How to Teach HIIT to Everyone

By Stephanie Vlach, MS
May 26, 2015

High-intensity interval training has been riding a wave of popularity, and it seems everyone wants to give it a try. However, intense interval training is nothing new. Group fitness instructors have been teaching HIIT for a long time. Fartlek training, for example, was big in the 1970s. The 1980s brought us high-impact classes, and the 1990s introduced indoor cycling (think repeat hill training). HIIT is a fantastic workout and an effective way to train energy systems; build muscle; lose weight; enhance strength, power and agility; and prevent adaptation. People continue to love it because it works.

The challenge is that HIIT classes can be unduly taxing on the body if not taught or performed properly. Instructors want to stay current with industry trends to keep classes at capacity; however, there’s also a moral and professional obligation to educate and protect. “The biggest struggle of a true HIIT class in a group exercise setting is to make sure everyone is safe and [using good] form,” says ACE-certified fitness professional Susan Eichensehr, MSCEP, owner and head coach at Rock Steady Boxing in Chicago. “You have no idea who is going to walk into your studio that day. You may have a mix of fitness enthusiasts, active older adults, beginners, members with joint limitations, etc. You [may not] have anyone’s health history, and it’s diffcult to give individualized attention to those who need it.”

So how can you teach dynamite HIIT classes safely and effectively to grandparents, weekend warriors and rookies alike? Read on to learn more.

Get to Know Participants

Familiarizing yourself with a room full of people is easier said than done, right? True, it can be difficult to obtain information about your participants. Most likely, you won’t know everyone who walks into your class, but that shouldn’t stop you from making a concerted effort. Take a look around during setup. Do you see a bunch of new faces? A lot of active older adults? Is someone pregnant? Get a feel for who is in class that day, and ask questions if needed.

“We can’t read minds,” stresses Eichensehr, “so be upfront and ask people if there is anything you should know about their health histories. Approaching members individually is best, but if that’s not an option, make a general announcement. Then take the information and work it into your plan. Your participants will appreciate your care and concern as well as the [moments of] personalized attention that you give.”

However, even if you make a conscious effort to gain personal information prior to class, some people will trickle in during the warm-up or slip into the back row 10 minutes after class has started. Therefore, make sure you continue your message throughout class. A statement as simple as “Remember to stay hydrated, use modifications when necessary and listen to your body” will encourage self-awareness.

For five more tips on how to effectively and safely teach HIIT to people of all fitness levels, please see “How to Make HIIT a Hit for Everyone” in the online IDEA Library or in the March 2015 print issue of IDEA Fitness Journal. If you cannot access the full article and would like to, please contact the IDEA Inspired Service Team at (800) 999-4332, ext. 7.

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Stephanie Vlach, MS

Stephanie Vlach, MS, is a certified fitness professional with 17 years of experience. She has held numerous roles and positions within the industry. Currently, she is a group exercise instructor and freelance writer in the Chicago area. She can be reached at [email protected]

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