What is HIIT training?

Phil Goulding Phil Goulding Nuffield Health Senior Personal Trainer
Nuffield Health Senior Personal Trainer Phil Goulding explains what HIIT training is, what it's good for and when to use it.

HIIT training stands for High Intensity Interval Training - a form of cardiovascular exercise. HIIT can be further broken down into two main categories SIT (sprint interval training) and HIT (high intensity training). 

Two forms of HIIT

SIT is a form of very intense interval training that should only be performed by already well-conditioned people who have no contrary health conditions. You perform 3-5 intervals of very short maximal-intensity exercise working until you can't sustain the intensity , followed by a prolonged recovery period. This would typically be 20-30 seconds of work followed by a 3-5 minute rest interval. 

HIT is much more appropriate to the general public or average gym goer. This involves work periods ranging from 30 seconds to three minutes working between 80-100% of your maximum heart rate with shorter recovery periods than SIT. There is no specific formula to HIT but as a rule of thumb I would recommend your recovery period should be at least the same as your work interval, and can become shorter as you get fitter.

What is HIIT training good for?

HIIT training is great for those who are short on time as a way of maximising your time spent in the gym. A typical HIT session, not including your warm up, would last a maximum of 20 minutes.

Many of the benefits of HIIT training have been vastly overstated by the media and marketers but there are definitely some advantages to it.

HIIT training leads to greater EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) when compared to continuous exercise. This means that after you have finished exercising, your body will continue to burn calories at a higher rate than normal. The evidence base is small, but at least one study has shown that you can match the training effect of continuous training in less time using a proper HIIT protocol. 

There have also been studies done which show that HIIT is a great way of improving your VO2 Max. This is essentially a measurement of how fit you are and is linked to all-cause mortality (your chance of dying). Those with a higher VO2 max have a lower risk of death compared to their peers. If a proper HIIT training protocol is followed with the correct intensity (how hard you are working) and duration (how long you are working for) it is certainly a time efficient way of improving your fitness levels.

When should HIIT training be used?

HIIT can essentially be used by anyone although if you have recently had a Health MOT and been advised to partake in moderate intensity exercise then I would look to improve your fitness and other health markers before embarking on a HIIT training programme. If you haven’t had a Health MOT recently it may be wise to have one and see if HIIT training is suitable for you.

For people who find continuous training monotonous HIIT can be a great choice as the constant change of pace means that you are kept engaged throughout your workout.

The main reason to choose HIIT is the time efficiency compared to continuous exercise but you must be willing to work at a hard enough intensity to compensate for the reduced time you spend exercising.

HIIT training should be and is very hard when performed correctly. This intensity of exercise can be exhilarating and leave you feeling a real sense of accomplishment but for others it will not be enjoyable and for those who want more control over how they feel during a training session I would recommend fartlek or continuous exercise.

20 minute HIIT workout

This workout is on a stationary or spin bike

  • Warm up: two minutes steady cycle low resistance
  • Cycle very hard at 90% effort level for 60 seconds on a high resistance
  • Recover for 90 seconds on a low speed and resistance
  • Repeat this interval five times in total
  • Cool down: three minutes low resistance

Repeat three times per week with at least one day recovery in between

Home HIIT workout

Warm up - do each exercise for 45 seconds

  • Jog on the spot 
  • Bodyweight squat 
  • Jog on the spot
  • Reverse lunge 
  • Jog on the spot 
  • Push ups 

Main workout - perform 3 sets of each exercise and active recovery before moving on to the next exercise

  • Squat and reverse diagonal lunge - 45 seconds
  • Active recovery (jog on the spot) - 30 seconds
  • Push up - 45 seconds
  • Active recovery (jog on the spot) - 30 seconds
  • Forward lunge - 45 seconds
  • Active recovery (jog on the spot) - 30 seconds
  • Jump outs - 45 seconds
  • Active recovery (jog on the spot) - 30 seconds
  • Plank with shoulder taps - 45 seconds
  • Active recovery (jog on the spot) - 30 seconds

Cool down

  • Walk on the spot - 5 seconds
  • Backwards shoulder rolls (6-7 shoulder rolls)
  • Forwards shoulder rolls (6-7 shoulder rolls)
  • Reach overhead and then bend forwards - rest for 5 seconds before slowly rolling back up to standing
  • Reach overhead and lean to your right - rest for 5 seconds
  • Return to the centre and lean to your left - rest for 5 seconds
  • Return to the centre

HIIT classes

Les Mills GRIT 
Les Mills Sprint
Skillrun HIIT

Last updated Monday 15 June 2020