High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, has been a buzzword in the fitness world for almost a decade. Studies confirm that simply by adding bursts of high-speed, high-energy activity into your workout, and alternating it with slower moves, you can “shock” your body into burning more fat, building stronger muscles, and improving your heart rate.
Few can argue that the potential benefits are desirable ones. When done properly, a HIIT workout for women cuts down on the time you need to exercise each week, while at the same time jump-starting fat and calorie burning.
Most importantly, studies indicate that HIIT workouts are also superior ones when it comes to building muscle strength, encouraging flexibility and boosting heart health. As women enter their middle years, the need to reduce the risk of stroke and heart attack becomes increasingly important.
Yet that word “intensity” may give older adults pause. Are HIIT routines to strenuous after the age of 50 or so — especially for the non-athletes among us? And even if you’re medically cleared to take on HIIT, what’s the best way to begin? For example, can you turn an ordinary walk in the park into a heart-pumping, fat-burning powerhouse workout?
Perhaps not surprisingly, health experts urge HIIT newbies to hit the examining table before they hit the track or the gym. It’s important to know if there are any reasons you can’t handle the vigorous parts of a HIIT workout for women, especially when it comes to cardiac and pulmonary health.
And apart from potentially over-stressing your heart and lungs, jumping right into high-intensity interval training could put you at risk for torn tendons and swollen joints.
Keep in mind, however, that any current limitations you have are also reasons to slowly begin a HIIT routine. Because it can help you build flexibility, muscle strength, and heart function, high-intensity workouts may be the best way to protect all aspects of your physical health in later years.
For women over 50, walking is often a natural entry point into the world of HIIT workouts. In fact, it may be one of the best low-impact activities which can be modified for high-intensity interval training.
If joint issues make you nervous about intense exercising — not to worry. Walking is an ideal way to “HIIT” that sweet spot in which you improve your overall health, without doing damage to your knees, shoulders, and other vulnerable points.
If you haven’t done much cardio lately, it’s important to start any HIIT workout for women slowly — even if it’s “just” walking. After strolling for 5 minutes to warm up, begin to walk briskly for 20 seconds, walk more slowly for 90 seconds, and repeat the pattern at least four times. Finish with a cool-down walk of 2 to 5 minutes.
Gradually, you can work up to extending the length of the overall walking workout, as well as the resting and intense phases within that workout. After doing a 5-minute warm-up stroll, start alternating brisk walking and slower walking, each for 3 minute periods. End with a cool-down walk for another 5 minutes.
Some women opt to work up to jogging during the 3-minute high-intensity portions of the walking workout. But if you’re concerned about the strain on your lower body, sticking with brisk walking is fine. Ideally, you should be able to work your way up to 30-minute sessions, three to four times a week.
If you want to mix things up while staying in the high-intensity, low-impact zone, there are several other effective HIIT workouts for women.
Swimming is perhaps the easiest activity for keeping track of HITT intervals. Simply alternate slow laps with faster ones. You may also want to vary your strokes, along with your pace. A slower backstroke could alternate with the more demanding butterfly stroke, for example. Do each pairing of faster and slower laps at least four times — or eight laps total Try to go all-out during the high-intensity portions, but not past the point of comfort.
Cycling is another HIIT workout for women that is easier on the joints, because it’s not a weight-bearing exercise. Both indoor and outdoor bicycles are suitable for HIIT workouts. Start by cycling at a moderate pace for 5 minutes, in order to warm up. Do a 20-second count of vigorous cycling, followed by 90 seconds of slower peddling. Repeat this pattern at least four times. Finish by peddling at a moderate speed for at least 2 minutes.
Elliptical machines are also helpful for people with joint issues. The machines put both the arms and legs into motion, but use gliding parts that help users avoid putting down too much weight or twisting various joints. As with cycling, start with a 5-minute warm up. Next, move into a pattern in which you count to 20 while actively moving, then slow down for a 90-count. After a minimum of four repetitions of this pattern, have a cool down of at least 2 minutes.
As you become more conditioned in any of these activities, lengthen the time of both your “speed bursts“ and your slower periods. Work your way up to longer overall HIIT cycle workouts.
As with every fitness sensation, high-intensity interval training is bound to turn off some people, regardless of their age, gender, or physical condition. Even women without endurance or joint issues may find that HIIT workouts just don’t fit their fitness personality.
Some people prefer to let their minds drift as they work out, rather than keeping track of how long they’ve been moving briskly vs. moving at a resting pace. The tradeoff may be that it takes 45 minutes of moderate pacing to get the same kind of results you can get with a 20-30 minute HITT workout.
On the other hand, if you’ve been reached a fitness plateau, the HIIT workout for women may just be what finally helps you lose weight, build muscle, achieve better balance and improve heart health. Again, it’s important to check with your doctor first before undertaking any high-energy workout program.
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