The biggest mistakes you’re making with your HIIT workout, according to Jillian Michaels

There’s hitting the gym … and then there’s HIITing it. And you can’t really compare the two. HIIT, which stands for high-intensity interval training, is an approach to fitness that makes those folks happily trotting away on their ellipticals look like slacker couch potatoes in comparison. With HIIT, there will be buckets of sweat, animal-like grunts, and demanding trainers who expect you to go longer, stronger, and faster. One of the most well-known — and tenacious — of these trainers happens to be health and fitness expert Jillian Michaels, who virtually coaches HIIT workout routines through her Jillian Michaels Fitness App.

In an interview with The List, Michaels revealed that she wished people would hit the HIIT scene with more knowledge about how this exercise strategy works. “HIIT workouts are one of the best fitness techniques to boost your calorie burn and get you in great shape fast,” Michaels said. “[But] a lack of knowledge about exactly how to do them and incorporate them into your overall wellness regimen can greatly compromise your results.” Here are the most common HIIT mistakes Michaels sees.

Don't skip your warm-up before a HIIT workout, says Jillian Michaels

Usually, before you work out, you’ll want to ease into your routine — but Michaels sees plenty of HIIT enthusiasts who start their sweat session with cold muscles. “They don’t warm up!” she said. Are they just so excited to get moving that they forget about this key part of any workout? Perhaps … although Michaels’ guess is that people might mistakenly believe that the warm-up is incorporated in the workout. “Often people presume that because the HIIT workout is comprised of more traditional cardio type exercises, and not resistance training, that they don’t need a warm up,” she said. “[This is] simply not the case.”

Before you begin your HIIT workout, get your body moving, Michaels added. “Make sure to do a quick, three to five minute cardio warm-up before your HIIT training,” she advised. This doesn’t have to be anything elaborate. “[It] could be a brisk walk or light jog around the block.” Some other options? A little jump-roping is always a good warm-up; so is shadow boxing. If all else fails? “Walking the stairs in your apartment complex” will suffice, according to Michaels.

Taking the easy way out will short-change your HIIT workout

Another HIIT mistake Michaels hates to see is moderate and low intensity exertion during a workout that is designed to be extremely challenging. “HIIT training is meant to be ‘high intensity.’ That’s the whole point,” Michaels said. You are supposed to feel uncomfortable, sweaty, with labored breathing; this is not yoga or chair aerobics.

But what if you feel like you are working as hard as you can — how can you tell whether indeed, you’re giving this workout your all? According to Michaels, math is your friend. “You want to push yourself during the work period of the interval so that you are peaking at 90 to 100 percent of your maximum heart rate, or MHR,” she explained. This is an easy, tried-and-true formula, Michaels added. “You can get this number by simply subtracting your age from 220. So for example, a 35 year old’s MHR would be 220 minus 35. That would be an MHR of 185 beats per minute.” If you have an Apple watch, FitBit, or other smart watch, you should be able to check this number throughout your workout; if not, a heart rate monitor chest strap is a tool worth buying.

Not being strategic with your recovery is a big HIIT mistake

The word “interval” is a key component of HIIT — it is, after all, the “i” in this abbreviation. But according to Michaels, many people don’t understand how to time their recoveries in between high-intensity sessions and that leads to a sub-optimal workout. “There are different ways of building HIIT workouts based on your fitness level,” she added, so if you’re following a plan that someone super-advanced is doing, and you’re new to this approach to fitness, you could be over-taxing yourself.

Michaels explained that the HIIT workouts in her app are structured so that athletes who classify themselves as “extremely advanced” have a three-to-one work-to-recovery ratio. “For example: 45 seconds on, 15 seconds off,” she explained. Those who list themselves as advanced have a two-to-one work-to-recovery ratio, which would be 40 seconds of hard work, then a 20 second recovery. Intermediate athletes, meanwhile, will have recovery and workout intervals of equal length, and beginners will have double the recovery time compared to their workout time.

Long HIIT workouts are also a no-no, according to Jillian Michaels

You can have too much of a good thing when it comes to HIIT, Michaels said. “People train for too long!” she added. “HIIT workouts are meant to be shorter in overall duration.” The ideal length of a HIIT workout will vary, but Michaels likes to cap the time at 30 minutes, which includes a three to five minute warm-up, and three to five minutes for a cool down. And no more than 20 of those 30 minutes should be devoted to the high-intensity part of the workout; there will be periods of rest woven throughout.

“You have to remember that intensity has an inverse relationship with duration,” Michaels added. “The harder you train, the shorter your workout should be.” This is not, after all, a marathon. “The more moderate of an intensity you are training at, the longer your workout can be,” she explained. “Think wind sprints for 20 minutes, versus a long, leisurely hike that might last 60 minutes to several hours.”

Getting fancy with your HIIT workout could backfire

It might sound like a HIIT workout is elaborate or intricately detailed, with all of this emphasis on how much time is needed to be in recovery compared to at work. But in fact, according to Michaels, the HIIT exercises should be really simple. “Don’t overcomplicate your HIIT workouts,” she urged. “HIIT exercises are simple, basic movements that allow you to simply to go full force without complication, minimizing risk of injury.”

You might want to incorporate equipment, if you have it handy. “A cardio machine is fine from the rower, bike, or treadmill,” Michaels said, “[and] all can be done outside as well on the aforementioned equipment.” That being said, HIIT is designed to work just as well with absolutely no gym paraphernalia at all. “If no equipment is available, use your body as your tool,” Michaels explained. “So while in my app, I have audio workouts for cardio equipment, I also build HIIT workouts for people with no equipment, using simple exercises like jumping jacks, butt kicks, high knees, alternating punches, etc.”

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