October 14, 2021 9 min read
This article is an automatic translation from our Original French blog. This text may contain translation errors. Thank you for your understanding.
Regular sport means doing sessions that involve either the whole body or a particular muscle group, or doing cardio exercises such as running. The variety of sessions is crucial, as it is what allows you to progress and avoid falling into a training routine. But then, how do you combine all these different programmes during the week if your schedule or simply your body doesn't allow it? A very specific type of training has been developed for this purpose. It is called High Intensity Interval Training, also known as HIIT, and it is very effective in a short time. Discover or rediscover HIIT through this article!
As we said above, the word HIIT is in fact an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. In French, we prefer the name "Entraînement Fractionné de Haute Intensité", and you will certainly have understood, it is about carrying out a series of exercises, but not under any format.
Indeed, the format is the key word when defining a HIIT session: it is not really a discipline in its own right, but simply a modality of execution. What does that mean? Well, that one of these workouts has the particularity of being composed of very short periods of effort, but which will also be very intense. Add a few intervals of recovery time and you have HIIT!
The real strength of this training lies in the dynamics of the muscles: the intervals are established in a precise enough way to make the whole body work in an "anaerobic" situation. If you don't know what anaerobic training is, there's no problem, we'll talk about it in a bit more detail later. So the effort and rest times are not chosen randomly, and they follow a certain ratio of 1:2. For example, for every 30 seconds of effort there will be 15 seconds of rest, a ratio that must be repeated between each exercise.
Perhaps you are beginning to understand better how HIIT works? Of course, with such short intervals, you'd think that a workout would include a good amount of exercise. And for good reason, a HIIT workout is usually divided into three or even four "circuits", which contain several exercises.
To give you an idea, we set up two circuits, both of which contain different sets of exercises so that the two circuits are 5 minutes each. One circuit is followed by the other during the session, in this case four times. The total duration of this HIIT workout is 20 minutes, as is the case in general. If 20 minutes seems short for a "complete and effective" session, try it, and you may even find yourself having to shorten it. In any case, this is not a problem because there are no rules, there are as many sports as there are athletes! Your training sessions can therefore be much shorter according to your wishes and convenience, for example less than 10 minutes.
Well, now we know a little more about the basic principle of High Intensity Interval Training. Now let us introduce you to the types of exercises associated with HIIT, so that you can get a better idea of the concept. Because so far, a 20 minute split is not much different from a running or jumping rope session. So what exercises are performed during a HIIT session?
With the exception of split running, which is pure cardio, HIIT aims to combine cardio and strengthening. You will find exercises that you would have seen in a classic strengthening session, such as squats, lunges, crunches and sit-ups. Of course, as if all this wasn't sporty enough, other purely cardio exercises are added to the list, such as jumping jacks, knee raises, or even jumping rope (with or without rope!). Some exercises are then more cardio, others renfo, or both, as is the case with burpees!
The series are not necessarily alternated in a cardio / renfo way, the important thing is to integrate the two to have a complementarity of efforts and a full session. In this sense, for a 20 minute workout, you have everything you need to strengthen and tone your muscles, and everything you need to burn a maximum of calories and bad fats at the same time! Seen like that, HIIT seems almost magical. But like all good things, you have to know how to use it without abusing it, by integrating it strategically into your sports routine. This issue will be the subject of another point in this article, rest assured.
In the meantime, if the exercises mentioned above frighten you, don't forget that sport should not be synonymous with constraint, and that you should enjoy your session as much as possible. Beyond the preferences that we all have in terms of exercises, each body is composed differently. As a result, the respective tolerance thresholds vary: this applies to the stresses on the joints as well as to the structure of the muscles. All of these criteria can be a problem for you in some specific exercises, but they can also be advantageous in other situations.
With this in mind, you should make sure you do a suitable session by creating it yourself! The HIIT format has the merit of being very simple to understand and follow, as long as you have a stopwatch. It's easy to choose your own exercises and intervals and write them down to personalise your session! You can also find workouts on the internet, especially on Youtube, where there is something for everyone, and especially for all levels.
Now, let's move on to a more biologically oriented section, as we invite you to better understand why HIIT is so effective in the context of sports practice.
For several years now, the famous High Intensity Fractional Training has been promoted on the internet for its many virtues, one of which is weight loss. Indeed, this aspect of HIIT is of great interest, as fat loss is one of the most widespread objectives in the world of sport, along with fitness. It has to be said that the one does not go without the other: when weight or simply lack of sport starts to be an obstacle in one's health, it is important to react, and this often takes place by losing weight first. Even seasoned athletes sometimes need to lose fat to improve their performance!
But why turn to HIIT more than anything else, and not just cardio and running? One of the main reasons is that the HIIT format is really versatile, as it allows you to kill two birds with one stone. The other interesting reason is the way in which HIIT works the muscles, and more broadly all the cells in our body. To better understand this, we need to go back to the notion of anaerobic effort, something we mentioned earlier.
So, no need to go into too much detail, the bottom line we want to know is: why is HIIT ideal for burning calories fast and losing bad fat? The effectiveness of HIIT is at the cellular level, where the effort is made. To put it simply, each of our cells functions on the basis of the oxygen we inhale. It is also important to know that they have a reserve of energy. So far, so good. However, when the effort is very intense, it can prevent the cells from replenishing their oxygen supply. From then on, it is said to work in an "anaerobic" environment, which literally means "without oxygen".
The purpose of working under this constraint is to induce each of our cells to draw energy from elsewhere. And if there is no oxygen to form energy, the second solution is to create it from its own stock. So the cells will go to their own resources to generate enough energy, and that's where the body burns a lot of calories. But in addition to burning calories, exercising under anaerobic conditions also leads to a faster fat burning process. Because if the body really needs what it needs to do all the exercises, it will strategically search for the elements that are superfluous. In order to generate even more energy when the amount of oxygen is low, the body will literally start burning fat as fuel. As you can see, the intervals chosen for HIIT are not a matter of chance. It is in fact a good compromise that allows the body to enter this fat-burning state, while being efficient and effective.
Of course, this type of effort is very tiring, which is why a simple 15-minute HIIT session can be equivalent to more than 30 minutes of running. You should therefore take it easy when introducing your body to a training style such as HIIT, because in addition to aches and pains, injuries could be waiting for you! Faced with a mechanical stress that your body has never experienced before, your body may be exposed to too much pressure and end up damaged. It is imperative that you start with short sessions, and gradually increase either the challenge or the duration of your session, or both if you feel ready. Needless to say, but let's do it anyway: if you feel the slightest pain, it's a sign to stop training immediately. We can't say it enough, but it's better to take it one step at a time than to try to make giant leaps and end up injured for months. HIIT training is therefore effective to a certain extent if you know your body's limits, and if you manage to do it in a way that is adapted to your other sessions. This is the theme of our fourth point.
The first interesting thing to note is that HIIT is, by definition, a split workout. So of course we have presented it as a combination of strengthening and cardio with an emphasis on bodyweight sessions. Despite this, it is perfectly possible to do any sport in the HIIT format! Be it basketball, running, swimming, really any sport. As long as you consider HIIT for what it is, a type of training, and you don't try to change the nature of the training, you can do absolutely anything you want with it.
This criterion is therefore extremely valuable when we want to adjust our schedule according to our different sessions! Indeed, it is essential for anyone who wants to practise sport safely to plan his or her sessions and to organise them between them. For example, if you work the same muscle group two days in a row, you will, in the best case, perform less well in your session. However, in the worst case, you will be much more likely to injure yourself.
So you can imagine how important organisation is when it comes to sports. For those of you who hate having to draw up a detailed timetable down to the last exercise, rest assured that you don't have to do this to practice sport intelligently. There are only certain reflexes that need to be taken to avoid such shortcomings: making sure you don't work the same muscles twice, taking adequate rest time, and listening to your body are already a good thing.
The HIIT format is convenient for athletes who are hungry for big results and fast, but rest should not be sacrificed: it is an integral part of the process from a muscular perspective. Since HIIT sessions will draw on the body's resources, it is estimated that two days of rest are needed before doing another one. This is a guideline, and if your session leaves you feeling very sore and persistent, it is up to you to see if you feel able to train on sore muscles, taking into account the risks involved.
With this information, we advise you, if you are new to HIIT, to stick to a frequency of one HIIT session per week, before moving on to a different pace. If you are already physically fit and at a sufficient level, you can consider doing up to three sessions per week.
If you opt for one session per week, allow at least one day of total rest following your HIIT session.
If you do several sessions in a week, pay attention to the nature of the sessions: do they work the whole body? If not, which muscle groups are recruited the most? It is important to identify this so that you can work the antagonistic muscles in your future session, especially if you are strengthening. Also, if you rely on the intensity of HIIT workouts to achieve your goals, then you will need to compensate by reducing the intensity of your other sessions. You can't do a lot of fitness sessions one day and then do HIIT the next.
Incorporating high-intensity sessions into your sports schedule is therefore something that needs to be balanced between your availability and your goals. In any case, it is better to do a session than not to do one at all!
30 seconds of effort, 10 seconds of rest between each exercise
40 seconds of effort, 15 seconds of rest between each exercise
The internet is full of HIIT programs of all kinds. You can search for them according to the length of time you want to work, your level, and the body parts you want to work, although in general HIIT is designed to recruit all muscles. Hopefully this article has taught you a few things about HIIT, and afterwards you'll want to get into your gym clothes and give it a go! Thanks for reading, and see you soon!
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