A HIIT workout might be difficult and have you sweating buckets in your living room – but no one can argue that they’re not effective.
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a type of cardio exercise that has become popular over the years because of its ability to deliver an effective workout in a short time period, explains Constantinos Yiallouros, personal trainer and head of product at Anytime Fitness UK. Along with this, HIIT workouts can go anywhere with you as all you need is space to move around and they don’t often requirement any equipment.
So whether you’re looking to reverse that stubborn lockdown weight gain, conquer a weight loss plateau or try something new, move the sofas out of the way and get ready to move.
What is a HIIT workout?
High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) requires you to work for a relatively short amount of time, 20 to 45 seconds, followed by a brief recovery period and then back into the next exercise.
“A familiar HIIT workout would contain 5 to 6 exercises such as squats, mountain climbers and running on the spot,” trainer Constantinos says. “This would comprise one ’round’. You would then repeat this round 4 to 6 times for your entire workout.”
“The aim is that with these short periods of work, you’re able to push harder than you traditionally would and challenge yourself, significantly elevating your heart rate in the process.”
He explains that most HIIT workouts will only be 30 minutes maximum and if they’re done regularly alongside other types of training, they can deliver incredible results.
One study from 2015 suggest that this type of workout can also burn over 25% more calories than other forms of exercise. Or, the same number of calories in as little as a third of the time.
This makes it a particularly great exercise if you’re working from home all day. But even better, HIIT can also help you burn calories after you’ve finishing exercising.
Multiple studies, including research from the University of North Carolina, have demonstrated HIIT’s ability to increase your body’s metabolic rate for hours after you’ve finished exercising.
“HIIT works wonders for your aerobic fitness and can increase your VO2 max,” Constantinos adds. “This refers to the maximum rate of oxygen that your body can consume and use effectively during exercise. Improving your VO2 means you’ll increase your body’s ability to handle cardio exercises such as running and swimming.”
And just in case you needed ANOTHER reason to give this incredible workout a shot, HIIT has been shown to reduce body fat. In particularly, the loss of visceral fat which is the disease-promoting fat surrounding your internal organs.
What is the HIIT workout plan?
The HIIT workout plan is 30 to 40 minutes of exercise per week, split across two different days with adequate rest and recovery time in between.
“Despite its benefits, studies have shown that you can have too much of a good thing when it comes to HIIT,” our expert trainer says. “While the stress it puts your body under is mainly beneficial, it can only handle so much stress at once and doing too much can compromise the positive effects.”
So why only 30 to 40 minutes? As a rule, your heart rate should only be above 90 percent maximum for 30 to 40 minutes per week. This exercise should be supplemented with other, less demanding workouts. This could be something like adding yoga poses and sequences at the end of a light run or going for a long, gentle walk.
And importantly, Constantinos says, only take on a workout plan of this kind if you’ve already been exercising for a while – at least six months consistently.
With a lot of HIIT exercises being high impact, rapid movements, it puts a lot of strain on your muscles and joints. It should be something that you build up to over time and when your body feels ready to, add into your exercise regime alongside cardio and resistance training,” he says.
“When the sixth month point comes round, I’d recommend replacing one of their cardio sessions with a shorter HIIT session.”
The 30 day HIIT workout challenge
So you’ve done your six months building up your fitness, what’s next? Try this 30 day workout challenge to see if HIIT is for you.
After warming up with a light jog or some dynamic stretching, do each move in the workout for 30 seconds. Rest for 15 seconds between each move. After your first circuit of the five moves, rest for 60 seconds. Then repeat the circuit four more times (five times in total).
To warm down after your HIIT workout, try a mixture of static and dynamic stretches while your muscles are still warm.
HIIT workout: What movement to do and how to do them
Constantinos has shared how to perfect each of the moves you’ll need to know when you take on the 30-day HIIT workout challenge.
If you saw the word ‘plank’ and groaned, don’t panic! If you’ve not done a plank before, this is how you get started.
- Lie down on the floor with your elbows under your shoulders, hands together or flat on the floor – whichever feels more comfortable.
- Engage your core by drawing in your abdominal muscles towards your spine. Avoid just taking a deep breathe and drawing your stomach in as this won’t do anything.
- Keeping your abdominal muscles tight, look at the space in between your hands to ensure it’s in line with your body. Keep your eyes looking down and keep your butt in line with your body, too. Don’t push your hips up high or try to bring them down.
- Then, hold the position for as long as you can.
Squats are an incredible full-body workout move, perfect for building muscle (i.e ‘toning’) your glutes, quads, core and even shoulders and back.
- Stand with your feet should-width apart with your toes slightly pointed outwards. No more than about 15 degrees, though.
- Keeping your spine neutral, shoulders back and your chest open, you can clasp your hands in front of you for ease if you want.
- With your feet firmly planted into the ground, start the move by pushing your hips back as if you’re going to sit on a chair behind you. If you struggle with the move, it may actually be a good idea to position a chair behind you so you know where to aim for.
- Bend your knees to position yourself as far down as possible, keeping your chest lifted always. Keep your lower back in that same neutral position, press through your heels and stand back up to the position you started in.
If you’ve already been incorporating squats into your workout for the last six months, whether with no weights or a barbell, you could always make your squat harder by adding some free weights. As you can see here, Constantinos recommends adding some kettlebells into your move to help make it more challenging for yourself. Start off with a lower weight than you think you may need. Then work your way up, as those muscles will soon be working hard with more repetitions than you may be used to.
Lunges are another amazing move for really building the muscles in your quads, calves, hamstrings and your glutes, as well as helping to improve balance in your core strength.
- Standing with your feet should-width apart, take a step forward so that your knee is at a right angle to the ground.
- Make sure that your back knee is also parallel to the ground and that your front knee doesn’t extend over the top of your toes, as this can put unnecessary strain on your knee.
- Lift your front leg and step backwards to return to the start position, swapping to the other leg.
For variation, opt for some side lunges instead. Equally as effective as a regular lunge, side lunges will help you engage other parts of your glutes and quadriceps, as well as helping to tone up your oblique muscles.
Mountain climbers are a killer cardio workout move, ideal for targeting your core muscles and helping to lose belly fat.
- Find your plank position and make sure that you’re distributing your weight evenly between your hands and toes, otherwise you’ll feel off balance.
- If you’re new to mountain climbers, you may find it easier to prop your arms up on a bench. At home, this could be the arm of your sofa or a chair against the wall.
- Make sure that your hands are shoulder-width apart, your back is flat, your ab muscles are engaged and your head is aligned with the rest of your body.
- Pull your right knee into your chest as far up as it can go then quickly switch legs, pulling the knee down and the other back up. It should almost feel as if you’re running on the spot – but be sure to bring that knee up high!
Got downstairs neighbours that might kick up a fuss if you start mountain climbing in your living room? Don’t worry, just pick up some of these workout sliders. Keep your feet on these discs and simply complete the move by sliding them backwards and forwards in the same motion, rather than taking your feet off the floor.
Running on the spot
This is arguably the easiest move in the plan. So it’s a great one if you’re just out of your sixth months of training and want to start the plan slowly.
When running on the spot, be sure to keep your knees high and really drive up.
If you find that you want something a little harder, opt for a variation of the classic burpee.
- From a standing position, place your hands on the floor in front of you.
- Kick your legs out behind you, so you land on your toes adopting a plant/press-up position.
- Ensure your core is tight throughout (to protect your back). Keep your chest over your hands to keep the workload on core and not your neck.
- Jump your legs back in towards your hands and then stand. This is one rep, continue for the duration of the time frame
This burpee variation is also a good one to do with the workout sliders as well.