High Intensity Interval Training - explained

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is a great method for reshaping your body.  It taps into your metabolism and burns fat for hours afterward. I spent many years doing “cardio” with very scant results. I learned and believed that if I kept my heart rate in the ‘fat burning zone’ for 45 minutes that that would be the best use of my time and energy. But I couldn’t drop those last few pounds around my middle.

Then I discovered and practiced HIIT and I could literally see results on my body within weeks.  I’m going to explain the basic premise of the technique that I’ve been using to keep myself lean. This article is not for people who still need to be convinced that HIIT is the way to go.  For that, I will refer you to this article:

What I’m doing here, is explaining how you can start to reap the benefits of this powerful technique. It will require a timer and an activity; that’s all. Running, swimming, jumping rope, burpees, climbing a tree.... anything that you can do with the proper intensity will work. As you learn the technique you can better determine what sort of activity you’d like to apply to it.
I like to use a convoluted form of calisthenics because of the way it also simultaneously develops strength and flexibility in my body as I'm increasing my metabolism. The more I can accomplish as once, the more I like it.

Here are the rules: We want to perform the activity with as much intensity as we can for a very short amount of time (as in “sprints”) and then rest for a short amount of time. I can’t tell you how to achieve the intensity.  Frankly, that will be different from person to person and from day to day with each person as the situation changes. But you can gauge your intensity using a scale of 1-10. 1 = resting and 10 = maximum intensity. You want to get as close to a 10 as possible without sacrificing proper form and without causing undue discomfort.

In a sample HIIT workout, you’d warm up for about five minutes.  This is easy movement that mimicks the type of movements you’ll be using in your intensity intervals. You want to initiate a warming response.  You’ll literally feel an increase in the temperature of your body and you’ll feel an increase in the free movement of your joints.

For this sample, I’ll use running as my activity, but as I said, you can use this technique with many different types of activities.  After you’ve warmed up, you’ll follow the timer.  You’ll run as fast as you can for 20 seconds and then walk slowly for 10 seconds. Then you’ll run again AS FAST AS YOU CAN for 20 seconds and then walk slowly for 10 seconds. Repeat this 8 times and then rest for a full minute. The whole set takes four minutes and then you’ll rest for another minute, for a five minute total set. Repeat that four to six times, perhaps doing a different activity for each five minute set, and you’ve got a complete workout.  The whole thing, including a five minute warm up and a five minute cool down shouldn’t take more than 40 minutes.

I was trying to teach this technique to a client who insisted that she couldn’t maintain the intensity because of her weight. But she only said that because she didn’t understand what I meant by intensity. If she feels like she has to run at a certain speed to achieve the intensity, then she’s correct; she can’t do that. But that’s not what I’m asking. I’m asking her to run as fast as SHE can. It may not be very fast at all, but as long as she perceives it as very intense, and she’s not causing herself undue harm or discomfort then she’s doing it right.  As long as the work portion of the workout is hard enough that she is out of breath, she’s probably doing it hard enough.

And then she would report back to me that she did her intervals, but she increased her work section to 3 minutes because she felt she couldn’t achieve the intensity she needed in only 20 seconds. This, however, is exactly the opposite of what I’m asking. If she can do it for 3 minutes then she’s not using near enough intensity. In fact, even those 20 seconds should be challenging. By the time the timer is reading “18, 19, 20!” you should be really feeling that you’re on your edge.

It is important to remember that you adjust your intensity based on your bodies ability. So as you get more and more fit, you will be running faster during the 20 second WORK period.

As far as the 10 seconds of rest goes, it shouldn’t quite feel like enough.  As you get more and more fit, you will recover more and more quickly. In the beginning, you may even want to rest for 15 or 20 seconds, but don’t allow yourself to recover fully before the next work session begins. This is supposed to be quick and taxing. 

The great thing about this technique is that it works really well.  If you do it correctly, you’ll be feeling the burn all day. Your metabolism will literally be higher for hours and hours afterward.  Doing this type of exercise for half an hour three times per week will change your body.

Please ask me questions if you’re unclear about anything.  And if you’ve tried this technique and have any questions or comments about it, please share them with me.  I’d love to hear about your experiences.


I'm worn out just reading about it. You explained it perfectly. I've never done High Intensity Interval Training...I actually thought it was something different than what you explained. I thought it was going from activity to activity without resting...like the Triathalon.

I like the skivvies you have on, too.
Thank you for bringing that up, Jill.

What you're describing is called Circuit Training. The idea is more akin to aerobics than Interval Training in that your goal in CT is to maintain an elevated excited state for the whole workout, which can take 20 to 40 minutes, while your goal in IT is to increase and recover, increase and recover, etc. You'll notice that in Circuit Training, they switch stations very fast. This is so their heart rate DOESN'T drop. HIIT wants your heart rate to drop each time. The sooner it drops after cessation of exercise, the better fitness you have.

And the skivvies are a tribute to the "Warrior" nature of my workouts. I'd also be holding a spear if I had one and it were safe. LOL A friend and fellow artist, who also happens to be a Lakota Indian, made me those to work out in. He also gave me a Lakota name, Ska Akicita, which means White Warrior.

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