THE BLOG
03/11/2013 08:44 am ET Updated May 11, 2013

How to Use High-Intensity Interval Training

I HIIT all my clients

Yes, I said it. I HIIT all my clients -- relax, I'm not beating them up, the intervals are.

HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training, and it's slowly becoming the preferred method of training for many people. While the majority of the public is engaging in HIIT activities because of their growing popularity in mainstream media, others have been executing this type of intense training with their trainers for years. Some people are doing it and don't even know they are. They don't know they're doing it because the class that they're taking, the trainer that they're using, or the program they're doing, simply renamed it something else -- like BlahblahFit or Crazy Nutz Workout.

In my program, DBX3, the HIIT workouts and videos are simply called HIIT. I didn't feel the need to rename those workouts. The given name suits them quite well, and it seems unethical to create the illusion that I'm the first to develop it. Yes, DBX3 Functional Fat Loss as an entire program is completely developed by me, but the high-intensity interval days are just one facet of the three-part, 90-day program.

Either way, there is significant evidence and numerous studies that conclude beyond reasonable doubt that high-intensity intervals work wonders for fat burning, increasing growth hormone and increasing cardiovascular health. Additionally, it's also the most time-effective workout you can do, in my experience. You could literally complete an entire high-intensity workout using one piece of equipment or just body weight in 20 minutes or less. Space isn't really a factor, either. I've done high-intensity intervals in my living room.

High-intensity intervals can be classified as brief exertions of maximum output, usually in the range of 20-40 seconds of intense activity, followed by a designated resting or recovery period. Maximum capacity is usually derived from one's maximum heart rate. When doing intervals, it's important to consider the work time as well as your heart rate.

The most important thing about HIIT training is to understanding how to use it properly to reach your goals. As I said earlier, it's great for fat burning -- or more specifically, high calorie burn, which leads to fat loss. Although it does act favorably on hormones, as I also mentioned before, too much HIIT work can lead to overtraining (chronic fatigue) or stagnation (inability to get new/better results).

It can get a bit confusing, so here is a general breakdown of how one should implement high-intensity intervals into their program depending on their fitness level.

Beginners: As usual, beginners are the most susceptible to both overtraining and injury. This happens mainly for two reasons.

1. Most people bite off more than they can chew when beginning a fitness program. The excitement and motivation kick in hard and then it's all in. Everyone wants results fast. So the natural instinct is to go hard and fast right away.

The big mistake here is that your body isn't ready for high-intensity work. Not just because you lack the endurance or strength, but also from the lack of kinesthetic awareness (exercise technique) and central nervous system development.

You need to learn -- or as I say, earn -- your way into high-intensity exercise. It takes time to develop the physiology and skills necessary to HIIT like a pro.

2. Beginners tend to have difficulty understanding how to assess necessary resting periods between workouts.

Exercise is a process by which the body is stressed and tissue is broken down. Rest and recovery time, if planned correctly, is when we can increase our fitness level. Many times, either through poor coaching or over-ambition, people will not allow proper resting periods.

If you are a beginner or just aren't used to HIIT work, I suggest you start simple by using a bike. I like introducing people to intervals on bikes because it's easy on the joints and one-directional. This leaves little room for error. If you jump right into something like sprinting, you're at greater risk of injury.

For those that consider themselves intermediate or advanced, the biggest concern when adding HIIT training is whether or not it will help you reach your goal. Since you've been working out for a considerable amount of time, your body has more than likely made the adaptations necessary to handle more stress.

Before getting to my recommendations, understand this:

At some point, the general public was convinced that when you do endurance-based activity, you are only working your heart and lungs. This isn't true. You need mechanical muscle activation to get the heart and lungs cranking. For example, running uses your legs, where some of your biggest muscles are. That intense muscular activation is what causes your cardiovascular system to go into overdrive.

The point I'm trying make here is that HiiT or other endurance training taxes your body at multiple levels. Rest is required to have the proper hormonal response and for full recovery.

What Are Your Goals?

Do you want to lean out? HIIT can be done three or four times a week, depending on your personal ability to recover.

Do you want to put on muscle? HIIT should be limited to one to two times a week.

Do you want to gain significant strength? HIIT should be done maximum one time per week with full recovery made before lifting again.

Do you want significant endurance enhancement? Long distance or sprint distance? If your goal is to run a marathon or do a triathlon, I don't believe HIIT will help you very much. If you want to increase your time in a mile run or capacity for going rounds in a fight, HIIT can be used often. Again, you need to be mindful of your personal recovery.

For more info check out this video, and then try adding high-intensity interval training to your program.

For more by Matthew Basso, click here.

For more on fitness and exercise, click here.

Subscribe to the Lifestyle email.
Life hacks and juicy stories to get you through the week.