Martial Arts and HITT Training

Can Martial Arts be Used as a Form of HIIT Training?

High Intensity Interval Training (or as it is more commonly abbreviated, HIIT), is a form of exercise that has been around for decades, but recent years have seen this effective training method gain in both popularity and wider recognition as something much more credible than just a fitness fad.

While there are already several variations of HIIT workouts or programs out there which have been developed to achieve results that are specifically beneficial for certain sports and the athletes who play them, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at how well martial arts can be adapted to the basic HIIT formula to serve as its own form of HIIT training. But before we get to that, a crash course on the basics of HIIT might be useful for those who are new to the method or who might appreciate a refresher on the reasons behind HIIT’s staying power in the fitness community.

High Intensity Interval Training: What HIIT Is and How HIIT Works

Initially developed over time as a way to improve the overall performance of runners, most notably Olympic bound athletes in Finland and Sweden in the early 1900’s, the results of successful HIIT programs eventually caught the eye of many professional coaches and athletes, expanding to include training that was geared toward a much wider variety of sports. But what is HIIT, exactly?

Simply put, HIIT involves alternating brief but near maximum intensity periods of cardio exercise with medium to low intensity “recovery” periods of exercise in repeated intervals (with the collective session beginning and ending with the requisite warm up and cool down periods, respectively). The “high intensity” part of a  HIIT workout is intentionally arduous, with the goal being to push your heart rate up to at least 80% of its maximum in those intervals (for a simple estimation of your maximal heart rate, subtract your age from 220), and then staying at around 50% during the recovery intervals.

Beyond this basic formula of short, intense activity and effort alternated with longer periods of slower paced, low key activity or rest, there is no one “right way” or universally accepted set of activities that constitute a HIIT workout.  Which is a great way to lead into our next section…

The Many Benefits of HIIT

There’s a pretty impressive list of factors that add up to HIIT’s increasingly positive reputation as both an alternative or an addition to more standard, static cardio workouts. Some of the highlights include:

AdaptabilityHIIT is an extremely versatile and accessible form of exercise. This often comes as a surprise to newcomers, some of whom grimace as soon as you mention that  “high intensity” part but are soon relieved when they learn that HIIT is all about matching your workout with your current fitness level – not the level of some lofty fitness goal you hope to achieve in the future. Your HIIT workout should be difficult during the intense intervals – but those only need to last as long as it takes you to reach your heart rate goal and then be maintained for a brief period of time – sometimes only for a matter of seconds if that’s the level you’re at when you start using the HIIT method. This adaptability makes it possible for people in a wide range of ages, in varying degrees of fitness, and even with many existing health conditions to take into account to work towards a healthier overall lifestyle.

Efficiency – One of the most frequently lauded facets of HIIT workouts is their ridiculous level of efficiency. It sounds way too good to be true, but the results of countless studies from reputable, trustworthy sources have piled up over the years, proving over and over again that HIIT is not only a very effective way to get in shape, it is a faster and safer way to get real results than some of the endurance based workouts that many of us have been slogging through (or skipping entirely) for years.

Versatility – Because HIIT workouts don’t have to require exercise equipment (unless you want them to), machines, weights or specialized clothing or tools and because your session can be done in as little as four minutes, depending on the variation you prefer, you can fit your workout in just about anywhere at just about any time. In addition to that, because HIIT methods have no hard and fast rules or routines and can be done so quickly, many people find that they enjoy their workouts much more than they have in the past. The possibilities and variations are almost endless and this eliminates the workout boredom and burnout that comes with so many of the more rigid options out there.

Real Results – The actual health benefits of HIIT are kind of astounding. Proven health effects include:

    • Improved cardiovascular health and blood vessel function
    • Increase in the maximum volume of oxygen that your body can absorb (also known as VO2 max), leading to better endurance during exercise and activity
    • Decrease in fasting blood glucose level and lowering of insulin resistance
    • Improved cognitive control and memory capacity
    • Improved anaerobic and aerobic fitness
    • Weight loss without losing muscle mass

A Great Fit – Combining Martial Arts and HIIT

Coming back around to the question posed in our title, it’s probably pretty clear that the versatility of HIIT allows ample room to incorporate a variety of martial arts based exercises for any level of skill into an effective and schedule friendly fitness routine.

While the specifics of your HIIT based martial arts workout will ultimately be up to you, some examples of martial arts based exercises to help inspire you include:

  • Deep squat, then rising to a front kick
  • Step back lunges to a kick/jump kick
  • Mountain climbers
  • 360 push ups
  • Heavy bag punching or kicking (using your preferred technique)

These exercises can be tailored to your skill level and done in high intensity intervals of 20 to 40 seconds, alternating with 20 or more seconds of rest in between, repeated to suit your ability.

It’s important to remember that in martial arts based HIIT routines, you should only use martial arts techniques that you are comfortable with and that you can execute in proper form and you should always include a brief warm up period before your HIIT workout and end with a cool down period to help avoid injury. We hope this has inspired you to give HIIT a try. If you put in the work, you won’t be disappointed.