HIIT 101: Work/Rest Ratios

Second installment of my mini series to help out those of you new to HIIT! Last time I talked about how modifying the exercises can help to make the workouts less intimidating, and this time I am showing you how you can modify your work-to-rest ratios to tailor your HIIT workout to best suit your needs for any particular day.

Let’s start off by my describing what I mean when I say work/rest ( or work:rest or work-to-rest) ratio. I’m talking about the work period, how long you are doing the exercise for, followed directly by the short rest period, the time you take after each exercise before moving onto your next work set.

Keep in mind that this is NOT the longer rest breaks that are usually included. This is generally the short time between movements that you get to quickly catch your breath, shake out or legs or grab onto your dumbbells – whatever!

Typically for beginners I would recommend a 1:1 ratio for all movements (even 2:1 if you are talking about a longer work period). In 1:1 you get just as long a rest period as your work set, and in 2:1 you get only half as much rest, which may be fine for beginners if you are doing a lower-impact movement for a longer period. Say, 40 to 60 seconds.

The ratio of work to rest is does NOT define the length of the set. That you can pick separately. I would stick with anything between 15 to 60 seconds. Anything longer isn’t quite in the realm of HIIT and anything shorter isn’t helpful for anything other than working on absolute power development – think Olympics weightlifting. I typically prefer a 20-30 second work period, sometimes 45 and rarely 60 šŸ˜‰

For the workout below, choose any of the work/rest ratios in the graphic. You can also use these are a reference point for any other HIIT workout.

HIIT 101 Work Ratios

Here are my top suggestions for beginners, intermediate and advanced:

A note of caution: don’t base a workout’s merits on the prescribed work/rest ratio.

A 15 second work period at 100% intensity (a 12+ MPH treadmill sprint) can be harder than 60 seconds of some exercises, not to mention the rest your body requires to replenish your energy stores.

On the other hand, just because it says 60 seconds doesn’t mean it’s impossible – exercises that aren’t plyometric or that are performed with little external resistance can often be completed for longer periods of time. It’s all about the INTENSITY that you bring to your workout. More on that next time!

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