High Intensity Interval Training, or HIIT for short, has become very popular over the last few years for its effectiveness and the short amount of time you need to commit to it.
I wrote an article about effective HIIT is for mountain biking fitness, which you can check out here. If you want to enjoy your mountain biking more, being fit and strong really helps you ride more and longer. If you have a day-job like me, building up your fitness is challenging due to lack of time. A solution to that problem is to do interval training along with your regular riding. HIIT is really good at getting you fitter and stronger if your time is limited.
However, there are some common mistakes a lot of people tend to make when they try HIIT. These mistakes can end up causing your workouts to be bad for you, rather than good!
So before you jump on a bike or pick up some weights to try out this HIIT thing everyone keeps talking about, make sure you don’t make the following mistakes.
MISTAKE #1 - Not Getting Your Body the Right Fuel Before Your Workout
When you do a HIIT workout, your body is going to be expending a lot of energy. So before you start a workout, make sure you stomach is not growling with hunger and that you have had enough water to avoid dehydration.
If you have not eaten enough before your workout, you won’t have the energy to do a proper HIIT workout at the right intensity….and intensity is a big part of what makes HIIT so effective!
You will want to make sure it is food that will give you the healthy energy you need. Pizzas and burgers are probably not the type of food you want to be going for, but rather something a little healthier. Some great options include:
- · Oatmeal, whole-wheat bread or brown rice for some complex carbohydrates
- · Bananas or apples (basically any fruit) for some basic carbohydrates (a banana or an apple is ideal to eat if you are short on time and need to eat just before a workout)
- · Eggs, fish, turkey or Hemp seeds for some protein (if you eat proteins, make sure to eat it well before exercising as it takes longer to digest than carbohydrates do)
…and of course enough water to wash it all down with!
Obviously you also don’t want to do a workout bursting with a full stomach, so you should eat a little bit before your workout. It is recommended that you eat at least two hours before your workout, so that your body has had the opportunity to digest the food. For some great nutritional advice on what to eat before exercising, check out this great article from heart.org that gives you all the info you need to fuel up right!
MISTAKE #2 - Forgoing Warming Up and Warming Down
When you are still in your early twenties or even younger, you feel bullet-proof! Who needs to warm-up?!?
But as you get older, you realise the importance and benefits of doing some warm-ups before you get going, as well as warming down afterwards. With HIIT workouts, this is even more so. With HIIT, you will be putting your muscles and joints under a lot more strain, so you need to prepare your body adequately. If you don’t you will probably end up injuring yourself.
Once you have finished your workout, the temptation will be there to flop down on the couch and bask in your post-workout glow. But you should take the time to properly cool down your muscles in order to avoid injuries. What’s the use of putting yourself through all the punishment if you are just going to end up injuring yourself? Dr William Kormos from Harvard Medical School gives some advice on stretching and warming up before exercise here.
MISTAKE #3 - Getting Your Technique Wrong
Whenever you do any exercise, whether it is sprinting or lifting weights, technique is very important. If your technique is wrong, your exercise will be ineffective and you could probably end up injuring yourself by putting too much strain on your joints. So even though there is a lot of emphasis on speed and intensity during a HIIT workout, it should not be at the expense of form and technique.
Before you jump in and start doing a HIIT workout, make sure you have your technique down. And when you are in the middle of your workout, make sure you maintain your technique. If you feel you are losing your form and cannot maintain it, you should probably stop your workout until you are strong and fit enough to do it properly. It is better to start off with fewer repetitions with the correct form, than doing a lot of repetitions with bad form.
MISTAKE #4 - Going Too Hard Too Fast
When you start out doing a HIIT workout, you will probably think about the High Intensity part of HIIT and end up going really hard early on in your workout.
The problem is you probably won’t be able to maintain your extreme intensity for very long and end up burning out early.
If you are new to HIIT, you will probably need to do a few sets to gauge how hard you can go for a certain period. So start off with some moderate intensity and build it up with each set. You will quickly know what your limits are. As you get stronger over time, you will be able to increase your intensity during workouts.
MISTAKE #5 - Not Going Hard Enough
On the flipside of going too hard too fast, is not going hard enough. If you want to get any benefit from a HIIT workout, you need put the intensity in High Intensity Interval Training. Fitness experts suggest the “talk test”, whereby if you can talk right after your workout with ease, you probably did not go hard enough.
MISTAKE #6 - Your Rest Periods Are Wrong
Allowing your body to rest between intervals is what makes interval training effective. You need the highs and the lows. However, you don’t want to rest too long or not rest enough.
With rest, you need to go for the “Goldilocks” period….not too long, not too short, but juuuuust right. You can use a heart-rate monitor to measure your heart-rate, which can give you an indication when you are ready for your next intense interval. The Harvard Medical School has published a chart that shows the suggested heart rates for HIIT training based on age (check it out here).
I prefer to follow a set HIIT workout plan where there is a set indication of how intense you should go for how long, as well as the amount of time you should spend resting in between. Stick to that, and you should be good. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has created a 7 week HIIT program you can follow for HIIT workouts (check it out here)
MISTAKE #7 - You Do HIIT Workouts Too Often
When it comes to workouts, the assumption is that the more you do it the better, right? Not so with proper HIIT workouts. With HIIT, less is more. Due to the stress that you put your body under with HIIT workouts, your body will start to breakdown down if you do HIIT workouts too often. You will probably start to experience tendinitis or stress fractures. According to Micah Zuhl, Ph.D. and Len Kravitz, Ph.D. from the Univeristy of New Mexico, the sweet spot for HIIT workouts is about 3 times per week (max!).
For mountain biking, you should probably only do interval training once or twice a week, and do your regular mountain bike rides the rest of the time. This will allow your body to recover sufficiently and grow stronger. According to an article from the American Journal of Medicine, overdoing HIIT could have some serious health impacts (you can read it here).
MISTAKE #8 - Your Timing Is Off
We all have busy schedules. That is why a lot of people like the idea of HIIT, it is an effective way to get fitter and stronger with little time commitment. That also means some people squeeze it in during times in their hectic day where they have a few minutes available. Often that can be really early in the morning or late at night.
According to research, doing workouts such as HIIT is best during the morning, as your body can keep burning calories throughout the day.
On the flip-side, doing HIIT workouts late at night before you want to go to sleep is probably not the best idea. Working out wakes your body up…so not ideal when you want to start winding down to go to sleep. But….experts still say the time of day you decide to exercise depends on you and what your body tells you (we are all different, and we all react differently to the time we decide to exercise at). Johns Hopkins Medicine has published a good article on exercise times and how it could impact your sleep (check it out here).
MISTAKE #9 - It Is No Fun!
If your workout is torturous and not fun at all…you are probably not going to be doing much of it on a consistent basis. There are lots of different ways you can get a HIIT workout in – running, cycling, weight-lifting, burpees…the list goes on! Find the right one for you that keeps you stimulated. For me, I could never do sprinting HIIT workouts as I am not a big fan of running (I just feel awkward when I run). However, I would much rather do cycling HIIT workouts as I can do it easily and it also helps to improve my fitness for mountain biking.
HIIT workouts are great. But to get the maximum benefits, you need to do it right. If you are new to HIIT workouts, first build up to it and make sure you have your technique right. If you don’t, you will just end up hurting yourself.