If you're considering doing high-intensity interval training, also known as HIIT, be prepared for a love-hate relationship. While this type of workout has many benefits and can increase your fitness level, it's also an exhausting workout. You can do HIIT using any type of cardiovascular exercise, including exercises performed on the elliptical machine. According to the American Council on Exercise, this type of exercise can be done once or twice a week -- and you probably won't beg to do it more often than that.
Whether you're doing HIIT on an elliptical machine, treadmill or bicycle or just by running, the basics of the training are the same. You start out pushing yourself to your near-maximum capacity in your chosen cardiovascular activity. You maintain that level for anywhere from 15 seconds to four minutes, then slow down to about 50 percent of your maximum capacity for a recovery period, which can last the same amount of time as the intense portion, or about twice as long. There is no precise right or wrong way to do it -- simply start out with a burst of intensity, then follow it with a recovery period. The challenge comes when you repeat the cycle. At first you may be able to accomplish three or four rounds; over time, you can work up to eight rounds.
The benefits of this exercise are many. When you work on the elliptical machine, many people eventually experience a level of boredom, and HIIT helps to keep it interesting. Additionally, HIIT improves both your aerobic capacity and your anaerobic capacity -- which means you'll be in better shape with a relatively short workout. That leads to another benefit: You won't have to work out as long to complete an effective workout. In addition, intervals deplete your glycogen stores, which causes your body to use fat to replenish those supplies, thus burning more fat.
You can tailor your HIIT routine in a number of ways, but here's one option to get you going. Crank up the incline and resistance on the elliptical as high as you can -- within reason and according to your fitness level. Work as hard as you can for 30 seconds, keeping the elliptical machine's seconds counter visible so you can monitor your time. At the end of the 30 seconds, you should feel as though you can't go one second more. Lower the incline and reduce resistance and recover for 60 seconds by going slowly at an easy pace. If you're still feeling winded after 60 seconds, take 90 seconds to recover instead. Repeat this cycle four times, or more if you can muster it. Increase the number of cycles in the second week and each succeeding week until you're up to eight rounds.
Warmup and Cooldown
Another important facet of HIIT training is the warmup and cooldown. Before you start the intense portion of your workout, set the elliptical on low resistance and incline, and go for about five to 10 minutes. Once you break a light sweat, your muscles should be warm enough to hit the intense portion. Once you've completed the HIIT rounds, do the same for a cooldown, setting the elliptical on a low incline and resistance and going slowly for at least five minutes.
Because HIIT can be strenuous on the cardiovascular system, it's important to talk to your doctor before starting this training regimen -- especially if you have a history of heart disease or heart failure. Your doctor will be able to guide you on the safest methods to approach the training, and whether it's appropriate for you. In some cases, people with heart conditions have benefited greatly from doing it, according to the American Council on Exercise. As you get started, you may also benefit from working with a personal trainer, who can guide you through the process and ensure you're doing your elliptical workout safely.
Nicole Vulcan has been a journalist since 1997, covering parenting and fitness for The Oregonian, careers for CareerAddict, and travel, gardening and fitness for Black Hills Woman and other publications. Vulcan holds a Bachelor of Arts in English and journalism from the University of Minnesota. She's also a lifelong athlete and is pursuing certification as a personal trainer.