High Intensity Interval Training in your Fifties
High Intensity Interval Training in your Fifties is possible. Why is high intensity interval training (HIIT) becoming a well-known, and highly utilized staple in the fitness industry? There is no denying that HIIT provides a solid and efficient workout. At first glance, it may seem like this type of training is not for the faint of heart. Working at high intensity may seem intimidating if you are not used to it or if you are new to exercising in general.
HIIT is 100% safe, efficient, and rewarding, even if you are in your fifties like me!
What is HIIT training all about?
High intensity interval training is all about working out in intervals. You go from an all out, high level of intensity to complete rest, and alternating back and forth.
This work, rest combination repeats for a set duration of time. Some people choose to create 4 minute HIIT workouts, some choose to go for 20 minutes, it’s your choice. This is the best part of HIIT training, you get to customize it!
Pick out how long you want to work out. Then pick what you want your work to rest ratio to be. Next pick what movements you want to include. Sounds too easy right?
This work to rest ratio is what defines how long you are exercising with a high level of intensity and how long you are resting. A work to rest ratio of 1:2 is a common place to start. This means you will workout at a high intensity and then your rest break is double that length of time.
For a quick and easy example, here is a HIIT with a 1:2 ratio:
15 seconds mountain climbers
30 seconds rest
Repeat 8 times
This is a very basic example of high intensity interval training in your fifties
HIIT workouts can have as many movements, or as little movements as you want. There are only two requirements when creating your HIIT workout:
- Decide how long you want to work out for and then set your work, rest ratio.
- When you are in that working set, you must go all out at a high intensity. You must push your limits, to really get the full benefit. Don’t worry, you will soon get a rest break.
Your heart rate will feel like it is skyrocketing, your breathing rate will increase, and you will break a sweat. But before you know it, your high intensity workout will be over. You will be stronger than you were before, ready to take on the rest of your day.
Here is another example of a HIIT workout:
8 minute workout
30 seconds mountain climbers
10 seconds rest
30 seconds squats
10 seconds rest
30 seconds high knees
10 seconds rest
30 second plank
10 seconds rest
30 seconds lunges
10 seconds rest
30 seconds push ups
10 seconds rest
Intensity, what it means to go all out in a workout with high intensity interval training in your fifties!
Telling someone to go all out in a workout is pretty subjective. It will look different for all of us, depending on fitness levels, sleep quality, hydration, nutrition, and overall health status.
One of the best ways to start gauging intensity levels is to use something called the Rate of Perceived Exertion Scale.
This scale ranges from 0 to 10. Zero equates to nothing, no work, and no intensity. The scale then progresses up to 10 which is complete maximum effort.
Getting up to the higher levels between 7-9 can be challenging at first. As you gain confidence, aim for that 9/10 level, working out at near all out intensity. This will insure that you get the most out of your workout. You will be pushing the limits on your fitness, and you will see improvements in your overall health.
But RPE is not the only way to measure intensity.
Your heart rate is another way to measure intensity, but takes a little more practice and education. Working out at least 75% of your maximum heart rate is a good starting place with HIIT.
To find your maximum heart rate, take 220 – your age. Then take 75% of that number to arrive at your target heart rate for a HIIT workout.
It helps to have a heart rate monitor, otherwise you may need to take your own heart rate during the workout, and that can just be too much to think about while you are huffing and puffing.
Check out this awesome target heart rate cheat sheet!
My suggestion, start out with the RPE scale, get to know what high intensity feels like, and then if you want to get into more specific details you can start to work with your maximum and target heart rates.
After all of this talk about heart rate and all out intensity, I know what most of you are thinking right now, is HIIT safe for me?
HIIT in your Fifties! High intensity interval training in your fifties!
As with anything new, especially with exercise, make sure to work with a healthcare professional. They can create the workout plan that will be most appropriate for you. If you have injuries, disorders or diseases that may impact your ability to workout they can help. This is especially true with high intensity workouts.
However, through research, HIIT has been found to be suitable for both the healthy and at risk populations.¹
It is important to understand that at first, HIIT can be a complex concept and for anyone unfamiliar to exercise, you should have specific assessment and training before beginning a HIIT program.¹ Physical therapists or certified personal trainers can help guide you. Any healthcare professional that has extensive knowledge in the human body and exercise science can help guide you at first.
But once you are given the go ahead, HIIT can be very effective, even in our fifties! Let’s look at more of the research.
HIIT based exercise programs have been found to lead to greater improvements in body composition, muscle strength, mobility, and balance in healthy, older people, compared to regular low to moderate intensity continuous training, even though HIIT results in overall reduced training volume. Remember this is an efficient type of workout program! ²
Weight loss and body composition changes in postmenopausal women are also very evident and pronounced with this type of training.³ ⁴ Besides the confidence this can give us, weight loss and fat loss also helps to reduce risk of postmenopausal chronic diseases.⁴
Health is not about how we look
Health is not always about how we look, it comes down to how strong we are, how ready we are for whatever might come our way, and our capacity to fight diseases. HIIT has been found to prevent and improve cardiovascular and other metabolic lifestyle diseases. This includes diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and even some cancers.¹ HIIT an positively impact our health and help eliminate these chronic diseases by increasing our cardiorespiratory fitness which improves the function of our heart and lungs, improve our endothelial function which is the ability of our arteries to successfully pump blood and oxygen to our working muscles and organs, improve our resting blood pressure, improve insulin sensitivity, and keep unhealthy, unwanted excess fat off of us.⁵
And, HIIT can start to positively impact our lives in such a short period of time. Research even supports that as little as 30 second intervals, for 5 minutes or less, done throughout the week for as little as 4 weeks can result in improved VO2max which is the gold standard for measuring aerobic and cardiovascular fitness.⁶
For the best results, aim for at least 3 sessions a week for 8 weeks and then re-evaluate your progress. You may be pleasantly surprised.³
When you look at the exercise guidelines for the general population, you essentially have 2 options; 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic exercise or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic exercise. HIIT would fall within the vigorous category. Why wouldn’t someone want to be more efficient with their workout??
Here are the full exercise guidelines and recommendations, from the American Heart Association:
- Get at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or 75 minutes per week of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, preferably spread throughout the week.
- Add moderate- to high-intensity muscle-strengthening activity (such as resistance or weights) on at least 2 days per week.
- Spend less time sitting. Even light-intensity activity can offset some of the risks of being sedentary.
- Gain even more benefits by being active at least 300 minutes (5 hours) per week.
- Increase amount and intensity gradually over time.
Clearly, HIIT is efficient and simply good for our overall health, wellness, and fitness. It improves our strength, weight, balance and mobility. It can reduce our risk of diseases, giving us a buffer between our good health and chronic disease.
But let’s not forget that HIIT has many other benefits.
It will keep you from getting bored in the gym. The variations to HIIT workouts are endless. You can choose from body weight movements, use of free weights or machines. You can work on cardiovascular fitness, plyometrics, balance, stretching, dancing, etc. Plus, if you do not have access to a gym you can still have an effective workout by performing a HIIT at home, just use your body weight, whatever equipment you have or objects around your house.
HIIT is completely modifiable. Only have time for a 4 minute workout? Or do you have time to complete a 20 minute HIIT? Do you feel like taking slightly longer rest breaks than last week? Are you ready to shorten the rest and lengthen the work? Whatever it is that you feel like doing and have time for, you get to program in yourself. There is no right or wrong way to create a HIIT workout, just follow the basic requirements listed earlier!
Give HIIT a shot, let us know how it goes and what workout you came up with. Do it for your health, fitness, confidence, and overall quality of life. What are you waiting for?