my favorite! I use it for my classes, training clients and online programs. Not only do I love that I can have a solid workout in a short amount of time, and the after burn effects, but ... I can adapt my classes for a beginner and advanced participant and both still get an incredible workout."

It's great for your heart

When you think of high intensity workouts, you likely wouldn't jump to the conclusion that they're great for your heart. And while I would always suggest seeking advice from your medical professional, especially if you have a heart condition, exercise physiologist and athletic trainer Scott Weiss says, "HIIT increases the flexibility and elasticity of arteries and veins better than continuous aerobic exercise. Because of the increased pressure demand of HIIT, the vessels actually get a workout as well."

Improved cardio-respiratory fitness

There's a term that floats around the fitness industry and medical community called VO2 Max, which is the fancy way of saying "your body's ability to use oxygen for energy" or the maximum amount of energy you can consume when breathing.

Through doing high intensity interval training a few times a week, you'll begin to see an improvement in your VO2 max. The next time you head to the treadmill for a round of steady state cardio, you'll definitely notice an improvement in your breathing capabilities and overall endurance.

Start where you are

I won't lie to you, high intensity interval training is going to be tough, but with all the benefits, there's a reason why it's a go-to for fitness instructors and personal trainers all over the world. We're seeing HIIT being built into group exercise classes like CrossFit and SoulCycle; even the Mayo Clinic is touting the benefits of this method for the "average exerciser."

If you're looking to get started but you're feeling a little nervous, Time recommends "pushing yourself to walk as fast as you can for a few blocks or past several neighbors' mailboxes, then resuming your more moderate pace, and alternating this a few times might allow you to shorten your walks so you don't have to spend, say 30 minutes walking, but only 10 or 15 minutes to get the same benefits."

Whatever your fitness level, don't be afraid to get out there and HIIT it.