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Biggest High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Mistakes

High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has quickly become one of the most popular and best workout techniques in the world. Although the research has been around for a couple of decades, it has only just reached the mainstream fitness industry with lots of top athletes, coaches, and general public jumping on board.

In a busy modern day life, HIIT training becomes so unique and beneficial as it allows for a minimal amount of physical time yet yields fantastic and fast results.

In the research, they most often see that just 10 minutes of high intensity interval training equals as good, if not better, results than a typical 30 to 45-minute workout. You can learn more about all the benefits of HIIT on this page.

Despite its beneficial effects, and like every other type of exercise program or diet, people often make these few simple mistakes which means they don’t get the results that they were promised or that they expected.

Now after coaching for nearly a decade, here are 6 of the biggest mistakes people make when using HIIT training (don’t miss the video below!).

1. Incorrect Work/Rest HIIT Ratios

Depending on who you ask, you will now see that high intensity interval training comes in many forms and protocols.

While it’s great to obviously experiment and test new workouts, many programs and coaches now dilute the benefits and effects of HIIT, creating their own workout routines or HIIT sessions that don’t follow the fundamental guidelines.

This discrepancy can quickly explain why many people don’t get the results that they were expecting when performing HIIT training. I.e. They aren’t actually performing HIIT, just a knock off version.

Based on the research, high intensity interval training should be performed with at least a 1 to 2 work/rest ratio.

In most cases, it should actually be performed with a 1 to 3 or 1 to 4 work/rest ratio. What this means is that for every one second you are performing HIIT, you should have two, three, four, or five times that resting. For example, if we were to use a 1 to 4 work/rest ratio and you perform a 10-second sprint, you should be resting for at least 40 seconds.

If you are performing longer intervals such as a 30-second HIIT sprint then with a 1 to 3 work/rest ratio, you should actually be resting for around 90 seconds.

While most people think it would be more beneficial to have less rest, it’s in fact not the case. This is because HIIT must be performed at a specific intensity (i.e. 100% intensity) to yield the drastic results that have been shown in the research.

If you do a 30-second interval and then only rest for 20 or 30 seconds, there is very little chance that you can perform the intervals at 100% intensity. Even the fittest of athletes, without a doubt could not perform their second interval at 100% intensity as the rest simply is not long enough.

I’ve even tested this with elite athletes in my lab and even the top 1% in the world can’t perform true HIIT sessions with some of the crazy protocols you may see or buy online.

The bottom line is that if you want to get the most benefit out of your HIIT routine, you should be using at least a 1 to 2 work/rest ratio. In other words, if you are doing a 20-second interval, you should be resting for at least 40 seconds.

58401641 - sporty woman running on a grey background

2. Incorrect HIIT Intensity

I touched upon the importance of intensity above but in short, if you do not perform HIIT with the right intensity, then you are simply performing another form of exercise that will not yield all the drastic results we see in the literature or that you have been promised.

Again, when working with clients and even elite athletes testing in the lab, many people have never worked at 100% intensity so even though they believe they are or try to tell you they are, this simply isn’t the case.

To give you an idea, when testing this in the lab with pro athletes and bodybuilders, just one 20-second sprint would leave many of them almost passing out on the floor or throwing up in a sick bin beside the bike.

Don’t believe me? Here’s my friend IFBB Pro Ben Pakulski in my lab doing a REAL interval. These are called “Wingates” and they are what the majority of research is based on. If you’re not doing this, you’re NOT doing REAL HIIT!

Can you now see why you only need 5 – 10 intervals and when someone says they do “20 intervals” you can be sure they aren’t doing 1 single real interval!

If you just train recreationally, I can almost guarantee that you’ve never really pushed yourself at 100% intensity for a short 10 to 45-second bout.

While I’m not encouraging people to be sick or pass out, this is the sort of intensity you’re looking for. It should be the hardest 20 seconds that you’ve ever trained or worked in your entire life and you should perform every interval as if your life depended on it.

Once you do one at the right intensity, you will quickly see why you couldn’t perform 30 of these in a workout and why you couldn’t be performing one with only 20 or 30 seconds of rest.


3. Using The Wrong Type of Equipment For HIIT

Another common mistake is people trying to apply high intensity interval training to every form of exercise or piece of equipment imaginable.

Like with any regime or routine, people are quick to try and adapt it and tailor it to what they enjoy. While I have no problem with this, they should understand that their variation is nothing like real HIIT training. It simply doesn’t work the body like a proper HIIT interval would or, more importantly, elicit the same physiological and metabolic effects which we are looking for if we want to reap all the benefits that HIIT provides.

These sort of weak variations include people applying it to medicine ball routines, stepping-type routines such as Step Up, sprinting on the spot, press-ups, or other body weight movements.

I can confidently say that none of these routines will actually be HIIT routines as you simply can’t create the same stimulus and intensity of biological effects we see in the research. Therefore, they are simply using a name of a well-known exercise technique and creating an association when really, it’s nothing more than a glorified and maybe fairly advanced bodyweight routine (not that this is ‘bad’, its just not HIIT).

Don’t be fooled when you see all of these Instagram HIIT routines or random HIIT routines using bodyweight exercises such as sit-ups, push ups etc.

Instead, you must perform most of your high intensity interval training on these machines:

  • Bike
  • Treadmill
  • Elliptical/cross trainer
  • Rower
  • Prowler
  • Battle rope (maybe if you can create enough intensity)
  • Running-based sprints or hill sprints

4. Not Optimizing Your Diet

39230480 - unrecognizable young runner tying her shoelaces. studio shot on wooden floor background.When you are using HIIT for a weight loss diet or to transform your physique, you must always still
prioritize and work on your diet.

As magical as high intensity interval training appears to be, it will still not let you out-train a bad diet full of processed carbs, sugars, ice cream, and alcohol.

If you are performing HIIT with a goal to lose weight, even 20 or 30 HIIT intervals per day will probably not help you optimize your results if your optimum diet is not in place first.

While HIIT can still provide some great benefits for your health and fitness, if you want to lose weight, make sure your diet is an equal priority and you are following a well-designed diet plan.

If you want a pre-built fat loss diet combined with some of the best HIIT protocols available, then get more info on my 30 Day HIIT Kickstart Program HERE.

5. Not Performing HIIT Consistently

Another big issue I see with people performing HIIT is consistency. Just like diet or any other type of exercise regime, if they are not remaining consistent with it and performing it at least twice per week, then they will not see long-term adaptations.

The body requires a continuous amount of stimulus. In other words, if you just perform the odd HIIT session and then forget about it for a week or two, you will never progress.

If you are going to use HIIT, make sure that it forms a new part of your routine and perform it at least twice per week.

The benefits of HIIT are that it can be performed after your main workout and it only really requires 10 to 15 minutes of your day. Therefore, you’ve really got no excuse and it’s very simple for you to perform at least two HIIT sessions every week, spread out every three to four days.

6. Optimize Every Aspect of Your Routine

As mentioned, if certain aspects are in place but the others are not, you will simply not progress as you wish.

This is why many people enjoy rapid results on my 30 Day HIIT Kickstart because I have taken the time and have the experience both researching HIIT and applying it with hundreds of clients to ensure every aspect is in place.

When implemented in unison with the advanced diet, supplement regime and recovery, HIIT workouts, most importantly, can create some fantastic results and within 30 days, many members have lost over 10 – 15 pounds, if not more!

Right now you can join the 30 Day HIIT Kickstart for a small one time fee of $15 which will give you fantastic results.

It will not only kick start your new weight loss and healthy eating regime but it will also fast forward your results and fitness, helping you maintain everything for the long term.


About the author

Rudy Mawer, MSc, CISSN

Rudy has a 1st class BSc in Exercise, Nutrition & Health and a Masters in Exercise & Nutrition Science from the University of Tampa. Rudy currently works as a Human Performance Researcher, Sports Nutritionist and Physique Coach. Over 7 years he has helped over 500 people around the world achieve long last physique transformations.

He now works closely with a variety of professional athletes and teams, including the NBA, USA Athletics, World Triathlon Gold Medalists, Hollywood Celebrities and IFBB Pro Bodybuilders. If you would like to get in contact or work with Rudy please contact him on social media.

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