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Circuit training or HIIT: a breakdown

fitness-girl-doing-planksAs the weather turns cold and your workouts move more and more inside you will probably start to hear more and more about high-intensity interval training, or HIIT. If you have never tried HIIT before, you probably (rightly) associate it with a lot of jumping, sweating, flying ponytails and burpees. Other than the sweaty chaos of it all, you might also associate HIIT with continuous repetitions of circuits.

However, there is a lot more to HIIT than that. HIIT refers to a very specific kind of training, and not all interval training and high-intensity training regimens are HIIT. The reason HIIT is so popular is that, when done properly, it can have incredible results and drive muscle growth and development. Below is a brief guide on HIIT and how it is different from circuit training.

Intensity is the name of the game

The hint is in the name – intensity is key to a proper HIIT workout. Unlike circuit training, for HIIT sessions of cardio, each set is meant to be performed at the maximum of your athletic ability, and the sets should only run between 20 to 90 seconds. This is the opposite of going for a long run in which you slowly burn out your energy throughout the run with measured endurance.

By increasing the intensity of your sets to the max, you are able to increase your calorie burn during workouts. HIIT routines that incorporate bodyweight or additional weights also help to tone your muscles while increasing your heart rate. Unlike weight-focused circuit training, HIIT exercises are much more focused on cardio and, as a result, are great for shredding and increasing fat loss.

Taking breaks is imperative

Another key factor of HIIT workouts are, counterintuitively, the breaks. It is very important to have rest periods between sets and, if you are skipping these rest periods between sets, you are doing it wrong.

These recovery periods are imperative because they are part of the cardio training for your body. By forcing your body to accustom itself to two very different states – exercising at the max and rest – you are giving your body peak cardio conditioning. The rest periods allow the body to prepare for the short sets and help to efficiently burn calories, which will then assist in fat loss.

Working HIIT into your training

As amazing as HIIT is for conditioning, shredding and fitness, it is important to integrate it into your fitness regime and not let it take over your other routines. If you are trying to get in a HIIT workout every day, you will wear yourself down, and you will not be able to perform at the max during the sets. Instead, HIIT should be integrated into your fitness routine slowly, and perhaps capped at two or three days a week.

Want to learn more about how you can optimise your athletic performance? Check out our library of blog posts on everything from the health benefits of pet ownership to the cognitive-boosting powers of caffeine and regular exercise.