Everyone knows and loves high-intensity interval training, most commonly known as HIIT. HIIT workouts are designed to have you work hard in a short amount of time. They involve performing short bursts of high-intensity exercises performed at up to 95% of your max heart rate followed by low-intensity exercises, and with minimal rest periods in between rounds. The structure of these workouts allows you to create and tailor a workout to the amount of time you have - it could be 15, 20, or 30 minutes! All that matters is that you push yourself as hard as you can during each round.
However, HIIT workouts need to be approached carefully, especially if you're already following a strength training program. You want to make sure you're reaping the benefits of HIIT while reducing your risk of an unwanted injury or strain.
Whether you're doing HIIT for fat loss, or just as a way to get some fun, quick cardio workout in your training, we've got tips that will help you build your own HIIT workout, and how to prepare for it like a pro!
How to build a HIIT workout
Before you can even prepare for your HIIT session, you actually want to build an effective high-intensity workout that fits your fitness level, goals, and the amount of time you have to spare.
So, take those things into consideration when building your own HIIT workout, and follow these tips to make sure it's as effective as possible...
Keep your interval shorts
HIIT is an interval workout, and although you can have longer intervals of up to a minute, we suggest keeping them short. Longer intervals above 45 seconds will cause the workout to focus more on strength endurance, taking away the metabolic effects of HIIT.
Studies have shown that HIIT increases your metabolic rate for hours after exercise.  This is ideal for those with weight loss goals, so if that's your main goal, then keep your intervals no longer than 45 seconds. Now, if strength endurance is your goal then feel free to have a longer interval workout.
Pick your time and determine your work-to-rest ratio
This one goes hand-in-hand with the above tip. We suggest keeping your intervals short, but do what works best for you. The best way to build a HIIT workout that's effective for you is by picking the amount of time you have to complete it and picking a work-to-rest ratio that works for you.
Ask yourself, how many minutes do you have to commit?
You can complete a pretty solid HIIT workout in a short period of 10-15 minutes, or a longer period of 20-30 minutes. Once you know the amount of time you have, you can determine the work-to-rest ratio.
Ideally, you want your work periods to be longer than the recovery periods, but if you're just starting out you can have a longer rest period and adjust as you make progress. You can start by doing 30 seconds of high-intensity work followed by 60 seconds of rest. You might need less than a minute of rest, but this is a good starting point for someone completely new. Play around with different work-to-rest ratios to see what works for you best. Some prefer shorter periods of intense work, like Tabata, which involves 20 seconds on and 10 seconds off for a set number of rounds.
Whatever you decide, remember to work your way up to it. You'll eventually be able to work at the max intensity for longer periods and shorter rest, so if you're new, don't be afraid to take it slow.
Keep your exercises simple, but effective
HIIT doesn't have to be complicated, and actually, it's better if it's not. You want to choose exercises that are simple, effective, and work your entire body. We suggest choosing compound movements over isolated movements because they work multiple large muscle groups at once and force your body to expend more energy.
A few good examples of HIIT exercises are lunges, jumping jacks, burpees, push-ups, goblet squats, kettlebell swings, and more. You can also add weights or make it a total bodyweight workout - the choice is yours! But, as an added tip, don't overdo the hopping/jumping exercises. You don't need to be constantly jumping to work up a sweat, doing something as simple as battle ropes or lunges can help get your heart rate pumping. So, try not to make more than half of the exercises jumping to avoid aches and pains in your joints.
Alternate different muscle groups
You want to make sure you give your best effort on each exercise, to do this, alternate exercises that work different muscle groups. You want to avoid overworking your muscles because it can lead to a potential injury.
So, pick your exercise order carefully. For example, you wouldn't want to follow jumping squats with lunges, your legs will be completely burnt out! You definitely wouldn't be able to perform the lunges at your best effort. Instead, choose a mostly upper-body exercise after performing a lower-body exercise. To go back to our example, you can do push-ups or a plank with dumbbell rows after the jumping squats, and then perform lunges followed by another upper-body exercise.
Rest in between rounds
Last, and most importantly, don't forget to give yourself time to rest before starting your next round, especially if you have a shorter rest period in between exercises. If you're resting for only 10-15 seconds in between exercises, try to rest for at least a minute after each round. This will help you give your following rounds your max effort for better results. Those who have longer rest periods in between exercises can rest 30 seconds (or more if needed). Just remember to not make your rest period too long, you want your heart rate to slightly dip, but not too much that you miss out on the fat-burning benefits.
How to prepare for your HIIT workouts
Now that you know how to build an effective HIIT workout, let's talk about how to actually prepare for them. The tips below will help reduce your risk of injury and fully prepare your muscles for the intense workout ahead!
No matter what exercises you choose, HIIT workouts will always involve full-body movements at max effort. Your body is doing a lot of hard work, so you want to take at least five minutes before your workout to have your muscles and joints warmed up and limber!
Despite popular belief, static stretching isn't necessarily the best for warm-ups. You should implement them at the beginning of your warm-up, but a bulk of it is going to be comprised of dynamic stretches. Dynamic stretches, unlike static stretches, involve actual movement. They require your body to move through the full range of motion of exercises that mimic what you'll be working out.
Here are a few of the best dynamic stretches that will prep large muscle groups:
- Cat and camel
- Leg swings
- Hip rotations
- Bodyweight squats
- Glute bridges
- High knees
- Arm circles
You can even take it a step further and use a long resistance band for some more upper-body dynamic movements like band pull-aparts, lat stretch, and more.
You do want to give your HIIT workout sesh your maximum effort, but you might want to start your high-intensity intervals at a slower pace - especially if you're new! Injuries can still happen, even with a proper workout, HIIT training that involves jumping straight into full-body, high-impact movements.
So, when you start try to take the first work interval at a slower pace and pick it up as the intervals go. This will ensure that you don't burn yourself out too quickly and protect your joints and muscles from a possible injury.
Progress to more complex exercises
Along with slowly increasing your intensity, you'll want to do the same with the exercises you've selected. A bulk of the exercises you do are going to be complex, but you don't want to start with the most complicated one first. Let's say you've selected four exercises to complete in four rounds - Kettlebell swings, step-ups, Russian twists with a medicine ball, and jump squats. In this case, you want to make sure you're not working the same large muscle groups back to back while making sure you start with simpler movements. So, we'd start with step-ups, move on to a Russian twist with a medicine ball, move on to jump squats, and finish off with kettlebell swings.
That way you're not overworking a particular large muscle or overworking yourself at once. The last thing you want to do is jump straight in with sprints or something really high-impact.
Eat the right nutrients before your workout
HIIT workouts are intense, it's in the name! The worst mistake you can do is to load up on a bunch of high-fat, high-carb junk food right before your workout. You need food that will increase your energy levels, not make you feel sluggish, so keep it clean.
Plan on a moderate to high carbohydrate and protein meal 3-4 hours before, or have a snack an hour before if you don't have enough time for a meal. If you're having a meal choose a lean protein with a side of brown rice, quinoa, or any other complex carb, plus a leafy green! For those choosing a snack, have something like a cup of plain, non-fat Greek yogurt topped with fruit, nuts, honey, or any other healthy toppings. Or have a protein shake by blending your favorite Chocolate Cheesecake Whey Protein Powder, a banana, and your favorite beverage 😉
Pre-workout nutrition isn't the only important thing... You also want to make sure you recover properly. And we have an entire article that breakdowns what you should eat after a workout for better recovery!
Hydrate properly and have a pre-workout supplement
Don't forget to hydrate! You're going to be sweating a lot, and you want to make sure you don't get a muscle cramp or feel fatigued, so remember to stay hydrated. Hydration is of the utmost importance and will help ensure your exercise performance doesn't take a dive, but if you want to give yourself an added performance boost consider taking a pre-workout supplement!
Supplements aren't necessary, but they can help improve your exercise performance and even recovery. And pre-workout supplements, like pre-workout powder and BCAA's, can come in handy for HIIT workouts! Pre-workout powder typically contains a stimulant like caffeine and performance-enhancing ingredients, like beta-alanine, that can help take your training to the next level. The right pre-workout, meaning one with effective ingredients at optimal doses, can increase your energy, enhance your focus, and help you push through your intense HIIT workout with maximum effort. A BCAA supplement can also be taken during your HIIT workout to prevent muscle fatigue and help you push through the last few seconds of each set.
Ready for your next HIIT workout?
Knowing how to build and prepare for a HIIT workout will make all the difference in your performance! And you definitely want to make sure you're making the most out of HIIT so all that sweat doesn't go to waste - so follow the above tips to start maximizing your HIIT training!
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