Editor’s note: Before starting any new exercise program, consult your physician. Stop immediately if you feel pain.
For many people aiming to burn a lot of calories, high-intensity interval training is the way to go.
Also known as HIIT, these popular workouts feature bursts of intense activity, such as squats or lunges, followed by recovery time. A HIIT routine can burn more calories than a traditional endurance exercise while performing it in a shorter period of time. Several studies also show that interval training can provide the same health benefits as continuous exercise at a moderate intensity, according to a review published last year in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health.
With all these positives, it’s no surprise that HIIT is one of the top 10 most anticipated fitness trends for 2022, according to the annual survey of health and fitness trends conducted by the American College of Sports Medicine, and was among the top 10 fitness trends. 10 Fitness Trends Since 2014. However, HIIT workouts require maximum effort, which means they’re not for every day — or necessarily for everyone.
There are three similar forms of interval training that might be better suited to your training goals and needs—and you might be doing it inadvertently, said certified fitness trainer Austin Brock, cofounder of Slash Fitness in Delray Beach, Florida.
“Because there are so many different variations of these types of workouts, facilities tend to use the acronym people are most familiar with, HIIT,” said Brock. “But that may not really be what you do.”
True HIIT workouts last from 20 to 60 minutes and feature intense work intervals that range from five seconds to eight minutes, according to the American College of Sports Medicine. These procedures are performed at 80% to 95% of your maximum heart rate, Brock said, a state where you can talk but need to breathe every few words. Recovery periods may continue throughout the exercise phases.
This is one example. After your warm-up, pedal the stationary bike—set to a certain level of resistance—as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then pedal slowly for one minute. Repeat 10 to 20 times, finishing with a cooldown. You can also perform HIIT exercises using your body weight, with a combination of exercises such as aerial squats, burpees (a combination of squats, planks, and squats) and lunges.
Read about the different forms of interval training and how they can help you achieve your fitness goals.
important note: Whether you’re performing these workouts at maximum intensity or at an easier, modified form, they’re still demanding. Experts recommend Doing them only two or three times a week, with at least 48 hours between sessions to allow for full recovery.
An HVIT workout, designed to increase endurance, volume emphasizes intensity and is longer than a HIIT session. Hannah Dougherty, a certified personal trainer and health coach in Richmond, Virginia, said that while these workouts usually start with high-intensity repetitions, the intensity levels drop as the workout continues.
Here’s an example: Alternate 60 seconds of squats, jumps, mountain climbers, and jump lunges with 30 seconds of rest. As you do more exercises with shorter rest periods, your effort will naturally decrease over time.
“Squat jumps might start at 100% effort, but then it might be burpees at 90%, then mountain climbers at 85% and so forth,” said Dougherty.
The VIIT workout is the perfect place between HIIT and HVIT sessions, Brock said, featuring intervals of hard, medium and low intensity. During a typical VIIT workout, you’ll start with a high-intensity interval, broken up into a medium-intensity interval with a focus on strength and endurance — think of a series of squats. The final phase is a low-impact, low-intensity recovery activity, such as holding a plank position. This series is repeated several times.
“Variable-intensity workouts are great because they use the entire glove,” Brock said, providing a more complete, full-body workout.
Aimed at serious athletes, the SIT workout involves pushing your body to its limits multiple times, followed by long periods of recovery. During a SIT, run as fast as you can for 30 seconds, then rest or walk for four or five minutes, repeating four to six times. These intervals can be done while swimming, cycling, rowing, etc., with the aim of improving your athletic performance.
The exercise that’s best for you depends on your goals and fitness level. If weight loss is your goal and you don’t have a lot of time, shorter, calorie-reduced HIIT workouts may be the way to go. If you have a long distance event or endurance event in your future, consider HVIT workouts. The VIIT routine may be an option if you are looking to improve your overall fitness.
Whichever option you choose, proceed with caution as they all involve high-intensity work. “The box jump may not seem difficult at first, but when you tire, your form can become compromised, and you can injure yourself,” said Brock.
The good news is that HIIT, HVIT, and VIIT workouts can be modified to suit anyone, even beginners. This is done through shorter work periods, lower intensity levels or fewer repetitions. You can also set the actual exercise.
“If your period workout is squat jumps, switch to regular squats,” Brock said. “Over time, you can increase the level of intensity, depending on your goals and health history.”
Going back to these workouts will result in less calorie burn and a less intense cardio workout, but that doesn’t make them useless. Brock said you’re still using the same musculature and getting the same strength.
You can also raise your heart rate in safer ways to get fitter. For example, replace jumping lunges with regular lunges performed while holding weights. Or reduce your rest periods from 30 seconds to 15.
Don’t feel bad if you find out that these workouts aren’t your style. Many people do not enjoy hard work. However, it’s important to find another exercise that you enjoy, says Dr. Tamara Hugh-Butler, associate professor of exercise and sports science at Wayne State University in Detroit.
“People need to get moving to reap the many mental and physical benefits associated with regular physical activity, no matter what we call it or the exercise fad currently marketed,” said Hugh Butler.
Melanie Radziecki McManus is a freelance writer specializing in hiking, travel and fitness.