The Expert’s Guide To Maximising Your HIIT Workout

The Expert’s Guide To Maximising Your HIIT Workout

High intensity interval training – or HIIT – has long been the workout of choice for those wanting to get fit quick. Short and seriously effective, studies show it trumps a steady slog on the treadmill. But without access to the gym or a studio class, how do you know if your at-home HIIT session is working? From the importance of heart rate to the perfect rest to workout ratio, here’s what to consider…

Understand The Benefits

Pushing yourself through a HIIT session is no easy feat – it should always feel tough. But it’s worth understanding precisely why you’re pushing yourself in this way. As David Wiener, training specialist at Freeletics explains: “Studies have shown HIIT does wonders for your metabolism, and is also incredibly beneficial for those looking to reduce body fat, or who are worried about fat stored around their middle, which could indicate higher insulin levels. Insulin is the hormone that regulates levels of glucose in the blood. The healthy stress your body undergoes during a HIIT session triggers autophagy – this is the process your body goes through to clean out damaged cells and regenerate new, healthier ones. It helps the body achieve optimum health, as well as being anti-ageing.”

Get The Ratio Right

HIIT goes against the notion of workout time equalling results. In fact, the experts agree the most effective HIIT sessions are short and sweet. As David explains: “HIIT workouts are split into a short intense level of exercise followed by a period of rest, usually using the following times: 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off; 30 seconds on, 30 seconds off; or 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off, with each session lasting anywhere between 20-45 minutes.” Don’t be tempted to make your workout any longer than this, David says, as you’ll negate the benefits. “One of the biggest mistakes people make during HIIT training is doing longer sessions, but not working out at their highest potential. A HIIT session that lasts an hour or more is pointless as your intensity will taper off towards the end.” 

Monitor Your Heart Rate

Keeping your heart rate high is key for an effective workout. “It’s always worth monitoring your heart rate during HIIT,” David advises. “This is because it will motivate you to go harder. For the best results, your heart rate should be between 70-90% of your maximum heart rate (220 minus your age) when you’re working. In your rest periods, your heart rate should be 50-60% of your maximum. Don’t let your heart rate drop too low, though, as you’ll burn more calories while it’s high.”

Don’t Overdo It

However tempting it may be to smash out a quick 20-minute HIIT session day in, day out, the intensity of HIIT and the recovery required for optimal results means it’s better to scale it back. “Two to three times a week is sufficient for HIIT training,” says Alex Rogers, PT and founder of Chelsea Fitness Club.

Boost The After-Burn Effect

Feeling hot and sweaty hours after a workout? It’s all down to excess post-exercise oxygen consumption (EPOC), the process that kicks in after an intense session – EPOC boosts your metabolic rate and burns calories for hours afterwards. “EPOC is known as ‘afterburn’ and refers to the increased rate of oxygen in the body following exercise,” explains Alex. “To boost your EPOC and make your workout epic, think about eccentric movements (exercises that lengthen muscle under tension) – this could involve, for example, performing the lowering phase of a squat for a count of three and coming up for one. Also consider pushing at supramaximal power – aka your top training zone – which results in dramatic changes to the metabolism and EPOC. Working out at this intensity would entail only two twenty second intervals at supramaximal power (that’s everything you’ve got) with three minutes rest in-between. This kind of intensity burns glycogen stores within the first ten seconds on your first sprint.”

Don’t Work Out On An Empty Tank

“There is conflicting opinion over whether you should eat before a workout,” David says. “But the science is that your body requires energy to move, so working out fasted will be harder than if you have something small to eat, even if it’s just a piece of fruit.” Refuelling is also of equal importance, and David stresses staying hydrated is crucial. “Without enough water, your muscles won’t get the electrolytes they need to maintain balance, which results in weakening strength and control.”

Invest In The Right Kit

While you can’t go wrong with your own bodyweight when it comes to HIIT at home, it could be worth investing in some kit to increase variety. “Resistance bands are a great way to warm up and work out. You can also do a lot with just one kettlebell or one dumbbell – unilateral and bilateral training is superb as it promotes balance and posture alignment,” Alex recommends. David is also a fan of dumbbells, but says you should be wary of going too heavy. “Weights ranging from 2kg to 5kg are usually enough, but if you want to push yourself, try including anything up to 8kg. Any heavier and you’re at risk of injury.” 

Prioritise Recovery

“It can take anywhere from 12-74 hours for the body to recalibrate post-workout. The body first works to heal inflammation before it can get to work on repairing muscle fibres,” Alex says. “For our body to adapt and change after a workout we need rest as this is where the magic happens. It’s important not to be too fixated on calorie counting after a workout as your body is always burning fat and glycogen stores and/or breaking down muscle fibres, so good nutrition is key.” If you’re suffering from a severe case of DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness), Alex recommends a hot bath with St John’s Wart, salts and oil. “Supplementing with glutamine, an essential amino acid, is also good for DOMS, as it can help repair damaged tissue.”

Know When It’s Time To Level Up

If you’ve been doing the same HIIT workout throughout the duration of lockdown, it could be time to mix it up. “If your HIIT training is becoming mundane, Tabata is a great alternative,” David recommends. “Tabata is the most advanced and intense version of HIIT. It involves 20 seconds of activity followed by just ten seconds of rest. It’s usually done for eight rounds and lasts for four minutes. Four minutes might not sound like much, but as you have to give 100% during the workout periods, it’s not uncommon to be completely breathless and seeing stars by the end. It’s one of the most effective workouts in the HIIT category for burning body fat.”
Visit and follow Alex on Instagram @ChelseaFitnessClub; you can also find her teaching live classes at KXU On Demand.
*Features published by SheerLuxe are not intended to treat, diagnose, cure or prevent any disease. Always seek the advice of your GP or another qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have regarding a medical condition, and before undertaking any diet, exercise or other health-related programmes.

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