Do You Have to Do HIIT to Be Fit?
The definitive answer on whether HIIT really should be a part of your workout routine.
I'm a decently fit person. I strength train four to five times a week and ride my bike everywhere. On rest days, I'll fit in a long walk or squeeze in a yoga class. One thing that's *not* on my weekly workout radar? High-intensity interval training (aka HIIT), which in short, is bouts of short, high-intensity exercise interspersed with short periods of active recovery, according to the American Council on Exercise.
The benefits of HIIT are well-known, from burning more fat than regular cardio to increasing your metabolism-not to mention the time investment is significantly shorter than steady state cardio, which requires anywhere from 30 to 60 minutes. (Related: Should You Be Swapping HIIT Training for LISS Workouts?)
I actually used to be a HIIT junkie, but since I stopped doing it, I've found that I enjoy my workouts so much more than I used to. (More on that below!)
And while I feel pretty fit, my breakup with boot camp made me wonder: Do you have to do HIIT to be fit?! After all, HIIT has been touted as one of the biggest fitness trends for several years and counting, and HIIT seems to be the single most raved about workout by fitness pros everywhere. But is it mandatory? Here's what expert trainers have to say.
Why Some People Hate HIIT
If you're a HIIT-hater yourself, you might be wondering if how you feel about your interval workouts is normal. (Heads up: It is!)
For me, not liking HIIT has a couple of different components. First, I hate that completely sweat-drenched, can't breathe at all feeling that tends to happen after a HIIT session. I much prefer the slow, steady burn of a jog, bike ride, or heavy weightlifting session. Second, HIIT revs up my appetite, making it feel *way* harder to stay on track with my nutrition goals. Apparently, this is thanks to the afterburn effect, aka increased excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, that HIIT induces, which is perceived as a benefit but can make you hungry AF.
Another reason people tend to dislike HIIT is that they associate it with super aggressive workout moves, like burpees, box jumps, sprints, and more.
But it doesn't have to be that way. "You can create your own HIIT workout with most of your favorite body weight moves; it's just a matter of how you stack them and the tempo at which you do them," explains Charlee Atkins, CSCS, founder of Le Sweat. "I think we're scared of the 'burn' felt during HIIT, but HIIT is designed to incorporate rest periods, albeit short, they are in there to give your body a second to jump start itself to begin moving again."
So is HIIT required in order to be fit? Short answer: No. Long answer: Depending on your goals, it could make your life *a lot* easier.
"High-intensity interval training is not a necessary part of a well-rounded workout program," says Meaghan Massenat, CSCS, owner of Fitness by Design. You do need to do *some* form of cardio to keep your heart healthy, but it doesn't have to be HIIT. (BTW, you don't have to do cardio to lose weight-but there's a catch.)
So when might you want to consider HIIT? "While you don't have to do HIIT to be fit, you should definitely consider making it part of your workout routine if you want to lose weight, spend less time exercising, or compete in an event that requires you to work at a higher intensity than you are used to," says Massenat.
That being said, if you don't enjoy doing HIIT, there's not much point in forcing yourself. Despite its popularity and benefits, if someone can't be consistent with HIIT, then it's not going to be a realistic choice for long-term success, says Ben Brown, CSCS, founder of BSL Nutrition. "The truth is that the best form of exercise is the one that someone actually enjoys doing. Period."
What to Do If You Hate HIIT
Stay within your preferred workout. "If you want a kickass workout but are scared of HIIT, then focus on what your heart rate is doing," Atkins advises. "The goal of HIIT is to get the heart rate up and keep it there. If you're a yogi, try adding in a few push-ups before going into each chaturanga. If you're a cyclist, try pushing against resistance for a few extra seconds throughout your hill climbs, or, if you're a runner, throw in a few sprints when you feel your heart rate get low, or when you're running a straight-away."
If you're a weightlifter, Massenat recommends varying the speed of your routine to get a heart rate boost or mixing in some quick cardio between sets. (FYI, here's how to use heart rate zones to train for max exercise benefits.)
Try a class. "If the intensity and effort of HIIT scare you, then one of the best things you can do is to join a group training HIIT workout," Massenat notes. "The camaraderie you will get from that group will motivate you to keep going until it's over and, in the end, you'll feel amazing and accomplished, and you might even have fun!"
Focus on getting fit other ways. "You can either go full aerobic by joining a run club or taking a step class or dive into true strength training by finding a strength coach," says Atkins. "If neither tickle your fancy, try an excellent yoga flow."