Are You Doing HIIT Wrong? Avoid These HIIT Mistakes

In spite of the popularity, and the science behind it, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is not the panacea for fitness. It’s a part of a plan. It punctuates a week of exercise. Now that HIIT has lived beyond trend and fad science is beginning to support the place it has for optimal risk:reward ratio. For women flipping 50 (or others more susceptible to the negative effects of stress) the exercise goal always to impose a reasonable amount of stress without it becoming a negative stressor.

Are you making any of these common HIIT mistakes?

HIIT Mistakes

You skip the warm up or cool down.

Do not miss the warm up if you want to keep doing HIIT. High Intensity exercise is usually about going faster or doing it against more resistance or both. Those kinds of movements, whether jumping or swimming or something in between, add greater amounts of stress to joints and ligaments. Give them a longer warm up in order to prevent injury.

Then there’s this: do not miss the warm up if you want to burn more fat and feel more comfortable doing it! The better you’ve got circulation and respiration humming before the real work, the bigger your energy expenditure.

Do not skip the cool down if you want to have a better next workout. You again decrease risk of injury, this time by bringing things back to rest and stretching those muscles you’ve work. The sooner and better you recover the better you’ll be able to workout next time.

You skip eating before.

It’s likely to decrease performance and energy expenditure. The higher the intensity the more your body relies on carbohydrates to get that fire burning. Even if you want to lose weight- actually especially – you want to eat. You may feel sick and or off balance or shaky. It’s not necessarily the exercise it’s the lack of nutrition.

I know you’re confused by fasting, eating, and what to eat. But the body burns carbs at high intensity and they are not your enemy. If you’re tired all the time, not recovering from exercise so you feel ready to go again come next workout, test a few more carbs sandwiched around your workouts. Not everyone is able to eat only fat or fast and feel good. At midlife? It’s likely to stress you further.

Your intervals are too long.

You can really only maintain true High Intensity for up to 30 seconds or a minute. I

HIIT Mistakes

t’s OK, and sometimes important to do longer intervals if you’re training for longer duration events. To find short workouts you can find time to do and increase fat burning you want to keep intervals short.

I do prescribe 3-minute intervals, even 8-minute intervals for clients doing triathlons or half marathons. But if your goals revolve around life, health, and not an athletic endeavor, shorter is better.

Your interval training session is too long.


A peak of 45 minutes total per week has been shown in a recent ACE study to correlate with positive effects. More than that tips the cortisol and injury scale.

Don’t start with 45 minutes of HIIT. Start with one session of 10 minutes of intervals a week. Increase to 12 then 15 minutes after a couple weeks. Progression is usually missing when you’re in a hurry to get results yesterday’s yesterday.

Note: The “session” refers to the time dedicated to both work intervals and recovery intervals in this instance.  Warm up and a cool down time are not included.

You have too little rest between.

If you skip or skimp on rest between, or don’t allow your body to truly recover, you just get a cloudy workout. You’ve got to have the highs and the lows. Both are equally important.

The landmark study by Tabata that coined the term was done on elite male athletes working at 110% capacity. They were used to hard work and did 20 second work intervals and 10 seconds recovery.

You, my dear, are not male, 20, or an elite athlete (if you are, thanks for stopping by). So this formula has nothing to do with common sense or science for a beginner or a restarter unaccustomed to exercise. Rest should always be longer than exercise for a beginner. At the least it should be equal as you progress. And only after you know you’re in hormone balance would you make the rest interval shorter in duration than the work interval.

If you’re doing it, beware of form. In consecutive intervals with minimum rest your form is likely to fall apart toward the end either decreasing results or increasing injury risk.

You have too much rest between.

You do want to rest between enough for that heart rate to come down. Monitor it using a heart rate monitor (if you’ve been tested to know what it should be when you are recovered) or by your rating of perceived exertion (RPE). That is, you feel like you can do another interval full out. If you stay at that low level too long you’ve lost a little of the self-imposed stress you’re attempting with HIIT.

Not too little, not too much, but just right. You want the Goldilocks recovery.

Your intensity isn’t high enough.

It’s not a jog and a walk. If you can recite the alphabet without need for a break you’re not working hard enough. If you are capable of running faster and you’re jogging, you’re not at your HIIT. Every one can do an interval.

HIIT Mistakes

Being a beginner may be a limiter for stress on joints and muscles(choose activity wisely) but you can get breathless. Emphysema and asthma patients often do better with interval training.

Your “hard” interval speed or resistance will change over time. Use your perception of “hard” from say a 8 , 9 or 10/10 scale to determine how hard you’re working.


Your form is wrong.

If you’re doing a do as-many-repetitions-as-possible kind of interval oh, so common online and in bootcamps, you’re going to fall apart. The most common exercise used by what I call a lazy trainer? Burpees. There are half a dozen things that can go wrong in a burpee. Do them all faster and you’re on your way to injury.

After 50, if you haven’t gotten wise before it, move fast between exercises, but complete exercises with proper form. Some exercises lend themselves better to interval training than others.

You’re using weight and doing as-many-as-possible.

Danger, Will Robinson. This is a recipe for injury for two reasons. One, when momentum is emphasized form falls apart fast. Second, if you’re lifting heavy weights on other days you’re destroying your recovery. It all counts.

Just because you’re in the weight room one day and in a studio doing bootcamp (or your living room doing P90x) the next, your body doesn’t know it. If your muscle never gets time to repair and rebuild fitness can’t happen. You’re not going to boost metabolism that way. You’re breaking down your muscle. Really after 50 you can’t afford that.

You’re Doing HIIT Too Frequently For You

If you’re trying to do it every day you’re missing the balance that creates fitness. You’ve got to do some high, some moderate, and some low intensity exercise. You sprinkle those HIIT workouts in and the days between them while you’re recovering is when you get fit.

Some exercise requires recovery (HIIT) and some exercise is recovery. You can still move –and should – but lower intensity and alternative types of exercise are best between HIIT.

You hate it.

If you chose exercise for it’s fat or calorie burning reputation (you should actually choose strength training and fill in with cardio options) and you can’t see yourself doing something for life, rethink. Dreading the workout is a sure fire way to prolong the stop and start that may have made you reach for HIIT in the first place.

Any exercise mode can be interval training. Find your jam. Run, walk, row, bike, swim, dance.


HIIT Mistakes

Coming up next on the blog: FAT, FIT, HURT: IS HIIT REALLY THE BEST?

You might also like: 

Heart Pumping, Fat Burning Interval Training After 50

The Training Bible on Recovery, Intervals, and Weight Training

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