Fit and fine by Kamal Singh CSCS: What is High Intensity Interval Training really?

Is there a right and step-by-step technique to go about it on a daily or weekly basis? And what should you avoid doing?
High intensity Cardio is defined by training at over 85% maximum heart rate (Shutterstock)
High intensity Cardio is defined by training at over 85% maximum heart rate (Shutterstock)
Updated on Nov 13, 2021 09:38 PM IST
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ByKamal Singh CSCS

I recently read an article about how somebody used HIIT to prepare for a trek. He claimed that he did HIIT for an hour thrice a week to prepare for his arduous event. Then I come across trainers who have their beginner clients doing “HIIT” workouts every time they come in to train! So, we have Tabata style (an extreme form of HIIT) core workouts, arm workouts lasting 30 minutes. More on Tabata later. But if you can do a HIIT workout lasting for an hour, is that really high intensity?

The selling proposition of HIIT has been that you do not need an hour of long slow cardio when HIIT can be done for just 10 minutes or so while reaping all the benefits of the traditional cardio. The gullible public has been told over and over again that go hard for ten minutes and then go home. So how did HIIT workouts become sixty minutes long?

Defining High Intensity Intervals

High intensity cardio is defined by training at over 85% maximum heart rate. If you are 30 years old, then the maximum heart rate would be 220-30 is 190 beats per minute. To do high intensity intervals, the 30-year-old would have to go over 85% of the maximum heart rate. Not easy to do and also not a very pleasant experience especially if you are a beginner! Now imagine trying to do this over 60 minutes–nah, try doing it for thirty minutes. It would be virtually impossible for a beginner or even an early intermediate to finish such a session at the required heart rate.

Since it is an interval training program, we need to look at the work to rest ratio. This ratio, aside from the actual duration of the workout is critical for being able to finish the workout and get the required cardiovascular adaptations. Work to rest ratio is the comparison between how much time is spent working/doing high-intensity cardio to the amount of time spent resting. If doing 10-second sprints and resting for 60 seconds, then the work to rest ratio is 1:6. This is where most programs get too ambitious–only the well-conditioned trainee/athlete can have a work to rest ratio of 1:1. So when I see things like 30 seconds on and 30 seconds off for 30 minutes, then all I can do is shake my head in disbelief as whoever wrote that program is out of touch with reality.

This is where my rant against Tabata comes in. Tabata is a specific training protocol – 8 intervals of 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest done on an exercise ergometer–stationary cycle, at maximum heart rate. Read that again please–Prof Izumi Tabata’s cyclists were going at 100% heart rate for 20 seconds, resting 10 seconds for 8 intervals. I would like to see the average gym goer achieve this in the gym! Please notice the work to rest ratio in the Tabata protocol–is 2:1. After a work out like this, most people will not be able to sit up straight, leave aside standing or walking. Rant over.

After a couple of months , you can add two HIIT sessions per week while doing the walk/run sessions twice a week. Do six intervals of sprints/jumping jacks/burpees for 10 seconds, rest 50 seconds (Shutterstock)
After a couple of months , you can add two HIIT sessions per week while doing the walk/run sessions twice a week. Do six intervals of sprints/jumping jacks/burpees for 10 seconds, rest 50 seconds (Shutterstock)

A sensible HIIT program

If you are new to training, then do the following:

•Several weeks of brisk paced walking four to five times a week. Goal is to walk easily at a pace of 6.4 km per hour. Work up to 30 to 45 minutes four to five times per week.

•Then add some running while reducing the walking. Bring the workout time down to 30 minutes per session.

•After a couple of months of doing this, you can add two HIIT sessions per week while doing the walk/run sessions twice a week. Do 6 intervals of sprints/jumping jacks/burpees for 10 seconds, rest 50 seconds. Remember the heart rate has to spike high and stay there for 10 seconds.

•Over the next month work up to 10 intervals of the work-rest ratio of 1:5.

•Next we increase the work interval to 15 seconds and reduce the rest period to 45 seconds. Bring the intervals down to 6 again. Slowly work up to 10 intervals again.

This is the way to introduce a beginner to HIIT. I know this is slow but it avoids all the pit falls of injury, burn out or worse. Please do not be in a hurry to do any of these HIIT workouts which leave you puking on the floor or might even put you in the hospital! It is a cliché but slow and steady wins the high intensity cardio race. Now pick up your stop watch and go.

Kamal Singh is a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist who has been coaching for 15 years

From HT Brunch, November 14, 2021

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Tuesday, November 30, 2021