Ester Marsh: What is HIIT?

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 15, 2023

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. The exact definition is that it’s a form of interval training that is characterized by near maximal efforts. HIIT is not just for young and/or fit people. From the elderly to the obese, it helps to improve mental health and cognitive function, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, chronic disease, and the list goes on. Solid research has been done that high intensity interval training is very successful. Two things, check with your doctor first if HIIT is for you. Second, work on heart rate and/or perceived exertion. As a 56-year-old, I deduct my age from 220 and get 164, which is my maximum heart rate (MHR).

For HIIT training, I could do something like this after a good warm up: 1 minute at 85 percent of my MHR which for me is around 139 beats per minute (BPM) then one minute at about 65 percent at about 106 BPM. Depending on the fitness level is how many sets you do, or what kind of intervals you choose. In my classes, even with my older active adults and specialty classes I like to throw in HIIT. When we do, I like to do something like 20 to 30 seconds of intense activity, a 10-second rest, eight sets and 1-minute recover. Anywhere from 5 to 10 big sets. In group exercise classes we typically do not wear a heart strap. Of course, with all the many gadgets out there you can set your watch to let you know where your rate is during the exercise.

I always tell my class participants and clients to listen to their body. How do you perceive how the workout is? I like to use the 1 to 10 scale — at 10 I am ready to pass out, at 1 I am at rest. Around 85 percent would be an 8½ and a 6½ would be 65%. Especially when you are on certain medicine or a pacemaker you must go by perceived exertion.

Most of the time we hear HIIT we think burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbing and so on. But HIIT can also be performed in the pool. Swim one length as fast as you can, swim one length slowly, then rest. Work your way up in sets and decrease rest, the better you get. Or on the stationary bike, go 1 minute at 85 percent HR (fast) and 1 minute at 65 percent HR (slower). Or on a treadmill 30 seconds jog/run, 1 minute walk. Or 1 minute on a 10 percent incline, 2 minutes on a flat. Or speed walk, jog or run for the length of the track/ gym and recover walk on the short ends.

Most of the time your total time for safety and effectiveness of HIIT is around 30 minutes. Start with with once a week and work up to 2 times per week depending how your body adapts to and feels like during and after the workout. For total body fitness you also need to include endurance, strength and flexibility in your workout schedule. High Intensity Interval Training can be done safely and effectively. But always listen to your body and remember, it’s your journey!

Ester H. Marsh is health and fitness director of the J.F. Hurley Family YMCA.