Short, fast intervals (called HIIT, or high-intensity interval training) are the way to go if you want to melt fat and target a muffin top. But if you're not quite certain if you're doing it right, Sean Bartram, the trainer for the Indianapolis Colts cheerleaders and author of High-Intensity Interval Training For Women ($18), will let you in on a few secrets. Stop fearing HIIT and start reaping the sweat-inducing workout's benefits with these beginner-friendly tips.
- You don't have to go all out at the start: That image of a sweaty, muscly man defying gravity doing box jumps is enough to make anyone intimidated about trying an interval workout. But almost any explosive movement can be modified until you're ready to take your workout to the next level. "Don't be intimated by HIIT," Sean says. "If you don't feel comfortable taking on the plyometrics exercises, you can always substitute." For example, Sean recommends doing a reverse lunge instead of a jump lunge if you're not ready for jumps. Focus on mastering these moves first, and add more explosive ones when you're ready.
- Form is more important than reps: That speed demon who's racking up squats like nobody's business? Don't pay her any attention — it's more important to focus on your own form and ensuring that you're doing your reps correctly. "We have one golden rule and that's always form first, speed second. We're about quality, not so much quantity," Sean says. So if you can only do five perfect squats in 30 seconds, pat yourself on the back for focusing on form.
- Yes, you can modify in the next round, but you still have to try: Even if you can't sustain multiple rounds of perfect push-ups, it's OK. You can modify a move as rounds progress — just push yourself each round to at least do one complete rep, even if your muscles are shaking and you're not sure if you can. "Start with a regular push-up and even if you only [do] two, I want those two regular push-ups before you drop down into modified push-ups and then continue the reps from that position," Sean explains. "It might be in round three maybe you only [do] one regular push-up before you drop down but [doing at least one full one] should allow you to build more strength."
- Rest means rest: Don't worry, those 30 seconds go by quick. Make sure to rest during your rest period in order to get your heart rate back down, Sean advises. That way, you'll be able to tackle the next round with the intensity you desire.
- Hydrate before: HIIT workouts will make you thirsty, but gulping down water during a workout is a stomach cramp waiting to happen. Sean recommends drinking five to 10 ounces of an electrolyte-rich sports drink 30 minutes before your workout, then sipping water or a sports drink throughout your session.
Ready to give HIIT a try? Check out Sean's under-20-minute beginner-friendly workout.