HIIT training is a useful tool to improve cardiovascular health, lose fat and improve overall fitness. We see it talked about in most classes, training sessions and gyms. A lot of people associate HIIT training with sprints, but a recent study found that HIIT training on a bike showed similar results as sprint workouts. This is important because biking has a lot less impact on the body compared to sprinting, which is great news for older populations.

Another recent study used biking intervals for a total of 60-second intense bouts of work in a 10-minute workout for a 30-minute weekly total. They then compared the 10-minute bouts to longer duration workouts of 50-minutes with a total of 150-minutes per week. They found that the 60-second interval group had similar benefits as the longer duration group. Without a doubt HIIT training has benefits while consuming less of our time—which also makes it a useful tool for the busy individual. Now let’s dive into how to structure your own HIIT work and different means of doing so.

Choosing your training intensity

 An intensity that matches your training experience is a huge part of successful HIIT. A lot of people see intensity and instantly think about maximum efforts—while this is true—maximum efforts are relative to experience. For example, if you read you should train at 90 percent intensity when you’re not accustomed to HIIT training already, you’re setting yourself up for failure. The ideal range of intensity I go by for my clients ranges from 70-90 percent of your max heart rate.

How do I find my maximum heart rate?

The basic maximum heart rate calculator (MHR) requires little calculating. It should be noted though, that in some cases this number can actually underestimate heart rates for older individuals (just by a few though).

220 – Your age = MHR
Example: 220 – 23 (my age) = 197 (beats/minute)= MHR

How do I find my training intensity?

This can be the tricky part of structuring HIIT workouts on your own. Like stated above the ranges we’re going to use are 70-90 percent of our heart rate max. Intensity should be chosen on your experience and tolerance levels. Someone who’s new to HIIT training should not start with 90 percent training intensity. I’ve always found it’s easier to underestimate and increase if needed, than to start too high and realize you overestimated what you’re capable of.

MHR x .7 = 70% training intensity
MHR x .9 = 90% training intensity

My personal example below would look like this.

197 x .7 = 138 – 70% training intensity
197 x .9 = 177 – 90% training intensity

70 percent is the lower training zone—which is ideal for beginners or those with less experience—think casual: gym-goer, new runners, or clients who need lower impact activity. While 90 percent is on the higher end for those with more experience—think avid: lifters, athletes and runners.

How should I structure my HIIT workout?

Besides intensity: rest and work time are both important variables to consider when creating a HIIT workout. There are multiple ways to assess your work to rest ratio and these include: physical readiness, heart rate, ratings of perceived exertion, and lastly a pre-dictated work:rest ratio. For the sake of argument and brevity we’re going to use the work:rest ratio.

Beginners usually benefit best with a 1:3 work to rest ratio (sometimes higher if you’re very new). For example, 3-minutes of work at your target intensity, would then equate to 9-minutes of rest. 1-minute work: 3-minute recovery.

 Advanced populations can use smaller ratios like a 1:2 ratio and sometimes less. Example, 3-minutes of work would equate to 6-minutes of rest.

**When using a work:rest ratio start small and work your way up, starting with something as much 20-minutes of work can be counterproductive. It’s also important to note that with work to rest ratios the total work and rest can be divided as needed for your program. Example, 1-minute of work can be split into three 20-second bouts. **

Means of achieving HIIT work

This is where you get to test yourself as a trainer. One, you need to have your goal set and workout structure created. Two, when going through a HIIT workout it’s up to you to track and be strict with your heart rate and intensity. Three, avoid being lax with your work:rest times, listen to your body, but be true when you to push harder and when you’re at your threshold. A few examples of ways to perform HIIT world include…

Circuit workouts
Fitness classes

Any workout that can bring your heart rate to your target intensity and with proper structure can be used as some form of HIIT training. Check back as the summer progresses for examples of HIIT workouts in each of these categories—happy training!