Think of high-intensity interval training (HIIT) as bursts of energy leaving your body at short intervals. These explosions of all-out activity create an oxygen debt in your muscles, a deficit that takes the form of lactic acid buildup. Your body slowly recovers from the anaerobic exercise by burning away the lactic acid. This after-burn lasts long after you wind up your workout.
Another benefit of a HIIT workout is time savings, which is a big selling point for anyone with a busy schedule. High-intensity interval exercises can compress an hour-long workout into a half-hour session. It gets better: A study published in the NIH journal finds that the often shorter HIIT workout still burns more calories than a regular workout.
These are great reasons why you should add HIIT workouts to your weekly fitness regimen.
HIIT workouts and time allocation
So how do you make a high-intensity workout that burns through calories and fat like magic? Each exercise has a slot where you push your body to its limits, followed by a few seconds of rest. Some HIIT routines allocate more time to the activity portion of an exercise, while others allocate more time to rest.
Whatever the time allocation, the point is to pack as many reps as possible into the activity portion of a HIIT exercise. Standard slot formats for HIIT workouts include:
- 30 seconds where you do as many perfect reps as you can, followed by 10 seconds of rest.
- 20 seconds of a challenging exercise and 10 seconds of rest.
- 30 seconds where you do as many perfect reps as you can, followed by 30 seconds of rest.
- 40 seconds of exercise and 20 seconds of rest.
- 20 seconds of intense exercise and 40 seconds of rest.
The ratio of activity to rest depends on the type of exercise you do. For example, a kettlebell swing is a challenging exercise that allocates more time to rest than the actual exercise. People who use HIIT to train for sports requiring powerful bursts of action may have an activity to rest ratio of 1:5. Some trainers will recommend low-intensity activity instead of complete rest.
With that, let’s explore different HIIT exercises to make your fitness routine more enjoyable.
1) Push-ups to work every muscle
It’s time to drop and give the drill sergeant as many push-ups as you can fit in a few seconds. This age-old exercise stands the test of time for a simple reason: It works. Better still, you can modify the pushup to create more of a burn or target specific muscle groups and spare others.
Get in the high plank position with each hand under its respective shoulder. Keep your spine neutral such that your body forms a straight line from neck to ankle. Now do the following:
- Lower your body towards the floor by bending your arms at the elbows. As your body approaches the floor, your elbows should bend towards your body.
- Engage your core and glutes, keeping your spine straight for the next step.
- Use your arms and core muscles to raise your body back to the high plank position.
Perform as many reps as you can in 30 seconds and maintain perfect form for each repetition. Take a ten-second breather before moving on to the next exercise.
2) Add extra steps to the push-up to make a burpee
The burpee is a compound exercise that makes the regular push-up a whole lot more challenging. One repetition of a burpee involves the following steps:
- Stand with your feet at shoulder-width apart and your toes pointing outwards at a slight angle.
- Lower yourself into a squat so that your hands touch the floor.
- Use your hands as your anchor and jump in a way that kicks your feet backward. This action should put you in a raised plank position.
- Now do a push-up by lowering yourself towards the floor and raising yourself back to plank position.
- Jump and bring your feet forward, towards your hands. This action should put you in a crouch position.
- Engage your leg muscles and jump as high as you can, raising your hands above your head as you jump.
Execute as many reps as you can within a 20-second slot, keeping good form for each part of the exercise. The burpee incorporates three explosive exercises to make a hybrid exercise that targets most muscle groups in the body. Rest for 10 seconds and move on to the next exercise station.
3) Plank jack
This is yet another floor exercise that uses your bodyweight to build resistance and endurance in the muscles. A plank jack is simply a jumping jack that you do from a high plank position. Good form is vital if you want your muscles to get the most out of this exercise. Other than the demands that a plank jack makes on the muscles, the exercise is pretty simple:
- Assume a high plank position, with your feet close together and your body forming a straight line from neck to ankle.
- Engage your abs and jump, pushing the feet apart.
- Engage your abs again and jump to bring the feet together.
Try to keep your spine from arching or sagging with each jump you make. Do as many of these lateral jumping jacks as you can in 20 seconds. Then rest for 10 seconds before moving on to the next high-intensity exercise. It’s important to remember that good form will protect you from throwing your back out.
4) Regular jumping jack
There’s a reason why the classics stand the test of time: They are effective. The jumping jack gives you an intense cardio workout that targets most muscles in the lower and upper body.
The starting position for a jumping jack is you with your feet at hip-width. Jump to spread your feet apart as you clap your hands over your head. Now jump to bring your feet together as you lower your arms to your sides.
You can make the exercise more challenging by engaging the core muscles as you raise your hands over your head. Do as many jumping jacks as you can over 40 seconds. You can push yourself to do the exercise for a full minute if you want to catch up with childhood memories. Catch your breath for 20 seconds before moving on to the next exercise.
5) Kettlebell swing
The kettlebell has an uneven weight distribution that can easily knock you off balance. Every exercise you do with a kettlebell forces your muscles to counteract the wayward pull of this odd weight. This puts kettlebell exercises at the top of the list of super-effective resistance exercises.
You start the kettlebell swing in a standing position, with your feet at hip-width apart. Use a two-handed grip to hold on to the kettlebell. Now it’s time to engage different muscles:
- Pull your shoulder blades together, expand your chest and contract the muscles in your core.
- Your knees should be loose and flexible at this point, now bend them and lower your body into a partial squat.
- Swing the kettlebell as you lower your body into a squat and let your hands propel the kettlebell through your legs.
- Raise your torso back to an upright position while swinging the kettlebell forward and upward. You should propel the kettlebell to chest level before doing another rep.
Use your legs and hips to propel yourself upwards as you swing the weight to chest level. You should also engage your core to keep your spine straight as you squat and as you get back to a standing position. The kettlebell swing is a full-body workout that is sure to create an after-burn in all the muscles of the lower and upper body.
Perform as many kettlebell swings as you can in 20 seconds, maintaining perfect form. Rest for 30 seconds and move on to the next exercise. In this case, you can start at the beginning with a quick burst of pushups.
Make each workout count with intense exercises that leave an after-burn
Your fitness journey can be much more effective if you add HIIT workouts to your weekly routine.
Go ahead and craft your own custom routines with high-intensity exercises that you like. If you’re consistent with your HIIT workouts, you’ll enjoy a healthier, leaner, more muscular body. The best part is that the changes you’re looking for will appear sooner rather than later.
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