Are You Butchering Your HIIT Workout Plan? 5 Signs You May Be…

HIIT Workout Plan

Are You Butchering Your HIIT Workout Plan?


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High intensity interval training (HIIT) burns significantly more fat than traditional steady state cardio. A proper HIIT workout plan also preserves muscle mass much better, and increases your aerobic capacity. In summary, HIIT will boost your performance, health, and your physique.

HOWEVER, most “HIIT” training I see on the internet, group exercise classes, and in certain fitness groups is just flat out WRONG.

Are you really doing high intensity intervals, or just a tough cardio workout?


HERE are 5 signs you are butchering HIIT training, and what you can do to fix it (or just a good read if you want to .

1.  Your rest periods are too short.


High intensity interval training. Keyword: HIGH INTENSITY. If your rest periods are too short, your intensity will not be high anymore because you are not recovered, and thus you won’t be creating an oxygen debt. An oxygen debt is the oxygen you cannot get back into your body during your workout, and thus have to make that debt up post workout. This is what raises your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR). Working at 80-100% of your maximum heart rate (the higher the more intense) is an objective measure you can use to track this. Also, your rate of perceived exertion, which is a subjective scale of how hard you are working (between 1-20) should be between 16-20.


Beginners should aim for a 4:1 work to rest ratio (i.e. 15 seconds of burpees and 45 seconds of rest).

Intermediates should aim for 3:1 work to rest ratio (i.e. 15 seconds of burpees and 30 seconds rest)

Advanced should aim for 2:1 work to rest ratio.


*** If you are an endurance athlete you will work at an even work:rest ratio or a positive ratio.


2.  You are not resting completely between bouts of high intensity exercises.

Most of the HIIT research is done on the tabata protocol. During this, the researchers had subjects perform 10 second sprints on a spin bike, followed by 50 to 90 seconds complete rest. During this 50-90 seconds, they did NOTHING. No light pedaling, no stretching, no 2 pound dumbbell curls- I repeat, nothing!

Guess what? Your run/walk is not HIIT. And further, if you think you’re doing 20 seconds of sprints, your not. Your just running fast. You won’t be able to maintain an all out sprint for more than 10 seconds.


3.  You don’t mix in LIIT, MIIT (Light or Moderate Intensity Interval Training), or even aerobics.


HIIT is pretty taxing on the Central Nervous System. Too long or too frequently done, and you will be overtraining. Overtraining is when your body’s physiological processes haven’t rebounded from the pounding they took during your exercise. You see, there’s a period of compensation between exercise sessions in which your performance measures get worse before you get better (kind of like my experience with therapy, but I digress). Too much HIIT done too often will not allow your body to “super compensate,” where your performance measures are better than before your last exercise session.

Spackle in some Light intensity intervals or moderate intensity intervals instead of HIIT training, and if you’re feeling like complete shit, do some aerobic training.

You can use your Heart Rate max (max HR) percent to determine light, moderate, and aerobic:

Light – 60-70% Max HR.

Moderate – 70-80% Max HR.

Aerobic – 60% and less.


4.  You do Crossfit or other group classes.

AMRAP (as many ROUNDS as possible) has destroyed interval training as we know it. Now, I’m not saying AMRAP doesn’t have a time in place (it’s great for hypertrophy training, but that’s a subject for another blog). Just don’t market AMRAP as high intensity interval training because IT’S NOT!

AMRAP has zero to little rest periods. During Crossfit classes, the only time you’re resting during AMRAP is when you are throwing up or blacking out. Kidding aside, intensity of the exercise drops tremendously as rest decreases.

Depending on your skill level, more than 20 seconds of a given high intensity effort is the max of what you can do. The more advanced you are the higher the intensity the exercise will be. And the higher the intensity, the less time you are able to sustain that work for.


5.  Your exercise selection sucks.


What is high intensity for one person may not be for another.

Some of my more beginner clients will get their heart rate jacked up into an anaerobic zone just by doing simple mobility drills such as spidermans, push up to downward dogs, or even hip striders.

Choosing your exercises appropriate is paramount. If your technique in the given exercise is complete crap, the exercise is not appropriate for you. If your technique is great (don’t worry about maintaining it perfectly through the whole set, it won’t be perfect), then that exercise is appropriate. Let your technique determine your HIIT exercise selection.


Some take home points:


– You need negative work to rest ratios

– Although battling ropes and burpees will get your heart rate the highest, they may not be appropriate for your level and can be replaced with simple mobility drills to get the same effect

– You need to let your body recover

– Your skill level will dictate the duration of your work ratio


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