Sounds like a win-win, right? It sure is. And the best part: You can modify HIIT workouts for pretty much every fitness and ability level. So if you're looking for an efficient workout you can do anywhere — with or without equipment — HIIT is definitely worth checking out. Keep reading to find out why HIIT workouts are all the rage and how you can fit them into your busy schedule.
What Is HIIT?
High-intensity interval training uses bouts of high-intensity exercise alternated with short rest periods to maximize calorie burn and cardiorespiratory fitness in half the time of low-intensity steady state cardio. In other words, it gets you fit fast.
"HIIT is an exercise program designed to torch fat, increase anaerobic and aerobic capacity, and fit a full workout session into the smallest window possible," says James Swift, certified personal trainer and owner of Fit Body Boot Camp in Rancho Cordova, California.
What Type of Training Methods Use HIIT?
Being able to knock out your strength and cardio workouts at the same time is one of the reasons HIIT is so popular. That's why most gyms and training studios offer some form of the workout in their class line-up. It's also really simple to do at home, as more and more fitness apps, YouTube videos and online training programs offer streaming interval classes.
While HIIT will likely be the term you hear most often, there are other workouts that are similar in nature that you should know about:
- Tabata training: Think HIIT but with very specific parameters. Four minutes in total, this workout consisting of eight rounds of 20-second max-effort bursts with 10-second rest periods between each.
- Circuit training: A series of strength-based exercises, with no rest between each. The rest typically comes at the end of a circuit, and lasts for 30 to 60 seconds.
- As Many Reps As Possible (AMRAP): When this is part of a HIIT workout, you'll perform as many reps as possible of a specific exercise for a set amount of time.
Tips to Help You Get Started With HIIT
Before you lace up your shoes and get after it, it's a good idea to have some core knowledge about how to get started with interval training. Here are a few tips to consider when including it into your overall fitness routine.
1. Start Slow
Since HIIT is geared toward a more intense workout, pacing yourself is critical — especially if you don't want to burn out or increase your risk of injury. One way to ease into these workouts is to vary the intensity (aka your speed or the amount of weight you lift), work or rest periods, total workout duration and number of exercises you complete, says Swift. Go at your own pace, and progress when you're ready.
2. Find the Right Schedule
Aim for one or two days each week for a total of 15 minutes each session. As your body adapts, you can slowly increase the total time of your workout to 30 minutes. If you still want a challenge, then Swift suggests that you can add one more day of HIIT to your overall fitness plan.
3. Focus on Full-Body Movements
Focus on exercises that work your entire body at your current fitness level or just slightly above it, suggests Anna Larsen, certified trainer and owner of Fit Body Boot Camp in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Moves like squat and press, push-up, mountain climbers and burpee all fit the bill.
4. Be Aware of Muscle Soreness
When you first start HIIT, Larsen says you may experience delayed onset muscle soreness or DOMS on your third or fourth day of training, which she compares to feeling like "you got hit by a truck." "This is actually normal," she says. "The best thing to do is continue doing small, short workouts for another two or three days to get over that hump."
5. Pay Attention to Signs of Overtraining
HIIT workouts place a lot of stress on your muscles, cardiovascular system and immune system. If you're performing too many HIIT sessions each week, you may find that you're headed down the path to overtraining. Some of the more common red flags to be aware of include decreased performance, excessive fatigue, restlessness, an increase in exercise-related injuries, agitation and moodiness.
If you're experiencing any of these signs or symptoms, reduce the amount of exercise you're doing, or rest completely. Talk with your doctor if any of the signs of overtraining continue to persist.
6. Do a HIIT Workout Anywhere
Because of the versatility of HIIT training, you can get a workout in with a full gym or at home in your living room. This means that the classic "I don't have the time" excuse is no longer valid.
If you're at home with little to no equipment, Swift recommends a body-weight HIIT session with a strength or cardio focus, depending on your desire for that day. When you're at the gym, you can use anything from barbells, dumbbells, suspension trainers, battle ropes or all of the above. "There is no limit to the kinds of HIIT training sessions you can complete with a full gym or with minimal equipment," says Swift.
7. Fuel Your Body for More Intense Workouts
Making sure your body is properly fueled before a workout is essential, especially for a beginner. To maximize energy, Larsen recommends you aim to eat a light meal one to two hours pre-exercise consisting of protein, healthy fats and complex carbs. Then, opt for a post-workout snack or meal within an hour of finishing your session.
"A protein shake and small serving of fruit is an ideal snack for HIIT and will help your body to build muscle and burn fat from your workouts," she says.
3 HIIT Workouts for Beginners
Ready to get fit with HIIT? Here are a few workouts geared toward beginners that will get your heart pumping, muscles moving and fitness level up in no time.
1. Body-Weight Cardio Circuit
This cardiovascular-focused HIIT session from Swift includes five exercises: mountain climbers, jump squats, push-ups, ice skaters and burpees. Perform each exercise for 20 seconds, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Do six rounds of each exercise before moving on to the next, with a one-minute rest in between moves.
- Mountain climber
- Jump squat
- Ice skater
2. Dumbbell Strength Session
To complete this HIIT workout, Swift says to perform each exercise for 45 seconds, followed by 20 seconds of rest. Do three rounds of each exercise before moving onto the next, with a one-minute rest in between moves.
- Goblet squat (hold one heavy dumbbell at your chest and squat)
- Dumbbell chest presses (lie on your back with two dumbbells at chest level out to the sides and press directly over your chest)
- Alternating forward lunges (step forward with one leg until both legs bend to 90 degrees, step back and repeat on other side)
- Right-arm rows (holding a dumbbell in the right hand, hinge at the hips and lift dumbbell up to your chest)
- Left-arm rows (holding a dumbbell in the left hand, hinge at the hips and lift dumbbell up to your chest)
- Standing shoulder press (hold dumbbells at shoulder level and press overhead)
3. Beginner Full-Body Workout
Doing this workout once a week is a great way to get started with HIIT.
Warm-up: Perform each move for 30 seconds. Repeat two times.
- High plank
- High knees
Workout: Perform each move in the superset for 60 seconds without rest. Repeat once. Rest for 30 to 45 seconds before moving onto the next superset. Repeat the entire workout once.
- Superset one: Kettlebell swing and mountain climbers
- Superset two: Single-leg squat and goblet squat
- Superset three: Bicycle crunches and push-ups
- Superset four: Side-to-side jumps and dumbbell front raise