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High-Low Training Is the Best Way to Get the Most Out of Your HIIT Workouts

Zoe Weiner

Zoe WeinerJune 11, 2020

The way most HIIT workouts are structured, your body is forced to go from zero to 100 and back again every time you switch between resting and active intervals. And while those moments of recovery might be the ones you look forward to (and what keep you motivated to push through to the end of the workout), it might be time to re-think the breakdown of rest-active intervals and turn to “high-low” training instead.

Unlike circuits that alternate short bursts of high-intensity movement with rest, high-low HIIT training forces you to switch between high- and low-intensity intervals without taking a break in between. The result? An entirely different way to spike your heart rate.

“When you’re combining both high intensity and low intensity intervals, you are essentially challenging your energy processes in your body,” says FitHouse trainer Stefanie Brown. “During high intensity, you will feel your heart rate increase which then activates your anaerobic threshold, which is where you body burns what you consume for energy. During lower intensity, you might feel you are able to lower your heart rate and catch your breathe a little easier, which energizes your aerobic processes.”

This mix of aerobic and anaerobic, she explains, is the ultimate format for toning your muscles and keeping your metabolism revved throughout your entire sweat session, which can be highly effective depending on what you’re looking to achieve. If you want to build more muscle (as opposed to toning what you’ve already got), you may want to stick with the traditional method of full recoveries in between intervals.

To try a high-low HIIT routine for yourself, Brown recommends doing either 30 seconds of high intensity movements followed by 30 seconds of low intensity ones, or breaking it down to 45 seconds, followed by 15 seconds of high-low intervals. “To maintain high intensity I would refrain from intervals longer than a minute,” she says, adding that you should aim to complete two to three rounds of each exercise.

A move is usually considered “high intensity” if it requires some form of impact, a la jumping, or utilizes multiple muscle groups. Low intensity moves, on the other hand, tend to be slower and more targeted. To help you structure your own version of a high/low HIIT workout, alternate between any of the movements below, or try some of your other tried and true favorites at either end of the spectrum.

High/low HIIT routine

High Intensity: Mountain Climbers

Low Intensity: Plank hold

High Intensity:  Burpee

Low Intensity: Lateral Lunge

High intensity: Push-ups

Low Intensity: Side Plank

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