High intensity interval training (HIIT) programming plays a major role in the design of many fitness programs. As fitness professionals, we integrate HIIT into many of our program formats for small and large group exercise programs as well as the personal training programs we create for our one-on-one clientele.
However, what is authentic HIIT? There really is not a spectrum or gray area when it comes to performing HIIT. You either are, or you are not and there are several indicators of whether you are actually performing HIIT featured this week. If your intention is to perform HIIT and to receive the plethora of benefits specific to this type of training, then doing so authentically is critical. While HIIT is not for everyone, the vast majority of our clientele are able to perform at least some HIIT during their fitness programs. Follow these indicators to ensure you are performing authentic HIIT and enjoy the results! As always, prior to beginning any exercise program, please consult your physician.
Indicator #1 During your training are you able to speak, wipe sweat, drink water—then you are not performing an authentic high intensity interval. This does not mean that you are not working intensely, it simply means that it is not a true high intensity interval. Learn to differentiate between training intensely and training all out at HIIT levels. *If you are new to HIIT, then establish a solid aerobic foundation of training first to ensure your safety and effectiveness of training.
Indicator #2 Are you completely winded, breathless, literally gasping for air during the exertion interval? If so, then you are most likely performing at an exertion level which rises to the heights of authentic HIIT. However, how quickly are you recovering? If the exertion interval is 30 seconds and the active recovery interval is 30 seconds and you are recovered in ten seconds, your body is communicating with you indicating you may be able to exert harder during the exertion interval. While it is generally true the fitter you become the quicker you may recover from exertion, once you are recovered sooner than would be expected, it may be time to kick it up a notch during the exertion interval.
Indicator #3 On the other side of the coin, if you are failing to recover during the active recovery interval, you may be exerting too hard during the exertion phase. You may either skip the next high intensity exertion interval to provide the body with the time to adequately recover enough to exert again, or lower the exertion level during the exertion interval slightly so that you may recover during the active recovery interval.
Indicator #4 Think of HIIT as the hardest you are physically able to exert during a short period of time. HIIT is not training at your threshold two (which is intense but does not rise to HIIT levels). Although threshold two training is hard to very hard, it is not “hardest”. And, while it is very uncomfortable at threshold two, it is somewhat sustainable for a few minutes. HIIT is not sustainable. The very essence of HIIT is that it is unsustainable, short, explosive bursts of power intervals (i.e. strength/speed combined) followed by varied active recovery intervals.