It’s a love-hate relationship, working out.
And if you’re like most people, spending hours on end at the gym for just a few perceived benefit will suck big time. Hence the increasing popularity of high intensity training (HIIT) amongst fitness gurus.
But what IS the best HIIT workout? Go big or go home right?
The answer, unsurprisingly, depends on whether your goal is fat loss, muscle gain, increased athletic performance or simply full body transformation. The HIIT program you pick should ensure you reach your goal faster (though not easier) and with more visible results.
It’s simply following a “smarter” cardio workout routine.
In this article, I’ll be showing you a complete HIIT program for each goal type, and towards the end, you’ll learn how you should be eating to complement your training. Because the two usually go hand in hand.
High Intensity Interval Training Basics
Table of Contents
- 1 High Intensity Interval Training Basics
- 2 8 Week HIIT Program For Fat Loss
- 2.1 HIIT For Muscle Gain
- 2.2 HIIT Maintenance / Anaerobic and Aerobic Endurance
- 2.3 How You Should Eat To See HIIT Results
First get the definition right. Any good high intensity workout is designed to get your heart rate as close to it’s max (90 – 95%), as fast as possible. You then take a break for a bit and do it all over again. So it’s high intensity, rest (for what seems like the blink of an eye) and more training.
Try using a heart rate monitor to keep things in check so you don’t over exert yourself.
Work:rest ratio varies, so you can either make the high intensity and resting period equal in a 1:1 ratio (e.g 20 sec intense workout, 20 secs rest). Or make them unequal, e.g 3:1 ratio (30 sec workout, 10 secs rest).
To see results, you’ll need to increase the number of reps per rounds as weeks go by.
Alright now that you know this, you’ll get why I recommend cardio for HIIT instead of just weights and squats.
Hence your focus should be on cardio like sprinting (notice how sprinters, like Usain Bolt, tend to be well defined) or liberally using the cardio machine. Of course you can throw in a few squats here and there (cause leg day), but the idea is to treat HIIT like it’s definition – intense cardio.
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Here are some great HIIT cardio workouts you can do:
- curls with resistant bands
- High knees
- Sprints (on treadmill or outdoors)
- Fast Feet Shuffle
- Jump Rope (invisible rope if you will)
- Burpees, learn how do it correctly
I’ll go into more detail about how much or how little to do in each program type (muscle building, fat loss) and why. I just want to make a quick point about pre-workout first.
It’s really easy to get a sprain or pull a muscle if you jump right into cardio. So do your due diligence first.
A five minute pre-workout stretch should keep those muscles from doing zombie impressions the next day. Do a full body scan for tight muscles during your warm up, then attack said tight muscles.
You can throw your heel on a bench and reach forward towards your toes to stretch your hamstrings before a particularly tough lower body HIIT.
For an upper body stretch, you can attach a resistance band to a chin-up bar and pull. 20 reps each should suffice. For a full body stretch, try side to side trunk twists. Hopefully you get the gist by now. Stretches or stitches.
8 Week HIIT Program For Fat Loss
Sadly there are no overnight remedies for fat or weight Loss. But a high intensity interval training can get you there fast (https://dc.etsu.edu/etd/123/) because it helps you burn more fat even when in a resting metabolic rate. At least way faster than other steady state exercises like jogging will.
This program will be divided into three stages, in increasing level of skill; amateur, intermediate and guru. Note that you’ll mostly use full body training workout exclusively during HIIT for fat loss.
Stage 1: Amateur (first two weeks)
- You’re just starting so aim for an easy work:rest ratio, about 1:2 should do (about 30 secs high intensity, 60 secs rest will do)
- Remember some of the cardio i suggested earlier? After your warm up, you can do a fast feet shuffle, rapid movement of your feet while on the spot.
Notice how in the video he takes his rest with side jumps? They’re less intensive, you can do that during rest instead of sitting down to catch your breath. This is just a suggestion of course.
- Repeat for about 10 to 15 mins, 2 – 4 days per week for the first two weeks.
- Don’t forget to bring your A-game during High Intensity.
Stage 2: Intermediate (week 2 – 5)
- Still feeling a few cramps here and there? The more you work those muscles, the easier it gets.
- You can decrease the work:rest ratio now, from your amateur weeks, so that they’re equal (1:1), you’ll also need to increase the number of reps. Hence, if you maxed out at 15 mins before, try pushing yourself to 20 mins.
- Instead of having a complete rest, you can do a few low intensity workouts, so if you’re sprinting for 30 secs you can slow down to a brisk walk for 30 secs.
- Make sure you’re doing this at least 4 times a week.
Stage 3: Guru (5-8 weeks)
- By now you should know what works for you. At the very least have a routine that doesn’t bore you.
- work:rest ratio can be cut in half to at least 2:1, with more reps to be done (and total workout should increase to about 25 mins by now).
- For the weight loss program, you can take 2 days off to chill. This is temporary till you reach your desired weight, then you’ll be working out for maintenance (check the maintenance section).
You can take your time at each stage, there’s no rush. If you spend more than 2 weeks in the first stage it’s fine. Ditto if a stage seems too easy for you. Just skip it.
HIIT For Muscle Gain
Can you make your biceps grow biceps? If only.
To gain muscle, your training will need to alternate, daily, between lower and upper body workouts.
- For upper body workouts, do fast pushups – I know it sounds bad now, but actually doing it is much worse. The number of reps you’ll need depends on your level. Beginners can limit themselves to 5 – 8 rounds, made up of 30 secs push ups with 60 secs rest. While intermediates and gurus can steadily increase to 15 and 20 reps respectively, but with less rest at each level.
- For lower body workouts, try infinite squats. Remember to position your feet firmly apart, slightly arch your spine and get going. If you’re still not clear, you can watch this instructional video (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=aclHkVaku9U) to learn the proper way of squatting. It would suck if after enduring squats, you end up injured, or worst, without any muscle gain.
So your program should look something like this:
Day one – fast pushups, 5 to 8 reps for Beginners (3 reps increments for each level of difficulty)
Day two – squats, again 5 to 8 reps for beginners. By the second or third week, you should be doing at least 10 rounds.
Day three – you can do a full HIIT body workout, take a break from upper and lower body workouts, say sprint with a walk rest.
Day four – get back to upper body workouts
Day five – your last workout day, lower body exercises. 5 to 8 reps, 30 secs each.
Take a break by the weekend. Remember once more that this is just a suggested timeline for your routine. If you can do better, just do it. Likewise if the routine is too demanding for you, slow down.
HIIT Maintenance / Anaerobic and Aerobic Endurance
First what’s the difference between aerobic and anaerobic? This guy explains it pretty well:
If you didn’t watch the video, aerobic exercises require your respiratory systems and heart to work overtime, so low impact exercises, but not necessarily low intensity.
Anaerobics, on the other hand, are those hardcore workouts, with high impacts, like weight lifting. Your heart is not beating overtime, but at some point your body will release a lactic acid if you keep exerting yourself. This lactic acid released proceeds an oxygen debt.
Your heart, struggling to “catch it’s breath”, uses up this lactic acid instead for energy.
So during anaerobic exercises you can work out for longer periods even without oxygen because your heart and lungs use up lactic acid instead.
Building your endurance will require both anaerobic and aerobic exercises. The program is quite easy to follow;
Don’t perform full body weights (weights for each body part) two days in a row. Mix high intensity workouts in between.
Your workouts should be; day one, full body weights, day two, high intensity exercises and so forth. Till you have a rest day.
Beginners should always perform short reps, 5 to 30 secs. While gurus can perform 1 to 2 mins reps.
Remember to set your pace and increase your reps and rounds with weekly increments as you develop more endurance.
Best HIIT Cardio Machines
Funny enough, the best HIIT workouts like sprinting, do not need machines. Just good old mother nature, or a track field.
Most gyms, however, come equipped with various HIIT cardio machines like;
- Treadmills, most effective energy burner (as long as you’re not walking on it)
- Stair Mills
- Spin Bikes, for the occasional thigh whopping
- Rowing machines
How You Should Eat To See HIIT Results
Not exactly Dwayne The Rock’s diet, but close enough. Just kidding. It’s your workout goal again that will determine what You eat.
HIIT Fat Loss Diet
Just because you’re trying to loose body fat doesn’t mean you get to skip meals. What do you think fuels your exercise?
Since the recommended daily calorie intake is 2000 (for women) and 2500 (for men), you should cut down 500 calories from your daily intake if you want to see some results.
Note that cutting down more than 500 calories while performing HIIT can harm you.
That said, your meals should contain at least
- 40% protein (milk, fish, or eggs for damage repairs)
- 40% fats (healthy omega 3 fats e.g found in olive oil)
- 20% carbonhydrate, for refueling your glycogen
- and obviously lots of fluids
Muscle Gain Diet For HIIT
Starve your body of enough food, and it will just convert your hard earned muscles into energy. You’d probably get jitters if you don’t eat well anyhow, so you’ll probably put anything you come accross into your mouth.
Right now you should try to remember how to eat properly. You’ll need at least 500 calories more than your normal calorie intake, comprising of
- Lots of protein (40%)
- High Carbs (45 _ 50%)
- low fats
Your normal diet. Stick with the 2000 daily calories (35% protein, 40% carbs and 25% fats). Develop a habit of eating whole foods.
What to Reasonably Expect From HIIT
HIIT is a proven faster, though not easier, way of achieving your goals. So be prepared to have visions of your lungs and heart giving out. This is only common when you’re just starting out.
As you follow through with your program, especially with anaerobic and aerobic HIIT, your body should gradually develop some resistance to death visions (fatigue).
Athletes aren’t superhuman after all, they’re just people with more body building secrets than the average population.
While I can’t promise with certainty that you’ll have achieved your fitness goal after completing an eight week high intensity interval training program, you can be sure that if you follow through with your plan religiously, you will notice some changes in your physique.
Getting the answer to “what is the best HIIT workout?” begins with you asking yourself, “what do I want my body to look like?” Because workout routines are a dime a dozen.
Ever heard of people complaining about becoming muscular when they just wanted to loose weight?
Not following instructions can do that.
To loose some body fat, try sprinting with short rests in between. Building muscles requires lower and upper body workouts with full body workouts sparsely thrown in.
Lastly, gaining endurance and maintaining your muscle with HIIT requires mixing up full body weights with HIIT workouts every other day.
If there’s a lesson to learn in HIIT it’s this; someone got tired of doing the same old standard workouts with little results and followed their instincts.
So should You!