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Burn More Calories in Less Time with HIIT

Make the Most of Every Workout Minute
  -- By Dean Anderson, Fitness & Behavior Expert
What if there was a way to burn more calories, lose more fat and improve your cardiovascular fitness level while spending less time doing cardio? If you think this sounds too good to be true, think again. If you want to take your fitness and fat loss to the next level—without spending more time in the gym—it's time to take a look at high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT.

Notice that I didn’t say HIIT would be easier, just that it would take less of your time. In fact, the HIIT approach to cardio exercise is very physically demanding, and isn’t for everyone. If you have any cardiovascular problems or other health concerns that limit your ability to exercise at very intense levels, or if you're relatively new to aerobic exercise or not already in good shape, you should probably hold off on HIIT—at least for now. If you're not sure whether it's safe for you, check with your medical professional.

What Is High-Intensity Interval Training?

HIIT is a specialized form of training that involves short intervals of maximum intensity exercise separated by longer intervals of low to moderate intensity exercise. To reap the benefits, you need to push yourself past the upper end of your aerobic zone and allow your body to replenish your anaerobic energy system during the recovery intervals. HIIT offers several advantages that traditional steady-state exercise can’t provide: The key element that makes HIIT different than other forms of interval training is that the high-intensity intervals involve maximum effort, not simply a higher heart rate. There are many different approaches to HIIT, each involving different numbers of high- and low-intensity intervals, different levels of intensity, different lengths of time for each interval and different numbers of training sessions per week. If you want to use HIIT to improve performance for a particular sport or activity, you can tailor your program to those specific needs and demands.


General HIIT Guidelines

A Sample Progressive HIIT Program

Please adhere to the general HIIT guidelines above for this program. To maximize fat loss, maintain an intensity level of 60 to 70 percent of your maximum heart rate (RPE of five to six on the 10-point scale) during warm up, cool down and recovery intervals.

Week  Warm  up  Work Interval (Max Intensity)  Recovery  Interval
(60-70% MHR)
 Repeat Cool
 Workout  Time
 1  5 min.  1 min.  4 min.  2 times  5 min.  20 min.
 2  5 min.  1 min.  4 min.  3 times  5 min.  25 min.
 3  5 min.  1 min.  4 min.  4 times  5 min.  30 min.
 4  5 min.  1.5 min.  4 min.  2 times  5 min.  21 min.
 5  5 min.  1.5 min.  4 min.  3 times  5 min.  26.5 min.
 6  5 min.  1.5 min.  4 min.  4 times  5 min.  32 min.
 7  5 min.  2 min.  5 min.  3 times  5 min.  31 min.
 8  5 min.  2 min.  5 min.  4 times  5 min.  38 min.

After completing this eight-week program, you can continue increasing the number of work intervals per session, the duration of work intervals or both.

If you find that this schedule is too difficult or too easy, make adjustments to the duration and/or number of high-intensity intervals as necessary. For example, if you want to train for very short, frequent bursts of maximum intensity activity, your program could involve sprinting for 20 seconds and jogging or walking for 60 seconds, and repeating that 15 to 20 times per session.

You don’t need to swap all of your aerobic exercise for HIIT to gain the benefits. A good balance might be two sessions of HIIT per week, along with one to two sessions of steady-state aerobic exercise. As usual, moderation is the key to long-term success, so challenge yourself, but don’t drive yourself into the ground. Get ready to see major changes in your body and your fitness level.