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HIIT: definition, exercises & effect

by Josephine Andrews
Published: Last Updated on 254 views

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training . Short, very strenuous training sessions and recovery phases alternate in quick succession. In this way, a clear health and fitness-enhancing effect should be achieved in a comparatively short training period. Here’s how long you need to stick with it to benefit from HIIT, what equipment you need, and what ailments this workout helps with.

What is HIIT?

HIIT means high – intensity interval training . _ The idea behind HIIT is simple: training is more effective if it doesn’t always take place in the same medium intensity range, but alternates between hard effort and recovery. HIIT is also known as polarized training: The intervals move between two extremes – the poles “hard” and “calm”.

The “hard poles” can consist of sprints in running, cycling or swimming , for example. But lifting heavy weights or training with your own body weight with burpees (push-up jumps), jumping jacks or lunges are also suitable HIIT exercises that challenge the body.

Accordingly, the “calm poles” are walking, cycling slowly or swimming calmly, or taking a break.

The combination of “giving everything” and relaxation should trigger adaptation processes in the body that increase endurance and performance.

HIIT – this is how the training works

You can individually adjust the length and number of repetitions of the intervals during high-intensity interval training. The individual stress phases are comparatively short and range between 15 and 60 seconds .

The subsequent phase with light exercise intensity or the one break is either as long as or up to four times longer than the exercise session. In any case, you should rest until you dare to exert yourself again.

In order to avoid injuries, it is important that you perform the movements technically clean when doing HIIT, even under exertion. In addition, interval training is only really effective if you actually push your performance limits during the stress phases. Exercising can require a load of around 90 percent of maximum heart rate (HRmax). HRmax describes the individual number of heartbeats per minute at maximum physical exertion.

Experienced athletes can handle a higher amount of intensity in their training than beginners. In fact, experienced people should even do ten to 15 percent of their training in the intensive area in order to increase their performance. However, experts recommend combining polarized with classic endurance training to also train general resilience.

HIIT workout: training plans

In HIIT, the duration, length and frequency of the load depend on the athlete’s basic fitness level, the type of sport in which the training is to be carried out and the desired goals. The following training plans are therefore only to be understood as examples and suggestions.

Talk to an experienced trainer and get a plan tailored to you to avoid frustration and, worst-case scenario, injury.

HIIT cardio training on the bike

In a study by McMaster University in Ontario, the scientists let their subjects pedal according to the following training plan:

  • four to five sprints of 30 seconds each,
  • 4 to 5 minute breaks in between
  • 40 to 60 minutes, three days a week

HIIT training: running

The specialist magazine Runner’s World suggests the following variant of HIIT for jogging fans:

  • give (almost) full throttle for ten to 60 seconds
  • followed by a break of equal to four times the time of the stress phase
  • A total of six to ten reps.

On the track, for example, intervals of six times 40 to 80 meters sprint and two to three minutes of walking or trotting would be possible for beginners.

HIIT training for swimmers

Swimming coach Holger Lüning has developed a HIIT workout for water rats. It includes:

  • four rounds with four times 25 meters sprint
  • followed by a 10 second break each time
  • plus a series break of four minutes after each set of four

HIIT – that brings it

High-intensity interval training has the same effect as normal cardiovascular training: it improves the performance of the lungs and heart, builds muscle and thus strength, burns fat, boosts the metabolism and protects against various diseases. The difference: With HIIT, the effects appear faster.

Performance improvement through HIIT

Interval training stimulates the formation of mitochondria, the powerhouses of cells. As a result, the body can use oxygen better – and this increases the fitness of the heart and circulatory system. According to studies, true training miracles beckon with HIIT. Studies have shown that 15 to 20 minutes of HIIT training is enough to increase general endurance to the same extent as a one-hour cardio session. So the quality of the training is improved instead of lengthening the training.

Building muscle with HIIT

Due to the heavy load, the muscle fibers are extremely stressed, the body prepares for another such load. It releases growth hormones that promote muscle growth during rest periods.

Fat Loss: HIIT & Calorie Burn

With HIIT, fat deposits melt particularly quickly. You can burn around 300 calories in 30 minutes with high-intensity interval training. In addition, there is the so-called afterburn effect: the metabolism continues to run at full speed for a long time after training. Weight loss can therefore be well supported with HIIT.

HIIT protects against diseases

In addition, HIIT positively influences various health parameters and is therefore suitable for preventing or improving various diseases such as diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. It

  • lowers high cholesterol,
  • reduces high blood pressure ,
  • lowers fasting blood sugar,
  • reduces body fat mass.

Who is HIIT suitable for?

In principle, every athlete can improve their performance with HIIT. But the training is demanding. In some cases, it can do more harm than good. To be on the safe side, you should consult a sports medicine specialist before starting HIIT.

HIIT is unsuitable for the following groups of people:

Untrained people should first get their bodies used to the stress with gentle sports. Otherwise there is a risk of overloading tendons, ligaments, muscles and bones as well as the heart and circulatory system.

People who are very overweight should first lose weight in order to protect their circulation and joints.

People with previous illnesses , especially cardiovascular diseases, are usually safer with less strenuous training. Even with acute infections, HIIT can result in permanent heart damage. Talk to your doctor!

HIIT & Pregnancy

During pregnancy , the training stimulus for HIIT should not reach the full load. Anyone who has previously been sporty and has trained at high intensities can continue HIIT after consultation with the gynecologist with adjusted intensities and heart rate ranges.

However, many pregnant women feel too tired at the beginning of the pregnancy, later the growing belly hinders the training. In any case, listen to your body even more closely than usual during training!

HIIT – the equipment

You can do many HIIT workouts at home. All you need is some space, suitable sportswear and a fitness mat as a base.

When doing HIIT swimming, you should wear close-fitting swimwear, a swim cap, and goggles. Functional clothing that fits close to the body is recommended for land sports.

These effectively wick sweat away from the body instead of absorbing it like pure (cotton) wool does. It also doesn’t slow down during the intense phases and doesn’t easily get caught in dumbbells and other training equipment.

Sturdy shoes with a non-slip sole that are suitable for the sport in question are also recommended. You also need a watch with a timer function. This can be a sports watch or a smartphone. For the latter, there are now various interval apps for HIIT workouts.

HIIT mistakes to avoid

HIIT is a demanding workout. You should observe the following rules so that you do not overtax your body:

  • Don’t overdo it : Respect the recommended rest periods so as not to overload the body.
  • Do not train one-sidedly : Sport scientists advocate combining different training methods. Intensive forms of training should not account for more than 20 percent of the training.
  • Never start cold : Warm up before the HIIT. It should definitely be at least ten minutes of easy trotting or warm-up exercises (knee bends, etc.). Otherwise there is a risk of strains or other injuries
  • Skipping non-training days : After each training session, you should take at least a day or two off. The body only builds up its performance reserves during the training break. Without regeneration times there is no training effect with HIIT.

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