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The one thing most people get wrong in a HIIT workout—and how to fix it

HIIT workout stocksy jacob lund Pin It
Photo: Stocksy/Jacob Lund

High intensity interval training is the Emma Stone of the fitness world—a rising star with serious cred (and now, an Oscar).

But the sweat set might not realize that the most effective part of the workout is also the very thing the majority of people get wrong. (Too soon for a La La Land/Moonlight joke?) “They think high intensity, high volume—instead of high intensity, low volume,” explains Rachel Vaziralli, the creative manager of group fitness at Equinox, with a master’s degree in exercise science. “You can’t perform at a true high intensity if [the workout] is long.”

Too often HIIT is used as a synonym for “hardcore” when describing workouts that are 60 minutes or longer. Especially in boutique fitness classes where intensity has become an obsession, the term gets thrown around like a five-pound medicine ball. So what is the optimal amount of time to HIIT before you quit?

“If you can go longer than 30 minutes, you weren’t actually working hard enough.”

“If you can go longer than 30 minutes, you weren’t actually working hard enough,” Vaziralli says. The whole point, she explains, “is to push to unsustainable intensities.” (Having recently taken her new Firestarter class at the gym chain, I can attest that half an hour is plenty of time for HIIT—I could barely breathe after about 10 minutes.)

Of course, you (of sweaty ambitions) may be thinking, Why not just keep layering more intense intervals on for a longer, harder workout?

By doing so, you’re essentially putting in extra work for little additional gain—and your time is definitely precious. “What happens is your body just adjusts, so you hold back on the intensity,” Vaziralli says. “You’re spending more time than [necessary] for the same results.”

Perhaps most importantly, you’re too busy to deal with an injury—which might happen if you attempt to push to that unsustainable, aggressive intensity for an extended period of time. For the best results, choose between maxing out in shorter workouts or longer, sustained cardio and strength training sessions. Perhaps a set of Stone-approved deadlifts, anyone?

Proof that you really can pack a lot of power in a little time: this 6-minute HIIT workout. If you’re reconsidering your fitness routines, try to avoid these 10 gym faux pas the next time you work out.