High-intensity interval training is all the rage these days, popping up in gyms, studios and even your favorite fitness apps. As the name implies, it’s an intense workout — one that will burn calories and leave you breathless with its all-out efforts and recoveries. But being able to work to those extremes doesn’t come without a lot of blood, sweat and tears — and, most of all, hard work.
If you’re unfamiliar with high-intensity exercise, getting started can be intimidating, but don’t let that sway you from giving it a try. Here’s what to know before you dive in:
1. NO TWO HIIT CLASSES ARE ALIKE
The acronym itself refers to the type of workout, not a specific regimen. Some HIIT classes have you hoisting heavy objects and sprinting, while others might have you jumping rope and doing burpees. The best gyms and studios mix it up to keep things fresh. So if you try one HIIT class and don’t like it, well, there’s always another one waiting for you.
2. IT’S NOT JUST CIRCUIT TRAINING
You’ve probably done some type of circuit training, even if it’s just bouncing from one machine to the next. In this case, HIIT is more about the timing of the exercises: short bursts of intense activity followed by short periods of recovery. That’s what spikes your metabolism and keeps you burning calories after the workout is done. The actual timing breakdown can vary, but one popular method is called Tabata, which involves 20 seconds of intense work followed by 10 seconds of rest, repeated for 8 rounds. It’s exhausting, but effective.
3. DON’T SKIP THE WARMUP
Any intense activity puts you at greater risk for injury if you’re not properly warmed up. Typically, an instructor-led workout begins with dynamic movements — Think: walking lunges and jumping jacks — which prepare the body for what’s to come better than static stretching.
4. YOU DON’T NEED ANY EQUIPMENT …
High-intensity doesn’t mean heavy weights or complex machines. There are hundreds of bodyweight exercises that can be incorporated into your workout, including squats, pushups and planks.
5. … BUT KETTLEBELLS ARE YOUR FRIEND
The humble kettlebell is a versatile fellow and can be employed in a variety of ways — from swings to raises to curls. They’re a popular tool in HIIT classes, so learn to love them. Or at least learn to tolerate them.
6. YOU’LL BE GASPING FOR BREATH
Unlike steady, cardio-focused activities, like running, and anaerobic exercises, like weightlifting, HIIT workouts keep your heart and lungs guessing. One minute you’re giving your absolute max and the next you could be walking — but you often won’t regain your breath before the next high-intensity interval begins. And that’s OK. This stuff is hard.
7. REST DAYS ARE EXTRA IMPORTANT
When you’re working this hard, it’s important to give your body time to heal. Get plenty of sleep, but also take rest days — either as part of your weekly schedule or as needed. This will not only make you feel better, but will also yield better results from your efforts. So listen to your body. It has important things to say.