Is Your HIIT Really HIIT?

Sprinting is one hell of a way to shed body fat and increase power. Sprinting is also one hell of a way to accumulate some pretty annoying injuries. HIIT has become known as the best way to utilize sprints. However, are you truly using HIIT or are you simply interval training?? My friend there is a BIG difference in the two. I usually hear folks talk about doing some rounds of HIIT, but in reality they are simply doing interval training not high intensity interval training. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this method. It would be like comparing maximal strength training to hypertrophy (muscle mass) training. However, if you are interested in HIIT, here are some big clues that you are not doing high enough intensity:

– You are sprinting all out for more than 15 seconds (and 15 seconds is seriously pushing it).

– You only need a few seconds or minutes between one circuit before you are able to go again (I seriously doubt the most elite sprinter could get away with that).

– You really have no technique you just run…fast. There are some who are born to sprint and can go with this. Just for the sake of argument, let’s say you are not one of them.

I hate to be the one to bring you the bad news but, this is interval training. Not to be confused with the hardcore all out HIIT you want it to be.

Like I stated earlier, interval training is just fine and will most likely serve you well to get to your fat loss goals. I’m just here to show you how to add some horsepower to your engine. First of, let me backtrack and make sure we are all on the same wavelength here when talking about HIIT. HIIT sprinting is bouts of sprints maintained at 95% of maximal strength/speed or higher (1). The bouts are high intense in nature and thrive on ATP-CP (alactic) energy system. Because of the very nature of the beast, long rest breaks are needed between sets to allow for ATP-CP recovery and alleviate oxygen debt (1).

I would argue many gym goers lack the skill set to reach their maximal potential. So HIIT is simply unreachable. The HIIT is thought to be created to increase power and strength gains as well as lowering bodyfat in advanced sprinters. I wouldn’t jump the gun and say you need to be elite to use HIIT, but you do need to understand and be able to execute some sprinting skills to truly harness HIIT sprint training. I am going to outline some drills to give you what you need to get to the next level. All I ask is you follow the prescribed rest times and give the drills a chance. Trust me, they are already proven to work. I’m just setting them up for you to use.

First, you need to find a decent field “to get your sprints on”. If you have access to a nice soft track, use that. Second, get some cleats. Cleats are pretty inexpensive. I would recommend the general soccer cleat for grass fields and short distance sprinter cleats for a track.

Third, assess your physical abilities and shortcomings before starting. Sprinting is pretty unforgiving. Your body will be moving in millisecond speed and using/absorbing a LOT of generated force. So, before commencing know where you stand and take care of any shortcomings. I would recommend investing a few bucks and getting a postural and kinetic assessment done by a physical therapist or very knowledgeable personal trainer. Finally, recovery (active and passive) is 60% of the game. Eating, sleeping, stretching, massages, and implements such as these will serve you well.

To sprint, one needs optimal dorsiflexion (that’s about 15-20 degree bend in your ankle as your toes point ot your shins) so every day I would advise doing bouts of heel walking. This can be done during daily chores or any other daily activities. Also, the muscles in the foot that assist in dorsiflexion and “clawing” (extensors and flexors) should be strengthened frequently. You can simply practice by spreading and gripping with your toes as you walk around the house or between drills.

To make sure we all have the basis for sprinting posture, I’m going to go over a few checkpoints of the upper body during the “lift” phase of the sprint and these drills:

– Eyes and head focused forward. Chin should not jut forward.

– Jaw is loose (jelly jaw).

– Shoulders are depressed and retracted (down and back).

– Arms drive forward and back with a 90 degree elbow bend

– Hands are loosely clenched

– Arms drive back and forth remaining close to body and not crossing torso.

Here are the drills to do before sprinting. These are not the only drills out there, but they are easy to learn and have great influence on your ability to sprint. Also, the upper body plays a crucial role in the quality of your sprint, so keep good upper body form for drilling:

1) Heel Walks

20 yards

2) Ankle Jumps

20 jumps

3) Low Step Shuffle

20 yards

4) Mid Step Shuffle

20 yards

5) Butt kicks

20 yards

6) A-march

20 yards

7) A-skip

20 yards

8) Heel Bounds

20 yards

9) Heel Bounds in partial squat

20 yards


Heel Walks:

Walk on the heels of your feet with toes pointed towards shin. Point your toes slightly inward (should feel “pigeon toed”). Keep your legs straight and pull yourself forward with each step.

Ankle Jumps:

Jump in place with hands at your side. Only allow a very slight bend of the knee. Jump as high as possible. Upon landing explode as fast as possible into another jump. The purpose is to develop fast reaction time and mobility in the feet and ankles.

Low Step shuffle:

These are down with your feet remaining dorsiflexed the entire time. Almost what a quick heel walk would look like. With your feet dorsiflexed, shuffle as quickly as possible, only allowing your feet to barely clear your ankles. The steps will be very short and small but you must attempt to maintain a high speed. Pretend the ground is on fire and you need to keep your feet in air as long as possible and on the ground as little as possible.

Mid Step Shuffle:

Same as low step, except this time you can bend your knees to allow your feet to raise approx. mid shin level. When you are doing it right, your legs will be in front of your body as if bike riding.


Pretty self explanatory. Remember, we need quality so your calves should make contact with your hamstrings each time (as one coach put it “smash your hammies with your calves…”).


This is a marching sprint. Form is really crucial here. You will march bringing your knee as high as possible of the ground. Attempt to bring your calf in contact with your hamstrings. Quickly bring that same foot “directly” down under your body (not in front).


You will take the same method used in A-march and now add a skip into it.

Heel Bounds (or leaps):

Keeping your legs straight and feet dorsiflexed, bound from on foot to another. Really emphasize pulling your body forward with your leg. Do not bend knees.

Heel Bounds (in partial squat):

Same as heel bounds, but this time you are in a partial squatting position. You will bend your knees and accelerate your body forward with each step.

Take 2-5 minutes active breaks (active stretching, backwards walking etc.) Re-fuel with whatever your sports drink is and do this again. I would recommend going through two to four times for beginners and six times for the “seasoned guys and gals”. Also, don’t over analyze this information I wrote. These are movements that you are trying to make “subconscious” for yourself. So feel for correct posture and biomechanics. Hopefully, this will increase your sprinting ability and allow you to truly reach the level of HIIT.


1. Bompa, Tudor and Carrera Michael. Periodization Training for Sports. 2005: 27 -33.