Posted 04/02/2020 7:13:47 PM by Tanya Colaco


Even if you haven’t tried it yet, you have more than likely heard about High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). But what it is and how do you do it? If you’re new to HIIT or simply want to understand it more, keep reading for an overview and learn how to do HIIT effectively!

What is HIIT, Anyway?

In his review, M. J. Gibala sums up HIIT as “physical exercise that is characterized by brief, intermittent bursts of vigorous activity, interspersed by periods of rest or low‐intensity exercise.” In other words, it’s a high-intensity cardio workout which alternates between all-out, intense exercise in short bursts—think burpees, mountain climbers, jumping jacks, cycling and more—and short periods of rest.

If lack of time is your biggest barrier to exercising, HIIT might be a good option for you. According to Cassidy and colleagues, the total duration of a HIIT session is generally around 20 minutes—of course, that duration can range depending on fitness level and other factors.

Benefits of HIIT Workouts

A shorter workout isn’t the only benefit that HIIT has to offer. As has been concluded time and time again and further reiterated in Hwang and colleagues’ study, improving aerobic fitness lowers the risk of death by cardiovascular disease. And while there are various types of aerobic exercise routines, many studies have shown that HIIT workouts have a far greater impact on improving cardiovascular health than moderate-intensity continuous training (MICT).

When comparing exercise routines in their study, Helgerud and colleagues found that HIIT was significantly more effective at increasing VO2max—i.e. the maximum rate of oxygen consumption, often used as a marker to indicate aerobic fitness—than moderate and low-intensity training.

This was also the case in Hwang and colleagues’ study which compared the effect of MICT and HIIT workouts in a group of healthy, sedentary adults between 55 and 79 years of age.

Other benefits include:
  • An increase in insulin sensitivity[1]
  • Improved skeletal muscle oxidative capacity[2] (To put it in layman’s terms, according to the Oxford Reference, this is "a measure of a muscle's maximal capacity to use oxygen in microlitres of oxygen consumed per gram of muscle per hour.")
  • Moderate weight loss with significant reductions in visceral and hepatic fat[3]

How to do HIIT Effectively: Understanding Intensity and Ratios


When it comes to HIIT, there are two important factors: intensity and ratios. Let’s start with an explanation of the latter.

Typically, you may start with a short warm-up and then do a round of high-intensity exercise for X number of seconds, followed by another X number of seconds of rest or reduced-intensity exercise. After that is done, you’ll repeat the cycle again until it’s time to cool down.

Given the format, it's easy to see why ratios play a big role in effectively doing a HIIT workout. In their article, the YMCA of Greater Brandywine shared some ratio examples which explain how to do HIIT workouts effectively:
  • 1:3 Ratio – This could look like all-out exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of recovery time. If you’re new to HIIT and/or exercising, this format would be more suitable for you.
  • 1:2 Ratio – This could involve all-out exercise for 30 seconds, followed by 60 seconds of recovery time. This would be a good ratio for those who are intermediate exercisers or who’ve been doing HIIT for a while and need to switch up the intensity.
  • 1:1 Ratio – This could be all-out exercise for 30 seconds, followed by 30 seconds of rest/recovery time. This ratio would be best for those who are at a higher fitness level.
  • 2:1 Ratio – Lastly, you could also follow a routine of 60 seconds of all-out exercise, followed by 30 seconds of rest and recovery time. Like the 1:1 ratio, this may be better suited for those who are at a higher fitness level.
As we mentioned, intensity is another important factor when it comes to doing HIIT. To reap the rewards of HIIT, sticking it through those 20, 30 or 60 seconds of intense exercise is key. (Of course, it’s also important to know your limit and listen to your body.)

But what exactly counts as high-intensity? As Vox explains in their article, in order to count as a HIIT workout, a person’s heart rate must reach “at least 80 per cent of its maximum capacity” when exercising. While this sounds daunting, research indicates that this intensity is key to obtaining the benefits we discussed earlier.

Try HIIT at the YMCA

Want to give HIIT a try but not sure where to start? The YMCA offers drop-in Tabata classes which follows a HIIT routine that will challenge you and help you reach your fitness goals. Give it a try if you're looking for a new challenge! 

About Tanya Colaco

Tanya is the Digital Communications and Marketing Coordinator at the YMCA of Greater Vancouver. She’s an avid foodie, enjoys learning new things and loves to travel. Tanya is also an “animal person” and can never resist petting any cat or dog that crosses her path!

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