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You were sold a lie: The Truth about HIIT Training 

Chances are if you've signed up for a fitness class in the last 10 years, you were led to believe you were going to do some HIIT training. The promise of "HIIT Training" sells like gold, but is it really what you signed up for?

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has grabbed most of the fitness headlines for years and why not? People pushing themselves to their absolute limits with trainers in their face telling them to give more… its headline gold! But is it Fitness Gold? Today let’s define what HIIT actually is, what it’s not, what are its benefits vs other forms of high intensity cardio, and how you can incorporate it into your fitness program. 

If you type into google “places to do HIIT workouts near me” you are probably going to get places like Orange Theory, Boot Camp, F45, and Crossfit gyms. If you are searching in YouTube you’ll find a bunch of 30 minute non-stop moving classes. Is this actually HIIT?


HIIT is defined as high intensity training mixed with intervals of rest or lower intensity recovery work. This was traditionally done with more traditional cardio style activities like running, cycling, rowing or calisthenics movement performed at or near your maximum effort for a short period of time (5 seconds to 3 minutes) followed by rest periods lasting two to three times as long as the working set. For example if you run at near maximal effort for one minute, you would rest for two to three minutes and repeat that for multiple sets. 


This style of training has a lot of health benefits when done correctly including:

  • Amazing cardiovascular health improvements

  • Calorie burning

  • Ability to buffer lactic acid in the muscles

  • Stronger Mitochondria (energy producers in the body)

  • Release of growth hormones

  • Improved rate of burning calories after workout is done 

  • Improve ability to use up glycogen utilization and storage

  • Increased blood flow around muscles

Women's health expert Dr. Stacy Simms actually points out the amazing benefits of short duration maximum intensity training and takes HIIT a step further and recommends “SPRINT” training to women! Yes, a maximum effort short sprint followed by two to five times the amount of rest. She believes this can be crucial for many women to keep their health and fitness at their best. 

So if that is HIIT, why do I feel like I’m doing HIIT with my 10 minute high intensity workout of the day?

Many fitness style classes loved the attention that HIIT was gaining and saw some of the amazing benefits and popularity, but selling 30s of work and 90s of rest isn’t as easy as it sounds. So enter High Intensity “Functional” Training and other “hard” Moderate Intensity workout styles. 

Now I’m not here to “bash” any style of workout, because if you're 1) moving more than you normally would, 2) are not injuring yourself and 3) you find enjoyment, then that workout is good in my books. I want to make sure that you know about the differences. With these styles of workout that are very common in the popular classes listed above, many are not formatted as a HIIT workout and have their own benefits and downsides attached to them.

Let me follow this up with, many gyms will have someone programming the workouts, so one gym with the same brand name might have a completely different program philosophy and might actually program HIIT training vs hard moderate intensity. In the past I have been a member of a cross fitness style class and the workouts were just random hard things put on a board and another one where each exercise was selected with a specific reason within a broad program matrix. So if you're thinking about signing up for a HIIT style fitness class, do your due diligence before making your fitness decision.

Now there can be some downsides of doing HIIT, even if you are doing it correctly. It can cause a lot of fatigue and it can be hard on your body. So let's keep reading to find out the best way to add HIIT to your program!


So we know what HIIT training is and what it is not, how can we fit HIIT training into our fitness program?

First, consult your physician before starting any fitness program. 

Second, if you don’t have a base level of fitness, allow some time for your body to build up. Even if you have a solid base and you're going to make the transition to a HIIT or maximum effort style training, it won’t just take time for your muscles to build up to that level, but also your joints and ligaments. Not allowing an adaptation phase could lead you to increased risk of injury down the line.

Finally: Choose active time, then plan your rest time for two to five times that time. Repeat the interval four to eight times. To make it easy here is a sample 3 day a week program. 

  • Monday - Outdoor Sprint: 10 seconds all out 50 seconds rest. Repeat for 6 rounds.

  • Wednesday - Ski Erg or Bike: 20 seconds all out 40 seconds rest. Repeat for 5 rounds.  

  • Friday - Rower or Air Bike: 30s all out 90s recovery. Repeat for 4 rounds.

You can also select a distance to go full out, then do a recovery pace for the same distance. To make this a progressive program- Each week either try to increase your speed/distance you went or add on an extra set for three to five weeks followed by one week of deload where you dial back the intensity by about 50%.

Before you start your workout make sure to do a proper warm up and build up on the speed/intensity of your cardio over a few sets. Then do a proper cool down. Warm up and cool down should take about five to ten minutes each.

I hope this brought some clarity to what exactly HIIT is and how it is different from other modalities from training, what some of the benefits are and how you can start adding it to your training. Just like everything in the health and fitness world, HIIT training can be a useful tool in your fitness toolbox. It’s up to you and your health and fitness team to decide if this is a tool you should be using to get your job done! If you're not sure, we would be happy to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out and set up a consultation.


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