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A Guide to Exercise: How to Incorporate HIIT Workouts at Home and Gym

Director Cardiology, Fortis Escorts Hospital
Dec 2, 2018 5:10 AM 7 min read

Having previously discussed the four guiding principles of High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) resistance training and why HIIT workout is the ultimate resistance training routine, this week I will elaborate on how HIIT workouts can be incorporated at home and gym through specific exercises like running, kettle bells, free weights etc.



Running/High Intensity Aerobic Exercise (Home, Gym)

 A Guide to Exercise: How to Incorporate HIIT in Your Daily Workout Routine


For specific running goals and techniques, one should consult a coach. However, if the goal is fitness, leg strength and fat loss, a simple running schedule is also helpful. The options are running outdoors (on a track or roadside), on a treadmill, a cross trainer or on a stationary bike. The system here is somewhat different from weight training.


It is advisable to perform 4-8 bursts of the exercise, involving an all-out effort for 30 seconds at a time, followed by 3-4 minutes of rest or slow walking.Thus one essentially exercises for 2-4 minutes in a total workout time of 18-36 minutes (including recovery periods). This workout can done on 3 non-consecutive days every week. One can check improvement in one’s fitness every 2-3 months or so. It is also possible to change the routine at this stage. One can either change from road-running to a cross-trainer or vice versa. Alternatively, one can start doing slower, longer runs one day a week if the target is to one day run a marathon. However, running a marathon requires specific training for endurance running, for which coaching is recommended.



HIIT Workout With Weights (Home, Gym)


Kettle Bells


A Guide to Exercise: How to Incorporate HIIT in Your Daily Workout Routine


Dubbed the “gym in the palm of one’s hand”, these can be used for exercising literally every muscle in the body in a very short time period, at home. The swing is a wonderful starting exercise for fat loss, leg and back strength, which will satisfy most goals of a trainee. The clean comes next, followed by the snatch - the greatest test of power with endurance. Strength building exercises include the press (overhead press), goblet squat and the Turkish get-up.


(Videos to all exercises mentioned have been embedded as links the first time they appear in the article.)


The same principles may be applied as discussed previously - one set of the exercise carried to fatigue. While the strength move like the press can be performed to complete fatigue, care has to be taken while performing the power moves (especially swing, clean and snatch). Here, carrying on to total fatigue is not advisable, as it can lead to injury. The set must be stopped as one senses that the form of the exercise is failing. Further, these moves require specific training; though there are several videos, articles and books available, learning from an expert is the most advisable in order to avoid injuries, especially with the swing and the snatch.


Kettle bell workouts can be performed stand alone (only the swing, the swing and the press, the clean and press, or the Turkish get-up and the snatch, for instance). They can also be combined with body weight exercises like push-ups, pull-ups and dips. A workout of 10-15 minutes is enough to leave even the fittest of athletes gasping for breath.


Free Weights


Traditionally, HIIT was used for free weights and machines. With free weights, the emphasis is on performing one work set each with 3-5 exercises, stressing the whole body. These are:


  1. Barbell rows
  2. Bench press
  3. The Press (or overhead press)
  4. Back Squat
  5. Dead lift.


Even as all these exercises are full body exercises, they do stress some select muscles more than the others. A young fit adult can do all five of these in one workout session, a senior athlete (> 40 years) can divide them into two or more, as needed. If only three exercises can be performed per workout, they can be an upper body (bench press or the press) followed by barbell rows and a lower body exercise (squat or dead lift). If only two, one can skip the rows while performing a press and the squat/dead lift. Another option is BP/Squat in one workout and the press/dead lift in the next workout, alternating these as one goes along. Another back option that works exceedingly well (if one wishes to avoid barbell rows) is the pull-up - a wonderful upper body and abdominal exercise.


Once an exercise is decided upon, one should perform 1-3 warm up sets of the exercise before going on to the work set, which as mentioned earlier is performed to positive failure in 12-20 reps, lasting 45-90 seconds. If one feels that one can go beyond 90 seconds and without feeling fatigue, this could probably mean that the weight has been underestimated. Here one can increase the weight by 5-10% in the next workout (the weight can be reduced likewise, if one can’t complete at least 8 reps of the exercise).


Another important issue is that of the cadence - the time taken to complete a rep. While both fast and slow reps have advantages, slow reps (2-4 seconds in both the positive and negative component of the movement) work best for both strength gains and safety.


Adequate recovery time (2-4 minutes) is allowed between exercises, till the whole schedule is completed. This should be followed by active stretching and cool down for muscles relaxation. Warm up and cool down are important for everyone; with the importance increasing significantly as one grows older. Senior athletes must take care to spend 5-10 minutes on warm up and 10 minutes on cool down to avoid cramps. Adequate hydration cannot be overemphasised. Consumption of 2-3 litres of water per day is recommended, especially during summers.


Machine-Based Exercises

A Guide to Exercise: How to Incorporate HIIT in Your Daily Workout Routine


Here again, the focus is on whole body exercise, the chief options being: 


  1. Seated row

  2. Chest press

  3. Pulldown

  4. Overhead press

  5. Leg press


These can also be performed all on one day, or in different workouts depending upon the age and physical condition of the athlete. Here, the advantage is that one can slow down both components of the movement (positive and negative) as per inclination as the weights are better controlled for better strength gain. The chances of injury are also diminished. However, the effort required to maintain the weight in the required arc is not performed here (as needed with free weights). In this respect, free weights are superior. Rest periods are similarly guided by the level of fatigue and general fitness levels, as above.


A very important concept is to decide on the frequency of the workouts (typical intervals are 4-14 days). A young fit 50-55 kg female may be comfortable doing this regime twice a week; a healthy male weighing 80 kg will probably need a full week’s rest for complete recovery. As both gain in strength, the inter-workout intervals will tend to increase further, as there is no benefit of exercising if one hasn't recovered completely. This is the major advantage of HIIT - an exhausting workout lasting 30-45 minutes once a week or less, granting the greatest bang for the buck.


HIIT Workout Without Weights (Home)


Bodyweight Exercises


A Guide to Exercise: How to Incorporate HIIT in Your Daily Workout Routine 


Though commonly HIIT is performed with weights, machines or while using the treadmill/cross trainer at gym, body-weight based protocols are also available which can be performed at home as well. The staple are the push-upthe pull-up, the dip, the squat, the burpee, mountain climbers and star jumps. Here, circuits are more commonly used, for instance, all these exercises (5-7 of them) are performed for 10-20 seconds each without rest in between the exercises - these constitute one set lasting 60-90 seconds. After a brief rest period (30 to 60 seconds), one can repeat the same set several times (5-8 times). These take hardly 15-20 minutes for the whole workout but leave one exhausted. If one lacks space and equipment, these are the perfect tools for building a strong and healthy body; however, the recovery is faster than with weights so the frequency has to be greater (2-3 times a week).


Another popular protocol is the Tabata protocol - 20 second exercise followed by 10 seconds rest, for a total of 8-12 such circuits. Similar circuits can be performed with free weights and machines as well. Discussing all possible variants is beyond the scope of this article.


The same routine can be continued for 6-12 weeks.  These can be modified depending upon the results achieved. Hence, maintaining a written record of every workout briefly (for comparison) is a great investment of your recovery time. After 6-12 weeks, taking a break from exercise for a week or so, if required, is a reasonable option before starting a new routine.


In summary, HIIT can be incorporated in our workouts in any way we like exercising. It can work with running, treadmill or cross-trainer, as well as with free weights, machines and body weights. Kettle bells are another versatile tool for the same purpose.


This is a recurring column published every Sunday under the title: A Guide to Exercise.


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