HIIT: Proper Prescription

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a very effective way to get a large amount of work done in a short amount of time. It has a variety of benefits including increasing endurance but more importantly shedding fat. If you have been in a gym or read anything fitness related in the past ten years you have probably heard of it.

So why do I bring up such an old piece of information? One that I have actually written about in the past here?  Because it seems to be so misunderstood. More often than not I see HIIT performed incorrectly. I’m not talking about the exercises but the actual protocol (work, rest, programming variables).

Let’s start with the purpose for HIIT. We are looking to stay in the anaerobic zone which is why we rest. The anaerobic zone is one that operates in the absence of oxygen, where more muscle fiber is recruited. This is beneficial  to fat loss because it helps us to build muscle and uses mainly stored energy. How you can tell if you are staying in the anaerobic zone is that you won’t be able to keep up that pace of work for more than 30 seconds to a minute and will have to rest at least that long to maintain the same intensity of work for your next interval. If you can perform an exercise at the same intensity for several minutes in a row at the same intensity then it is not suited for HIIT. It’s not High Intensity at that point and qualifies as aerobic work. I have never met someone who can do prowler sprints or kettlebell swings at 90% intensity for more than a minute, because it’s scientifically impossible. At some point in time, 30 seconds to 1 minute, you will slow down and work your way into aerobic work, which is exactly what we don’t want.

Proper prescription of HIIT will never put you in a negative rest ratio meaning you will never work more than you rest.  This is very important because without sufficient rest you won’t be able to keep up such a high intensity. Some of my favorite rest to work ratios with HIIT are even work:rest meaning 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off. My personal favorite would be a rest ratio that is 50% to 100% longer than the work ratio meaning 30 seconds off and 45 seconds to 1 minute rest. Another that I also like to use in group classes are ascending rest periods which start with an even work:rest and increase the rest each round, round 1 30:30, round 2 30:45, round 3 30:60, etc. My reasoning for employing higher rest than work periods is I would rather have you go all out for 30 seconds and know you had time to recover. In my experience as a trainer I have observed that it’s easy to conserve energy and hold back if you know that you aren’t going to be able to recover. The only thing worse than going aerobic for our purpose is not getting into the anaerobic zone because of self preservation.

Keeping up the intensity even with a proper rest period can be tough! Which is why I don’t recommend doing HIIT for more than 10-20 minutes straight depending on exercise choice. That doesn’t mean that you can’t take two to three minutes off and come back for another round which is exactly what I would recommend. This longer break will give you time to grab water and catch your breath while you mentally regroup for another round.

Quick recap of how to properly use HIIT. Work hard, rest hard and keep it intense!

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