We'll be honest: Between the burpees (see the image above) and jump squats, high-intensity interval training — better known as HIIT — scares us a little, too. But fitness doesn't discriminate, so whether you're up for the speedy, sweat-inducing cardio intervals or not, this fitness trend does offer some great lessons that will do everybody — and every body — good.
1. Don't let your age or fitness level stop you from trying a new workout.
The words "high-intensity interval training" might sound a little, well, intense — especially for older adults and people trying to get into shape or recover from an injury. But don't let new things scare you off. Ignore the person doing burpees next to you like they have springs popping out of their feet; it's all about finding what's intense for you, says Daphnie Yang, ISSA certified personal trainer and creator of HIIT IT!
"There's a modification for every exercise. If some people are doing jump squats, you can absolutely march in place as fast as you can or just do regular squats where you bend down a little bit then stand up. There's always a starting point," she says.
2. Longer workouts don't always mean better workouts.
Who has hours to spend on an exercise machine, anyway? Just because you put in more time on the elliptical or treadmill doesn't mean your body gets more out of it, says Yang.
"15 minutes of HIIT is 12 times more effective than going on the elliptical at a slow, steady pace for 30 minutes. Your metabolism is also going to be elevated for up to 48 hours after a HIIT routine — it isn't nearly as high when you're doing steady cardio on its own," she says.
And remember, you don't need to do exercises that you think are too intense — just exercises that feel intense to you.
3. Warm up first, stretch last.
If you always stretch out before your workouts, stop — it's more important to warm up beforehand and save stretching for the end, Yang says.
"Warming up beforehand brings blood to the muscles and it's almost as if it lubricates the joints and gets them ready for the physical activity ahead," she says. "You actually never want to stretch cold — don't stretch before you work out. Start with a dynamic warm-up like jogging or marching in place, jumping jacks and arm swings — all things that loosen up the body but keep your heart rate going."
Be sure to do both, though, because warming up and stretching help prevent injury.
4. You don't need a boutique gym or expensive equipment for a good workout.
One of the huge perks of HIIT is that you don't need any equipment or an expensive gym membership. The workout uses your own body to get fit and can even be done in your living room.
"It was only a few decades ago that gyms became popular, but humans have been moving their bodies for centuries, and humans have been healthy for centuries," Yang says. "It goes to show there's no need for fancy equipment. Doing body weight exercises and cardio exercises on your own is just as effective — if not more effective — than going to the gym and using equipment."
5. There's nothing wrong with taking breaks.
It's OK to slow down. Breaks give your body a chance to recover so you can put more energy into your workout and milk it for all it's worth.
"When you're on the elliptical and are trying to go for 30 minutes, you actually have to pace yourself and go at a steady speed to maintain that time frame," Yang says. "It's great, but never puts the good stress on your heart and expands your lungs as fully as we want them to."
When you're giving 100 percent effort for a shorter period of time — whether that's marching in place or doing bonafide burpees — you elevate your heart rate and then get a break as a reset.