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    HIIT Workouts for Every Fitness Level

    With the emergence of HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) workouts, people are discovering that dropping fat doesn’t require long and grueling cardio sessions.  I’ve discussed the benefits of HIIT workouts versus slow-go cardio in another article (HIIT vs. Steady State Cardio), so I won’t belabor that point here.  In brief, HIIT cardio is a short yet effective means of promoting fat loss and cardio-respiratory health.  A beginner can see results within a few weeks by following a routine that includes just 10 minutes of HIIT 3 times a week.  HIIT in combination with resistance training can do wonders for your physique.

    Let’s cover a few things about HIIT.  You have to have an idea of what constitutes a high-energy output on your part, and you have to be willing to push yourself to that point.  If you’re the kind of person who gets winded easily by walking up a flight of stairs, your “high-intensity” point will be lower than someone who has been training for some time.  A HIIT workout fluctuates fairly rapidly between periods of high-intensity output and moderate-intensity ‘active rest’.  The high-intensity period should require significantly more energy and focus than the low-intensity period.  You may have to experiment with your intensity levels at first, but you’ll figure it out fairly quickly.  Nevertheless, to short yourself of the high-intensity intervals is to short yourself on progress.  If we’re interested in maximum results in the minimum time, the short workouts have got to be done with as much intensity as can be safely mustered.

    That being said, your high-intensity periods should force you to dig in and focus all your attention on finishing the interval but not leave you breathless or gasping for air.  After your high-intensity interval, you should be able to resume a normal (though slightly more rapid than resting) rate of breathing within a minute or so.

    What follows are several HIIT workouts that will do wonders for your fitness and fat reduction goals.  The workouts progress from easy (4 to 1 Ratio) to more difficult (1 to 4 Ratio).  Each workout should be no shorter than 10 but no longer than 25 minutes in duration.

    The 4 to 1 Ratio HIIT Workout

    This is a great workout for beginners due to the longer rest periods between high-intensity intervals.  For the purposes of discussing HIIT (here and in the subsequent workouts below), I’ll speak in terms of warm-up, moderate-intensity interval, high-intensity interval, and cool down.

    The 4:1 ratio workout begins with a 2 minute warm-up at a low-intensity level.  The warm-up is designed to get the muscles accustomed to the work that is about to take place.  By the end of your warm up period, your heart should be beating a little faster than normal and your muscles should feel warm.

    After the warm-up, the speed is increased for moderate-intensity interval.  For simplicity, we’ll say that the moderate-intensity interval will last 2 minutes.  After the 2-minute moderate-intensity interval, it’s time for the high-intensity interval, which is ¼ the duration of the moderate-intensity interval – in this case, 30 seconds.  Repeat this moderate/high pattern 3 more times.  After the last high-intensity interval, reduce the speed to what it was during the warm up.  This is the cool down phase and will last as long as it takes to bring the heart rate and breathing back to fairly normal rates.

    In a nutshell, the 4:1 HIIT Workout looks like this:

    • 2-minute low-intensity warm up (say, 3 mph on a treadmill)
    • 2-minute moderate-intensity interval (4 mph)
    • 30-second high-intensity interval (6 mph)
    • (repeat the moderate/high-intensity pattern 3 more time)
    • Low-intensity cool down as long as is needed.

    Your specific speeds will vary according to your current level of fitness.  The above numbers are examples only.

    The total length of time required for this workout (not including cool down) is 12 minutes.  Provided your high-intensity intervals are making you really work (without gasping), that’s plenty of time for a beginning HIIT workout.

    The Half-Pyramid HIIT Workout

    The half-pyramid is best described as a gradual increase in intensity with a sudden drop off at the end.  For example, let’s say Bob is starting his HIIT workout at 3.0 mph on the treadmill.  He’ll stroll along at 3.0 for 2 minutes or so to get warmed up before increasing the intensity to 4.0.  He’ll hold 4.0 for a set period (say, 30 seconds to 1 minute) before bumping it up to 4.5.  Each interval is of equal duration: 4.0, 4.5, 5.0, 5.5.  After the highest (most intense) interval, Bob will drop his speed to 4.0 again and repeat the cycle.  The 4th time through, he will hold the highest speed for twice as long as before (5.5 for 1-2 minutes) before dropping his speed to 3.0 for as long as it takes to cool down and resume a fairly normal rate of breathing.

    Remember that your starting point and high point might be higher or lower than the example given above based on your level of fitness.

    Reverse Half Pyramid HIIT Workout

    Similar to the half pyramid, the only difference here is that the high-intensity interval is followed by a gradual decline in intensity.  Using Bob as our example again, after starting out with a 2-minute warm up at a moderate-intensity (3.0 mph) he bumps the intensity to the high point (5.5 mph) and gradually works down from there (5.5, 5.0, 4.5, 4.0) with each speed being of equal duration.  The cycle is repeated 4 times and Bob finishes with a cool down period similar to the above examples.

    2 to 1 Ratio HIIT Intervals

    Just as the name suggests, this workout involves periods of moderate-intensity that are twice as long as the high-intensity intervals.  After the usual 2-minute warm up period, there is a 2-minute moderate-intensity interval.  A one-minute high-intensity interval follows before dropping down to the moderate-intensity again.  Repeat the low-high cycle 4-5 times before cooling down.

    At this point in your training cycle, holding a high-intensity interval for 60 seconds should take focus but will not be impossible.  Of course, listen to your body and be safe.

    1 to 2 Ratio HIIT Intervals

    Take the previous workout and invert it: 1 minute moderate-intensity intervals followed by 2 minute high-intensity intervals.  Keep the same warm up period and take time to sufficiently cool down after the workout.

    1 to 4 Ratio HIIT Intervals

    With this workout, we are inverting the 4 to 1 workout by making the high-intensity portion of the workout 4 times longer than the moderate-intensity interval.  This requires a strong cardio-respiratory system and a lot of mental and physical toughness.  Always warm up sufficiently and cool down completely after this style of HIIT training.

    Summing Up

    Remember that none of the above workouts should be longer than 25 minutes in length (not including the cool-down period) and post-workout eating should not occur for 30-60 minutes post workout.  Water should be consumed as necessary before, during, and after HIIT training.  Of course, no workout can undo the damage caused by poor dietary practices.  Remember, you can’t out-train a bad diet.

    Each workout should be a little more intense than the one before it.  If you started on Monday at 4.0 for a moderate intensity level, start a little higher than that on Wednesday – 4.2 for example.  Then go for 4.5 on Friday.  The goal is progress over time, and upping your intensity levels each time will help you achieve that goal.

    HIIT will burn some serious calories and get your metabolic fires roaring.  Try these workouts in succession 3 times a week for 16 weeks (3 weeks each for the first 4 varieties and 2 weeks each for the last 2).  Couple these HIIT workouts with a proper diet and weight training 3 times a week, and you’ll soon be turning heads everywhere you go!

    Be well!

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