Female runner on track.

6 Common HIIT Running Mistakes to Avoid

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a well-known and effective training method that can help you burn fat, build muscle, and improve your overall fitness. Although it’s a popular way to exercise and can be applied to cycling, running, strength training, and more, there are also plenty of ways to do it wrong and suffer injuries as a result, unintentionally. For runners using this training method, here are some of the most common HIIT running mistakes to avoid.

1. Not warming up or cooling down properly

Group of runners warming up on an outside track.

Warming up before a run is the best way to prepare your body for physical activity. It warms up your muscles, helps minimize soreness, and may even improve your post-workout recovery. HIIT running can be particularly rough on your body because it involves periods of high-intensity running that are more strenuous on your body. Stretching before you run can help prevent injuries from this type of exercise.

Cooling down after your HIIT workout also allows your body to gradually return to its pre-exercise heart rate and blood pressure. This is particularly important for endurance athletes like runners because it helps regulate blood flow, supplying the muscles with fresh, oxygen-rich blood and transferring waste products to the kidneys. 

2. Running on an empty stomach

Runner hunched over on grass in a park.

Although you may be able to go for a steady jog or moderately-paced run on an empty stomach, we don’t recommend it for a HIIT running session. If you do, you’re likely to feel sick, and your performance will suffer.

With HIIT running, your body needs lots of energy to push through those high-intensity spurts. And if you don’t fuel your body with food, it won’t have enough carbs to use for energy. The solution? Eat a healthy mix of carbs and protein to give your body what it needs to perform well.

If you have at least two hours before your HIIT circuit run, eat something like eggs and toast or oatmeal. Alternatively, if you have less than an hour before your run, choose something like fat-free yogurt with berries, a banana with nut butter, or a protein shake.1

Need more snack inspiration? Here are 10 healthy homemade snack ideas.

3. Training too long or too frequently

Group of male runners on a track training.

More isn’t always better. While consistency is key to getting your desired results, you shouldn’t overdo it. Overtraining by doing HIIT running too often or completing sessions that are too long can ultimately do more harm than good. 

Since high-intensity workouts are harder on your body, you should only do them a few times a week. And if you want your muscles to grow, your body needs rest and time to repair them after a hard workout. You’re more likely to achieve long-term results and avoid physical and mental burnout by giving your body adequate time to recover.2

Similarly, longer HIIT running sessions aren’t more likely to get you better or faster results. In fact, they’ll do the opposite. HIIT needs to be short to be effective, so keep things brief and punchy with runs that last anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes.

4. Having improper form

Group of runners in a city mid-session.

When running at a high intensity, it’s easy to slack off on your form because you’re more focused on keeping up the pace. However, form is just as important, especially if you want to avoid injuries. 

Rather than having poor form and more intensity, it’s better to scale back the intensity of your runs and ensure you have the correct running form. Good form and technique are always the most important and will help prevent injury so you can keep running. 

If a HIIT running routine feels too difficult to maintain with good form, don’t try to force it. Adjust and modify it into something more achievable. From there, you can gradually work your way up to more difficult HIIT runs.

5. Resting too long between sets

Two runners taking a break in a park to snack.

Taking small breaks during HIIT circuits allows your heart rate to come down. Those short recovery periods are beneficial for your body because they: 

  • Reduce the levels of metabolic waste in your muscle tissues to prepare you for the next set.
  • Give you a break so you can rest and have the endurance to maintain proper form.
  • Reduce your heart rate and allow you to recover so you can maintain a fast pace during each set.

However, if you rest too long between sets, your heart rate is likely to fall out of the ideal zone, reducing the overall desirable effects of your HIIT workout. You may have to experiment a bit to determine your ideal resting duration, but when in doubt, it’s better to get more rest between sets rather than less. Otherwise, you’re more likely to risk an injury.

6. Running on the same terrain all the time

Woman taking a break from her run on a hill.

If you don’t vary your running terrain, your body will grow accustomed to the demands of one type of running condition. And as a result, you might have trouble adapting to different terrain. 

For example, if you only ever complete treadmill HIIT circuits, you might struggle when you head outside to do the same thing. Additionally, you might be more likely to develop injuries due to increased strain on your muscles and joints. 

To prevent terrain-related injuries while running, switching up your running terrain is a good idea. For instance, if you’re used to running on flat, even surfaces, try your hand at a more rugged trail route. Or tackle a route with some major hills. Even if you only ever run on your treadmill with Vingo, you can adjust it to reflect things like hills or wind resistance by raising or lowering the incline.

A simple way to create some variety in your running routes is by planning your routes in advance. This will enable you to make the most of your training time. Learn how here!

Key Takeaways:

HIIT running is a fantastic way to burn fat, torch calories, and enhance your cardiovascular fitness. As popular and effective as it is, it’s also very easy to make mistakes like skipping the warm up and cool down, running on an empty stomach, training too long or often, having improper form, and others. By avoiding these common mistakes, you can get the most out of HIIT training, reach your goals faster, and prevent injuries.

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  1. What to Eat and Drink Before and After HIIT Workouts | EREPS the European Register of Exercise Professionals. (n.d.). https://www.ereps.eu/news/what-eat-and-drink-and-after-hiit-workouts 
  2. McCall, P. (n.d.). HIIT Workouts: Programming and Exercises. https://blog.nasm.org/hiit-workout-plan

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