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The top 3 HIIT workouts

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Ramp up your workouts and fast track your results. Personal Trainer Andrew Cate reveals his three favourite HITT workouts, and how to make the most out of your high-intensity interval training

1. Sprintervals

8 seconds work, 12 seconds rest

This interval training protocol involves intense exercise for 8 seconds, followed by a 12 second recovery phase. The rest phase is 50% longer than the interval phase, making this workout ideal for beginners, or people who are overweight.

Sprintervals how-to

Sprintervals work really well on cardiovascular equipment such as an exercise bike, treadmill, rower or elliptical trainer. Having a clock right in front of you makes it easy to know when to adjust your intensity.

Sprintervals sample session

  • 5 minutes - Warm up at a steady state at an intensity where you start to breathe a little faster and feel warm
  • 8 seconds - Pedal hard and fast, with your revolutions per minutes (RPM) at a pace of around 100
  • 12 seconds - Active rest, so pedal as slow as you like without stopping
  • 10 - 15 minutes - repeat the 8:12 sprinterval routine. Build up the duration as your fitness improves
  • 3 minutes - Cool down by pedalling slowly
  • 2 minutes - Stretch your buttocks, thigh and calf muscles

2. Tabata

20 seconds work, 10 seconds rest

This protocol is more advanced, and involves intense exercise for 20 seconds, followed by a 10 second recovery phase. The rest phase is only half that of the interval phase, making it suitable for people who have established a good base of fitness, or who play sport on a regular basis.

Tabata how-to

The possibilities with the Tabata protocol are endless. You can even incorporate bodyweight exercises!

Tabata sample session

  • 5 minutes - Warm up with a slow jog at an intensity where you start to breathe a little faster and feel warm
  • 2 minutes - Stretch your buttocks, thigh and calf muscles
  • 20 seconds - Sprint as fast as you can
  • 10 seconds - Active rest, so walk slowly or jog slowly on the spot and catch your breath
  • 20 seconds - Push ups (as many as you can while maintaining good technique)
  • 10 seconds - Active rest, so walks slowly or jog on the spot and catch your breath
  • For the next 5 - 10 minutes, alternate between sprints and body weight exercises such as squat jumps, lunges, sit ups, dips, planking and bridge ups
  • 3 minutes - Cool down by walking slowly and breathing deeply
  • 3 minutes - Stretch your chest, back, buttocks, thigh and calf muscles

3. Fartlek

Random work and rest intervals Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”, but when it comes to HITT, it basically means random intervals. While the two HITT protocols mentioned above are highly structured and time based, Fartlek is the complete opposite.

There are no predetermined time formats to follow, so you can work to your own interval intensity and recovery, and respond to how you’re feeling on the day. It’s also a great way to prevent training boredom, because every workout is different.

Fartlek how-to

If you are out walking, running or cycling, you can incorporate short, high intensity bursts and recovery periods using parked cars, trees, driveways or telegraph poles as markers. For example, you could sprint for three street poles, and then walk the next three. Or you could sprint along the straight sections of road, and walk round the corners to recover. 

You can also apply the Fartlek principle to paddling or swimming by alternating between fast and slow speeds for 10 - 20 strokes / paddles at a time. Get creative, and make up your own adventure!

How to get the most out of HIIT

  • Warm up first - HITT places strong demands on your muscles and joint. Make sure to help your body transition from a resting state to an active one by performing some light cardio before your HITT workouts. Stretching or yoga should also be part of your overall routine to prevent injury
  • Gradually build intensity - Don't push yourself to extremes in your first few HITT workouts. Allow a few weeks for your fitness to improve before performing all out efforts. You can also gradually reduce the duration of your recovery rounds
  • Don't perform HIIT every workout - Variety is good for your mind and body. Include different training durations and intensities as part of your overall schedule, and alternate between HITT and steady state workouts