You're Probably Doing HIIT Wrong

You're Probably Doing HIIT Wrong

High intensity interval training is one of the best ways to train recovery and improve anaerobic conditioning.

On top of that, HIIT has benefits for your brain as well.

The problem is most people are just plain doing it wrong. Let's briefly diagnose some of the problems, let's correct them, and then we will provide a sample workout you can perform on any piece of cardio equipment or on the track.

The Problem of Intensity

Baked into the very name of this style of workout is the term "intensity." Unfortunately, most people don't pay enough attention to this key terminology.

Many HIIT workouts you find online or elsewhere will simply prescribe a time frame of effort followed by a time frame of recovery. 

For example, a sample workout might look something like this:

10 rounds:

  • 30 second sprint
  • 1 minute rest

That's a pretty basic template, but it's incorrect. Now, can you get benefits from training like that? Absolutely, please don't misunderstand me.

But it is not high intensity interval training.

First off, your body doesn't know how long a minute is. Prescribing that rest period is arbitrary. Secondly, depending on the shape you're in now, that minute might not be enough to recover properly for the next sprint.

The third issue is with a prescribed sprint. Most people don't understand or apply that term properly. And just as with resting a minute, you're current level of fitness might not allow for 30 seconds of a proper sprint.

Making Corrections

Think of high intensity interval training more like weight training.

Let's say you are doing squats. You choose a weight that is going to be challenging to finish 8 reps (any rep range will do, this is just for example).

You will rest as long as necessary to be able to complete the next set of 8 reps.

Think of your interval training in the same way. Work sets should be 15-20 seconds of all-out, pedal to the metal, balls to the wall effort, followed by a rest period that is as long as is necessary to perform the next set.

Using A Heart Rate Monitor

One of my favorite ways to perform HIIT is with a heart rate monitor. 

During work sets, I will target elevating my heart rate to 85-90 percent of my max heart rate. Then my recovery periods target returning to 60-65 percent of my max heart rate for a prescribed period of time. Using objective measures like heart rate is far better than subjective ones.

This ability to train the recovery mechanism is the magic sauce of high intensity interval training.

Sample HIIT Workout

So let's take a few principles we've learned and construct a HIIT workout that works in a pyramid. You can use any equipment you like, or you can just do it on the track or the road. The equipment itself doesn't really matter.

  • 5 - 10 minute warm up at a light pace
  • 10 seconds at 85 - 90 percent of max heart rate
  • 45 seconds of sustained recovery at 60 - 65 percent of max heart rate
  • 15 seconds at 85 - 90 percent
  • 45 seconds at 60 - 65
  • 20 seconds at 85 - 90 percent
  • 45 seconds at 60 - 65

Keep adding 5 seconds to your work sets until you are no longer able to sustain the 85 - 90 percent heart rate range for that period of time. 

That's how you will know when to wrap it up.

High intensity interval training is a great tool to have to get you in the best shape of your life. 

Just make sure you're doing it right.


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