What is a HIIT workout?
Though there are plenty of options for training, joining your local gym is often a good option for those looking to take part in regular exercise. There are plenty of gyms in Abu Dhabi, and plenty of gyms in Dubai, so this should be easy enough to do. Simply look up ‘Gym Near Me’, make sure it’s well reviewed, and head on over to train.
However, it’s quite common to hear people complaining (often, let’s face it, as a rather thinly veiled excuse) that they don’t have enough time to work out. Fair enough: modern life is busy, jobs and family commitments keep as hard-pressed, we’re loath to miss social occasions, and they're always seem to be a hundred and one things to do in-between all of this.
But surely, we have ten minutes per day to train?
This is where HIIT comes into it. It stands for High-Intensity Interval Training and will have you on the floor, muscles burning, lungs heaving, after just a few minutes’ work.
In short, you can get all the benefits of a cardio session, combined with all the benefits of resistance training, in a burst of frantic, heart-racing, muscle-burning activity lasting just a few minutes. Basically, you get the best workout ever in the least amount of time possible.
Sound too good to be true? Well, it isn’t. HIIT really does deliver on this. It’s just incredibly hard work (really, incredibly hard work) for those few minutes if you do it right.
HIIT: a brief history
HIIT really went mainstream about a decade ago, rising in prominence hand-in-hand with training programs like cross-fit. It is essentially a reinvention of circuit training, compressed and raised higher by the intensity.
First, the Tabata protocol began to gain traction, in which training was split into 8, 20-second rounds, each separated by a 10 second rest period, giving you 4 total minutes of work. The New York Times popularised the 7-minute workout in 2013, and this was soon trumped by the arrival of the 1-minute workout in 2016.
Fitness professionals more recently voted HIIT one of the top fitness trends for 2020 in a survey by the American College of Sports Medicine. Tabata inspired, interval-based workouts are now seemingly turning up everywhere: at chains like Les Mills, throughout gyms in the Emirates, in group classes at every leisure center and gym you can find, on apps ready to jump on board, and, of course, on YouTube, where thousands of iterations exist.
HIIT: the fine print
There are some important aspects of HIIT that everybody interested in giving it a go should know. It’s not just a case of simply pushing yourself a little bit hard for a certain, short duration, or to a specific set of timings. There are a specific set of advantages inherent to HIIT and a specific set of ways of programming it.
What makes it HIIT?
HIIT workouts combine short bursts of exercise intense enough to take your heart rate to near-maximum capacity, interspersed with short periods of rest or lower intensity exercise. This is important: if your heart rate percentages isn’t in the 80s for a good few minutes, you are not going with the intensity needed to be performing HIIT.
For it to be HIIT, your heart rate should be approaching, or even often exceeding, 90% for one to five minutes.
Most research is also based on specific aerobic exercises. What we know as ‘Tabata training’ just lifts a template from true Tabata. Professor Tabata ran his study using solely static bikes, pushing participants to the point at which their heart rates were near 100% max. Simply doing a few burpees to his timings (20:10 x8) falls a little short of this.
You can still use his timings and call it HIIT, but remember its genesis and really push yourself until you can hardly breathe! Remember, for it to be HIIT, your heart rate should be approaching, or even often exceeding, 90% for one to five minutes.
So, what should your HIIT routine give you?
The intervals are where the magic lies, where you will turn your training into HIIT, and where you will hit the goals associated with HIIT. You need intervals: short bursts of intense exercise interspersed with rest or less intense exercise.
This will lead to some quite intense weight loss, if you need it and program your diet accordingly. If you don’t know whether you’re at a healthy weight, it’s always a good idea to consult a BMI calculator - this will help to inform whether or not you need to lose some body fat, and so what your goals will be as you embark on a solid HIIT program.
Most commercial HIIT workouts, classes and providers will combine elements of cardio with elements of strength training. Although strict, classic HIIT should focus more on aerobic conditioning, there is a lot to be gained from using resistance training techniques in this way. A mixture of barbell, kettlebell, dumbbell and bodyweight movements is common, as are explosive aerobic movements.
Strength training can work well to HIIT protocol timings, though it may not technically classify as HIIT. Hypertrophy and power output can gain a lot from this style of training.
Done properly, HIIT workouts should have you on the floor pretty quickly, should work a full spectrum of muscles, and should use and therefore give you a great deal of explosive power. You can use HIIT workouts both for cardiovascular gains and for hypertrophy.