When it comes to training plateaus, you typically think in terms of stagnant results in strength or size — either you’re stuck at a certain max weight on a big lift or a certain bodypart won’t grow. But you can just as easily reach a sticking point in your high-intensity interval cardio workouts, which will negatively impact your fat-burning efforts and athletic performance and leave you susceptible to injury. Too much volume, too little intensity, nonsensical work-to-rest ratios — any of these or other factors could be the reason your get-lean goals are stalling. To help make sure your cardio program is on the right track, Jim Ryno, a personal trainer and owner of luxury home gym design firm Iron House (iron-house.co) in Alpine, New Jersey, offers the following HIIT guidelines.
DON’T FORGET TO WARM UP: Your first few HIIT intervals should not serve as your warm-up; your muscles should already be primed and ready to go by that point. “Always begin your HIIT session by prepping your body with five to 10 minutes of steady-state cardio before jumping into the workout,” Ryno says. “Don’t just start cold. A proper warm-up will ensure a more effective workout on top of minimizing injury risk.”
GO HARD ON WORK INTERVALS: Always remember what the first two letters of HIIT stand for: high intensity. This doesn’t mean going “sort of hard” or “kind of fast”; it means all-out. This is where interval duration comes into play — the shorter the interval, the more intense it can be. “Generally, shorter, more intense intervals are far better than longer ones,” Ryno says. “When pushing yourself outside your comfort zone, you can’t work as hard for, say, two minutes as you can for 20 seconds.” And don’t become too enamored of the often-prescribed 1:1 rest-to-work ratio. Intense efforts require sufficient breaks, so supplement your 1:1 workouts with 1:3-4 (go hard for 30 seconds, rest 90 seconds).
CHOOSE YOUR MODE WISELY: Be mindful of what activity you select for HIIT workouts. If you want to go all-out for 10 one-minute intervals with a minute rest between each, don’t think you’re going to do that sprinting on a track; you’ll be gassed two sprints in unless you’re taking it easy. A spinning cycle or rowing machine is a better option here.
Also, don’t be afraid to stick to what you like. “When deciding what type of cardiovascular machine or activity to use for your HIIT workouts, go with what you enjoy doing the most,” Ryno says. “If it’s running and jumping, hit the treadmill or track and grab a jump rope. This will help prevent boredom and ensure success.”
GIVE IT A REST: Going balls to the wall every day is a recipe for injury, and nothing throws a wrench in a fat-burning program like a pulled hamstring or ruptured Achilles. Go hard, then let your body recover so it can repeat that performance next time out for continued progress. We’ll save you the suspense: You’re not going to get shredded and crazy fit in a week or two, so don’t even try. “To get results and change your body, give yourself approximately two to three months with two to three HIIT workouts per week,” Ryno says.