Everything in fitness goes through a cycle of being popular to being vilified to being popular once again. Stick around for 25 years like I have and you see that pattern play out on many different topics time and time again. Why does this happen? There are several reasons, but the main ones tend to be the fact that the true meaning of a concept, method, exercise, and so on gets hijacked by those that really don’t understand it and ends up being some overhyped, totally changed, and often the worst version of itself. A great example of this is HIIT workouts and how they have gone from the thing everyone did, to some saying how bad it is, and others proclaiming it the worst method for people to use. So, what should one think about HIIT workouts and their validity in helping achieve their fitness goals?
The science on HIIT workouts is actually very sound. The benefits range from decreasing body fat more effective than the lower intensity, longer duration training that people are very familiar with, to the great health benefits such as….
-Improve Brain Function
-Increase Insulin Sensitivity
-Greater Aerobic Ability
-Helps With Hypertension
You get the point? HIIT workouts done correctly can help with A LOT of different aspects of fitness and health. Why the bad rap then?
Well, for one, most people don’t perform HIIT workouts, they do KHW (I’ve heard stronger acronyms, but keeping this clean for people) which is kinda hard workouts. Meaning that people often make some of the following mistakes with trying to incorporate HIIT workouts into their training.
-They use too short of rest intervals and too long of work intervals.
-They have poor exercise selection in drills that are isolated (like biceps curls, lateral raises, etc.) and/or too technical of lifts that don’t allow the lifter to train with the right intensity.
-Their workouts are too long (which means there isn’t high intensity)
-They don’t have a plan for their HIIT workouts and don’t know how to progress the training properly.
Let’s try to go through these issues quickly so we can show you better ways of using HIIT workouts to actually get the benefits.
Poor Work to Rest Ratio
By the very name, HIIT is based on having a certain amount of work to rest. A good rule of thumb for many starting out is to use 30 seconds of work, followed by 30 seconds of rest. This is ideal for beginners because they are usually less technically proficient at an exercise, therefore, their intensity is lower when they perform the drill. The beginner benefits from more reps and those reps would naturally be less intense than someone really well trained. For the more well trained lifter, 30:30 HIIT workouts are great for less intense training.
Ah, less intense? Yes! Most people don’t understand HIIT so they assume the longer the work and the less the rest, the more they are performing HIIT workouts. That is actually BACKWARDS! How? Aren’t you breathing really hard when you do so? Yes, but that doesn’t define HIIT. As renowned strength coach, Robert Dos Remedios (Coach Dos) explains, “if you had to run a mile or 100 meters (the straight away on a track) and I said run as hard as you can, which one would you run harder on?” The answer of course is the shorter distance because you can’t sprint a mile. This is exactly what happens when people use a negative (when work is longer than rest) interval for their training.
Instead, Coach Dos helps us understand we should use a cycle of work to rest like the following…
Having a LONGER rest to work is not what most people think of when they think about HIIT workouts, but that IS what we should be striving for because so many of the benefits of HIIT are a byproduct of going hard enough to create the intensity we need, but ALSO allowing the recovery that stimulates all the positive changes. Using these intervals, we can greatly increase our intensity and use heavier weights and great power outputs.
DVRT workouts like Sean Lettero shows above is an example of exercises and HIIT workouts that would fit better to a 30:30 protocol.
Bad Exercise Selection
Strength training itself can be challenging to do HIIT because the work interval is suppose to be really constant intensity. That is why in research typically stationary bikes are used because of low technique and there is really no rest time when you are performing the interval. In an exercise like a squat, for example, you can get “rest” at the top position as you set yourself to go again. Using strength training can be tricky but it just means picking exercises that are appropriate for the lifter and the intent of the method.
The second part means NO isolation exercises! Just because you do really fast biceps curls doesn’t make it HIIT. You want to use full body or exercises that use a lot of muscles all at once. We also want to avoid exercise redundancy like the following…
HIIT exercises don’t always have to be crazy fast either. Our DVRT Lateral Plank Drags really drives up intensity when performed with the correct intent. Using the different interval protocols we could start with 15:45 for beginners and in the case of an exercise like Lateral Drags, progress to 30:30 since time under tension is key for the exercise.
Just as an example, all 3 of those exercises require you to get into a similar position. If you tried to use that series for your HIIT workouts, you would create so much fatigue in the position that you would be losing intensity and quality of work at the same time. Instead, we try to mix the 7 movement patterns (hip hinge, squat, lunge, push, pull, rotation, and locomotion) as much as possible. Alternating between upper and lower body dominant lifts are a good idea, or at least trying to separate similar patterns as much as possible.
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DVRT UK Master, Greg Perlaki shows a great DVRT HIIT workout combining the methods of different intervals. Once you get confident with these ideas you can mix them in the routine. For example the kettlebell sprinter swings and the TRX row at that high intensity are great options for 20:40 intervals while the Ultimate Sandbag 1/2 kneeling press with leg switch and Around the Worlds, are great for 30:30 workouts
Way TOO Long Of Workouts
If you are using HIIT workouts correctly, you should be able to get only about 15-20 minutes of training done (maybe 25-30 depending on your fitness level but that could sacrifice intensity) and any type of training that is promoted similar to a 60 minute HIIT workout class is NOT HIIT at all. It is literally impossible for high intensity to be done for 60 minutes.
It could easily be argued that longer is not better because our intensity of training would drop as fatigue accumulates. After all, our goal isn’t to torture our bodies through HIIT, but to use the concepts to build up our body to be better. That means knowing when we have lost the quality of our work and Coach Dos gives some great repetition ranges to go with those training intervals to know if that is happening as well as if you are using the right weight.
When using 15:45 intervals aim for 6-8 reps, in a 20:40 the goal is 8-10, and 30:30 is 10-15. This has some flexibility depending on the exercise (you will get way more reps on a kettlebell swing versus a front loaded squat in any range) but that is a good outline. Using these methods we can easily periodize our HIIT workouts so we don’t over train in very simple ways such as.
or we can use something like the following…
DVRT Master, Cory Cripe gives a real simple example of our DVRT HIIT workouts below. Such a workout can be 10-15 minutes but extremely effective if we have the right program in place. Usually issues with a concept come from not realizing how to use it correctly!
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