• Introduction
  • Basics of high-intensity interval training
  • Tabata training
  • AMRAP training
  • Sprint interval training
  • Benefits of high-intensity interval training
  • Samples of high-intensity interval training routines
  • Suitability for developing athletes and physical education
  • Final thoughts 
  • Sources

Introduction

Some consider heavy weight training the perfect workout, while others may prefer longer endurance-based exercises to keep in shape. However, there are tons of other exercise methods you can do to bring some variety to your exercise routine. One of the most popular methods is high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT. 

The reason why high-intensity interval training is so popular is that it is incredibly time-efficient, meaning that you can fully challenge your body in a much shorter time than with regular continuous endurance exercises. Due to its intensity, HIIT challenges both your aerobic (with oxygen) and anaerobic (without oxygen) energy systems. Thus, as the intensity and duration of the exercise grows, your body starts producing lactic acid. This hinders the mechanical properties of the muscles and causes fatigue. 

The lactic acid buildup also causes oxygen debt, which means that your heart and lungs must work harder to stop further oxygen debt and break down the lactic acid. To do that, your body converts stored carbohydrates into energy with oxygen. As far as performance goes, high-intensity interval training improves your ability to tolerate and buffer lactate, resulting in better endurance capability. 

Because HIIT is all the rage at the moment, it is also often misused to suit any type of intense exercise that you see at the gym. This post explains the basic mechanisms of high-intensity interval training, and what makes it so effective. 

Basics of high-intensity interval training

High-intensity interval training (HIIT) refers to short bursts of intense effort with short recovery periods in between and performed against time. These exercises usually consist of various bodyweight or light resistance movements, or sprints performed at maximum intensity. This also raises your heart rate up to 80-95% of your maximum,  giving your body a real challenge.

Due to its intensity, HIIT training is both a quick and effective training method, while also being suitable for nearly everyone regardless of their level of fitness. To create your own routine, you need to consider these four factors;

  • The intensity of the workout
  • Duration of each exercise
  • Number of rounds/sets
  • Duration of the recovery period

Simply put, the longer or more intense the exercise is, or the shorter the recovery period is, the more challenging a training session will be. If you are just starting out, you could have a work/rest ratio of 1:1 (i.e. 30s of exercise, 30s rest). As you progress, you could slowly increase the exercise duration and decrease the recovery period. Longer intervals (up to 5:1) also increase physical effort and therefore focus on anaerobic performance. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that it takes up to 48-72h to recover from a high-intensity training session. With this in mind, try to balance your HIIT sessions with traditional strength or endurance training and increase the intensity when your body is ready for it. Remember, consistency is key even though progress may sometimes feel slow. 

High-Intensity Interval Training


Consists of bodyweight, light resistance & sprint exercisesMaximum effort in a short amount of timePerformed against timeShort recovery between setsWork to rest ratio 1:1 - 5:1

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Tabata training

If traditional high-intensity interval training is not your thing, why not try some Tabata exercises? These exercises last for only four minutes and consist of eight rounds of 20s maximum effort, followed by a 10s break. 

It was originally designed as a stationary bike workout to improve the speed endurance of the Japanese Olympic speed skating team. Because of its high-intensity nature, it proved to be extremely effective in improving the anaerobic capacity (total amount of energy produced without oxygen) of the athletes. It even provided similar aerobic benefits as a 60min run routine that was assigned to another test group.  

Nowadays, the Tabata regimen has evolved from a cycling exercise into a high-intensity bodyweight workout. However, the overall duration of exercises/sets still remains the same. For the most benefit, it is recommended that you perform at least four sets of Tabata training back-to-back. 

AMRAP training

AMRAP training is a type of high-intensity interval training where you must perform as many rounds or repetitions of exercises in a specific time frame. The name AMRAP comes from ”as many rounds as possible”, which is pretty self-explanatory of the actual workout. Although this style of training is considered a continuous high-intensity workout, it often requires some recovery time between repetitions or rounds. 

To make the most of your AMRAP sessions, you have to select the exercises, set the time, and perform as many rounds as possible. Naturally, you should also always maintain good posture and rest when needed. 

One example of an AMRAP workout is performing 20 lunge jumps, 20 push-ups, and 20 Russian twists back-to-back as many times as possible within 12-minutes. These exercises are quick yet very challenging for both cardiovascular fitness and muscular endurance. 

Sprint interval training

Sprint interval training (SIT) refers to repeated sprints of all-out exercise, interspersed by periods of active or passive recovery. It can also be divided into three distinct training types; anaerobic interval training, short aerobic interval training, and long aerobic interval training. What makes these methods different is the duration of each sprint, yielding slightly different physiological and metabolic effects.

  • Anaerobic interval training: Short sprints that focus mainly on anaerobic metabolism
  • Short aerobic interval training: Short sprints that focus mainly on aerobic metabolism
  • Long aerobic interval training: Long sprints that focus mainly on aerobic metabolism

Sprint interval training has consistently yielded great improvements in athletic performance. In fact, SIT workouts have proven to be as good or even better than regular continuous aerobic training despite being significantly shorter in training duration. Thus, it is often used as a time-efficient way to maintain and maximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max), which is considered the biggest contributor to endurance capability.

For example, your workout could consist of four to five 30s sprints, with four minutes between each sprint. This is especially effective in improving your speed endurance and anaerobic performance, which is why this type of training is used by nearly every elite-level cyclist and middle-distance (800-1500m) runner.

One thing to keep in mind is that sprint interval training is very demanding both physically and mentally. Therefore, it can be too rigorous for previously sedentary individuals, which may even lead to lower self-esteem and decreased motivation. SIT also requires a great deal of structure and self-discipline in order to be successful. But, if you are willing and able to challenge yourself with sprint interval training, you’ll see great results in no time.

HIIT is an extremely time-efficient way to train.

Benefits of high-intensity interval training

There are several physiological benefits that happen in your body as a result of consistent HIIT training. These include;

  • Neurological adaptations: improved coordination between muscles, faster rate coding (frequency of nerve impulses), increased motor unit recruitment. 
  • Structural changes: improves both muscle fiber types’ (type I & type II) ability to contract more energy efficiently. This is a result of increased mitochondria content and capillary density as well as improved technique.
  • Energy mechanism changes: improved aerobic capacity (highest amount of oxygen consumed during maximal exercise) and anaerobic capacity (maximal amount of adenosine triphosphate (ATP) re-synthesized via anaerobic metabolism), increased anaerobic energy storages, better ability to tolerate and buffer lactic acid. 
  • Boosted metabolism: Intense exercises also keep your metabolism elevated for a longer time, helping you maintain healthy body composition. However, HIIT training has not proven to be any more effective than long continuous exercises in maintaining healthy body weight.
  • Improved cardiovascular function: improves maximum oxygen uptake (VO₂max), enhances venous return (blood’s return to the heart), increases stroke volume (amount of blood pumped in a single heartbeat) and the amount of hemoglobin, lowers resting heart rate. 
  • Injury prevention: interval training can offer variety to your regular training routine, reducing the risk of overuse injuries and burnout. 

In simple terms, high-intensity interval training improves your body’s ability to deliver oxygen-filled blood in the body and produce energy with and without oxygen. This enhances cardiovascular fitness, muscular endurance, and even athletic performance if done correctly. HIIT training is also highly flexible and time-efficient, meaning that it can be a suitable training method for a wide range of people.

However, it is important to remember that these exercises must be performed with maximum intensity to fully enjoy their benefits. 

High-intensity interval training offers similar cardiovascular fitness benefits as longer endurance exercises.

Samples of high-intensity interval training routines

Looking at some high-intensity training routine samples, but don’t know where to start? Lucky for you, we’ve created a few samples for you to try out. You can also check out our dedicated article on various HIIT workouts and exercises.

For high-intensity exercises at home that require little equipment, check out our home HIIT workouts post!

AMRAP training sample

  • As many rounds as possible in 12mins

Exercises:

  • 50 Jumping jacks
  • 10 Burpees
  • 20 Lunge jumps
  • 20 Mountain climbers
  • 20 Crunches

Tabata training sample 1

  • 2x20s jump rope (as fast as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s Russian twists (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s split squats (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s lunges (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets

Total workout duration: 4 minutes

Tabata training sample 2

  • 2x20s mountain climbers (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s squats (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s high knees run (as fast as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets
  • 2x20s skater jumps (as many as possible)
  • 10s rest between sets

Total workout duration: 4 minutes

Beginner HIIT routine

  • 30s of maximum effort
  • 30s rest between exercises
  • 3min rest between rounds
  • 3 rounds

Exercises:

  • High knees
  • Russian twists
  • Push-ups
  • High knee step-up on chair/bench
  • Lower back lift
  • Right side plank dips
  • Left side plank dips

Intermediate HIIT routine

  • 45s of maximum effort
  • 15s rest between exercises
  • 3min rest between rounds
  • 3 rounds

Exercises:

  • Burpees
  • Mountain climbers
  • High knees
  • Push-ups
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jump lunges
  • Heel touch

Sprint interval training sample

  • 30s sprint at maximum effort
  • 5 sets
  • 4min rest between sets

Overall sprinting duration: 2 minutes and 30 seconds. 

Note that we are not responsible for any injuries that may occur during these drills or practices. Always remember to train within your own limits and at the guidance of a professional instructor.

Sprint interval training is very intense and often used for athletic development.

Suitability for developing athletes and physical education

High-intensity interval training is often hailed as a safe and effective method for nearly everyone regardless of their current level of fitness. This is mostly due to its high level of flexibility. To create a suitable HIIT workout, you need to take into account your current level of fitness, your personal goals, and needs, as well as possible injury history. Of course, another thing to consider is the workout equipment you own. For example, a home HIIT workout could simply consist of various bodyweight exercises if you’ve yet to purchase your own weights, etc. 

While HIIT workouts are scientifically proven to offer great health and performance benefits, it is important to remember what type of high-intensity interval training you are referring to. For example, sprint interval training is considered a very advanced exercise method that is mainly used for athletic development. So, if you’re not training for the upcoming season’s sprint events, maybe start with lighter HIIT sessions. 

For safety reasons, it is recommended that you warm up and cool down well, slowly increase the training load and intensity, and always train on an even surface. Also, if you’re unsure where to start, feel free to contact an athletic trainer to help you get started. 

Final thoughts 

High-intensity interval training has been all the rage for a long time now. And why not? It is an effective and time-efficient way to keep in shape that suits a wide range of people. What makes it even more flexible is that you need a huge amount of equipment to have an effective HIIT workout. Simply choose the exercises that you want to do, their duration, and the recovery time and you’re all set!

As with any type of training, you must progressively overload the body in order to have any desired health and performance benefits. So, as you progress and improve your fitness, you have to increase the duration of your HIIT workouts or reduce the rest periods. On the other hand, if you feel like you are not ready to tackle the intensity of these types of workouts, you might be better off with traditional strength or endurance training. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that high-intensity interval training can be very straining for your body. Thus, you should have at least 48-72h between two intense sessions, especially if you are doing some type of sprint interval training. 

Did you learn anything new about high-intensity interval training? Let us know in the comments.

Sources

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