Common HIIT Mistakes That Could Be Affecting Your Workout

Common HIIT Mistakes That Could Be Affecting Your Workout

HIIT can boost aerobic fitness, burn fat and build muscle, but it’s not always a walk in the park. Whether it’s an incorrect work-to-rest ratio or overdoing the burpees, experts will tell you there are plenty of ways to get it wrong – which could not only lead to injury, but also prevent you from reaching your goals. We asked four trainers to identify the common mistakes and show us how to fix them.

MISTAKE: You’re An Exercise Newbie

Effective and time efficient, it’s no wonder HIIT is one of the most popular ways to build fitness. In fact, after a session of just 20-30 minutes, your resting metabolic rate stays raised for 24 hours, meaning your body continues to burn fat long after you’ve left the gym. But it’s not that straightforward, says Stuart Jack, PT and founder of MuscleMary. “One of the great things about HIIT is that there are many ways to do it, whether it’s sprints on a treadmill or weighted routines. However, if you’re a total beginner, try to avoid taking on too much too soon. In fact, one of the most common mistakes I see women making is using a weight that’s too heavy for them, which can result in injury. It’s far better to use a lighter weight – or even better, your bodyweight – and perform reps correctly rather than trying to fit in as many reps as possible. Yes, the aim of HIIT is to get the heart rate up, but proper form is also crucial for the best results.”

MISTAKE: You’re Overdoing It

Given HIIT’s multiple benefits, it’s tempting to want to do it daily. However, as David Wiener, training specialist at Freeletics, explains, HIIT was designed to make you work at maximum effort for short periods of time. Because of this intensity, it shouldn’t be done on a daily basis. “As a general rule, you should be doing HIIT two to four times per week, and absolutely no more. In an ideal world, HIIT should be rotated with rest or lower intensity training days so your body can recover. HIIT is meant to be hard work, and you should be pushing yourself to 80-90% of your maximum effort.” In a nutshell, if you properly push yourself in HIIT workouts at high intensity, your muscles need time to replenish before they can be worked again. Do too much and you could end up injured.

The best way to warm up for a HIIT session is to mimic the movements you’ll be carrying out in the main workout.

MISTAKE: Not Going Hard Enough

On the flip side, it’s important to push yourself – it’s called high intensity for a reason, says PT Sarah Campus. “Are you out of breath? Is your heart rate increasing? Are you feeling the burn? The intensity of HIIT is very much down to the individual, but it should be challenging, and you should be prepared to work at 90% of your maximum for a short period of time.” If you finish a HIIT session feeling like you could have done more, chances are you could have gone harder. To be sure, Stuart recommends tracking your heart rate with a fitness tracker. “During your work period, your heart rate should ideally be 220bpm minus your age, and then during the rest period this should drop back to 55-65% of your maximum.” If you’re just starting out in the gym and can’t reach this intensity, build yourself up to HIIT before going full throttle.

MISTAKE: Not Warming Up

Just because a HIIT workout is speedy doesn’t mean you can afford to skip the warm-up, says Aimee Victoria Long, PT and founder of the Body Beautiful Method. “Before any form of exercise, but particularly HIIT, a warm-up is crucial to decrease the risk of injury and improve your rate of recovery. The best way to warm up for a HIIT session is to mimic the movements you’ll be carrying out in the main workout. So, if you’re planning on a full-body HIIT workout, try some mobility drills such as walk-outs, squat holds, thoracic openers and reverse lunges. Then, perform an exercise for 2-3 minutes that raises the heart rate, such as skipping. A post-HIIT cooldown is also just as important. Allow your heart rate to slowly decrease and do a series of stretches, holding each for around 30 seconds.”

MISTAKE: Your Rest Periods Are Wrong

“In a nutshell, HIIT training is short bursts of effort, followed by rest periods,” explains David. “And while there’s no perfect rule for rest ratios, there is a rough guide, and you need to keep things short and sweet. If you are a beginner, aim for a 1:2 ratio, i.e. 20 seconds of work followed by 40 seconds of rest. If you’re at an intermediate level, try a 1:1 ratio – working for 30 seconds and resting for 30 seconds. If you are advanced, try a 2:1 ratio, which would equate to working for 40 seconds and then resting for just 20 seconds.” 

If you properly push yourself at a high intensity, rest days are crucial to allow the body to recover.

MISTAKE: Your Timing Is Off

When you do a HIIT workout matters, says David. “Several studies have looked into the optimal time of day to do HIIT, and the consensus is that a morning workout has more benefits. Working out in the morning has been shown to increase cognitive abilities and improve decision-making throughout the day. Therefore, doing HIIT in the morning may lead to a more productive day, with higher levels of focus.” Plus, doing HIIT in the evening could raise your body temperature too much, making it tricky to fall asleep. 

MISTAKE: Doing A Burpee Incorrectly

A burpee features in countless HIIT workouts, but the experts agree it’s also the move many of us get wrong. “Burpees are a particularly high-risk bodyweight move that unless performed with perfect technique can lead to lower back pain,” says Stuart. To do it right, begin standing straight looking forward, and then squat your hands on the floor in front of you, kick your feet back to a plank position, do a press-up, immediately return your feet to the squat position (keeping your back flat), then jump up as high as you can go. 

MISTAKE: Not Fuelling Properly

Do HIIT on an empty stomach and you won’t be able to work to 100% capacity, say the experts. Steady state cardio – such as running at a set speed on the treadmill – can be done safely on an empty stomach, but do something at a higher intensity and you may feel dizzy and nauseous. Try to have a carb-based snack prior to a session, and always ensure you refuel properly afterwards. “Aim for a post-workout meal that contains both carbs and protein,” says Stuart. “Carbs will top up energy levels while protein will support muscle regeneration. If you don’t feel like eating after the gym, try a protein-rich smoothie, which is an easier way to get nutrients to the muscles,” he advises.

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