Want to make the most of your HIIT workout? Here’s how to nail the perfect circuit, according to Strong Women ambassadors Emma Obayuvana and Caroline Bragg.
Yes, it’s great to get out for a walk in the fresh air, and we’ve loved returning to the gym to finally jump-start our training again, but after long days at our desks, sometimes all we really want is push ourselves and get sweaty. Enter, high intensity interval training.
HIIT, as it’s known, really had a moment a few years ago when boutique classes and fitness personalities started sharing the idea that just a few minutes of hard work could get you really fit. The workout requires putting your all into moves for a really short period before taking time to rest — you can see why it’s so popular.
With its body weight circuits, it’s the perfect accessible workout for those not yet up for returning to the gym. We love it for its ability to get you sweaty and exhausted quickly, so it can be easily built around your work or social plans.
How do you structure a HIIT workout?
Getting your HIIT right means scheduling your ‘on’ time, when you’re doing the moves, and your ‘off time’, which is your rest period. Often, HIIT is structured so you rest for half the time you work.
You can opt for a Tabata-style circuit which involves 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for eight rounds. “But for that to be effective, you need to go as hard as you possibly can, which I don’t think everyone is ready for,” says Caroline Bragg. “Instead, something like 30 seconds on, 15 seconds off will give you better time to work on form.”
For trainer Emma Obayuvana, 30 to 40 minutes of HIIT with your heart rate kept above 85% is what to aim for. If you don’t have a heart rate monitor, Emma breaks that down into working as hard as possible for a maximum of 40 seconds, then resting for 20 seconds.
“ I would avoid doing 60 seconds of work, despite what you might see people on social media doing,” she says. “You need to put your heart rate into its near-maximum state and you cannot, honestly, maintain that work for such a long time.”
What moves should you do in HIIT?
This is up to you, but if you want to get your heartrate up then cardio is usually the answer. That means burpees, squat jumps, mountain climbers, high knees… the list is endless. Consider mixing it up, though: “It’s really important to get some lateral work in, which means moving side to side,” says Caroline. Think skaters, side shuffles, and anything where you’re moving in different planes of motion.
For those of us who have downstairs neighbours, sore knees or injuries to consider, swap out the jumps for lower impact moves. Air squats, pulsing lunges and press ups are still tough, but mean you don’t risk falling through the ceiling.
How many times a week should you do HIIT?
“The thing to note with HIIT is to not overdo it,” says Emma. Research shows that you shouldn’t be doing more than 40 minutes of HIIT a week, as you’ll end up seeing a reverse in the benefits of training in the first place, including reduced performance and a greater risk of injury.
The reason for that is because of the huge cortisol spike HIIT causes. “While being placed under stress can help your body adapt and grow stronger, too much cortisol can have a detrimental effect on our bodies, including a compromised immune system, joint pain and even injury,” explains Emma.
What with the already very stressed state we’re in right now, we don’t need to add any more strain on our bodies or minds. So, smash your HIIT, then recover from it with a few days of low intensity cardio, like walking. And don’t forget your strength sessions, too.
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Images: Sarah Brick
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).