Fitness experts spill the beans on dos and donts of short high intensity workout

Here's a fitness check, readers. It has been over six months since you made those New Year fitness resolutions. If you haven't managed to improve your fitness levels, here's your second shot.

Getting or maintaining your shape doesn't have to be demanding on your clock. Short workouts, often based on the High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) format, have been celebrated due to the limited amount of time they demand. Neither an expensive gym, nor the availability of equipment is essential. Short bouts of intense activity followed by shorter bouts of recovery make HIIT routines last no longer than four 20-minute cycles.

Several studies have proven that short workouts — with their ability to improve endurance, lower blood pressure, increase metabolism and regulate insulin levels — may be better alternatives to moderate intensity exercises. But the growing popularity of these formats has also increased the chances of misinformation. "A lot of people think they're following the HIIT format, when, actually, they are not. HIIT can be effective only if you increase the intensity of your workout," says fitness trainer Abhishek Chatterjee, who works at a suburban gym. A seven-minute run performed in accordance with the HIIT principle can be an alternative for a 30-45-minute run, only if a person exerts himself to the maximum during those seven minutes, explains Chatterjee. "You need to work hard in every set. In HIIT, you can't decide to take it easy in one interval and then work hard in another. Every set must be performed with maximum intensity. That is why these workouts are short. You can chat with your buddy, or sing a song during these intervals. [But] you must find yourself breathing hard," he says.

Abhishek Chatterjee, fitness instructor
Abhishek Chatterjee, fitness instructor

Finding your intensity
Short workouts demand hard work, but not to an extent that invites injury. "You need to be breathless, but not incapable of breathing. You must work fast, without compromising on your form, lest you injure yourself," says Chatterjee, adding that most professionals use the Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) scale while training clients. "To help individuals gauge if they're working hard enough, we tell them to aim for an effort level of eight or nine on a scale of 10. For every interval of your workout, you must push yourself to that extent for the entire duration," he says, adding that those executing long-duration workouts of moderate intensity usually hit a five or six exertion level.

Recovery is good
Interval training is categorised by short bouts of recovery that punctuate the working intervals. For instance, the popular Tabata training rewards individuals with a 10-second recovery after every 20-second working bout.

Aarti Mehra, a Pune-based personal trainer, calls the recovery interval the most defining one. "I've seen individuals continue exercising during the recovery bout as well, which essentially tells me that they haven't worked hard enough. In HIIT, if you've exerted yourself sufficiently in the training interval, you'll be incapable of working in the recovery period. The rest period is crucial because it prepares you to deliver your best in the exercise interval, and the fluctuating heart rate enables you to burn more calories."

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