You likely already know cardio is good for you. But that doesn't always mean you love it. Steady state cardio that generally requires lengthier workouts can be monotonous for many (unless you're a runner who loves pounding the pavement for miles). Lucky for you, there's a shorter cardio option, which allows you to reap the same benefits as a more time-consuming one. Yep, we're talking about HIIT cardio workouts!
HIIT, or high intensity interval training, cardio workouts are those that use short, all-out bursts of exercise, followed by lower intensity, sometimes active, recovery. "The working set can be anywhere between 40 seconds to four minutes and the rest is minimal between sets to quickly catch your breath before starting again," says Meghan Hayden, certified personal trainer at Performix House in New York City.
"The goal is to push as hard as possible during the 'work' intervals, to get a max number of calories burned in a short amount of time," she says. "Therefore, you get close to your max heart rate and work your metabolic threshold." (NOTE: Max heart rate is approximately 220 minus your age.)
With this kind of workout, the options for incorporating equipment are many. You can use cardio machines like the treadmill or elliptical for things like interval sprints, or HIIT can also be done without any special gear, using just your body weight for exercises like push-ups and air squats.
Benefits of HIIT Cardio
Burning lots of calories is just one of the many benefits of HIIT workouts. HIIT also improves your cardiovascular fitness, boosts your metabolism, preserves muscle mass during weight loss and can improve your overall health.
"Working at that high intensity puts more stress on your heart in a safe way, therefore forcing your heart to adapt further and become stronger," says Hayden, which could explain why a 2012 study found that HIIT helps with things like coronary artery disease and congestive heart failure.
How to Do This HIIT Cardio Workout
Interested in trying out a HIIT cardio workout to get the most bang for your buck at the gym? We asked Hayden to share one of her go-to workouts with one part that involves equipment and another that's just body weight. Take your pick or try both together!
"Since your rest time is low, use it to focus solely on lowering your heart rate back to baseline, taking deep breaths in through your nose and out through your mouth," says Hayden.
"Never compromise the quality of your movement. Once your form starts failing, lower your weight, switch from plyometrics or jumping exercises to modified, grounded options, or just move slower. The goal is to fill the time or complete the intended amount of reps safely."
Part 1: Rower HIIT Cardio Workout
After a three- to five-minute warm-up, perform both exercise, then rest for 30 seconds. Repeat for five rounds. Make sure you cool down with some stretches.
- Strap your feet into rower. With bent knees and keeping back straight, lean forward to fully extend your arms and grab the handle in front of your legs (the catch).
- Keeping your back straight and core tight, extend your legs fully (the drive), then hinge from hips slightly backward as you bend elbows to pull handle towards your chest (the finish).
- For the recovery, reverse the order extending arms back out straight, sitting upright, bending legs and ending back in the catch position.
- Continue rowing for 500 meters.
2. Rower Pike Up
- Come to the back of the rower. Position the seat of the rower in the middle of the rower, about equally between the front and back.
- Place your hands on the ground about a foot or two from the rower, with enough space so that you can place your feet on the rower's seat. You're in plank position, but with your feet up on the seat of the rower.
- Bracing your core and keeping back engaged, slide feet on the seat toward the end of the rower or closer to your hands as you pike your hips up toward the ceiling.
- Lower your hips back down.
- Do 10 reps.
Part 2: Body-Weight HIIT Cardio Workout
After a three to five minute warm-up, perform each exercise, resting for one minute when all exercises are complete. Do three rounds, then cool down.
1. Squat Jump
- Stand with feet about shoulder width apart, toes pointed slightly outward.
- Pushing knees out, bend knees to sit back and down into a squat, making sure that knees don't track forward past ankles. Keep most of your weight in your heels.
- As you lower, swing your arms past your sides and behind you.
- Swing your arms forward and use that momentum to push through your heels and jump off the ground, with arms extending overhead.
- Land lightly and immediately repeat so the move is one fluid motion.
- Continue repeating for 15 reps.
Side Lunge to Plyo High Knee Jump
- Stand with feet hip width apart.
- Step the right leg out to the side and bend down into a lunge, toes and knee facing forward.
- Make sure that your right knee doesn't track forward past your right ankle, your left arm is in front of the body and your right arm is behind you.
- Transfer weight to your left foot as you swing your arms and use momentum to push off your right foot and jump off the ground, pulling right knee into chest in the air.
- Land back into your side lunge and repeat so the move is one fluid motion.
- Continue repeating for 10 reps on one side, then switch sides.
Beast Kick Through
- Come to tabletop position on all fours, hands stacked directly under shoulders, knees directly under hips.
- Bracing your core, lift shins slightly off the ground for loaded beast position.
- Staying low to the ground, kick right leg forward and through arms as you simultaneously lift left arm off the ground to open the body up.
- Don't let your leg touch the ground.
- Come back to loaded beast position and repeat on the other side.
- Continue alternating for 10 reps on each side.
Plank Up Down
- Start in high plank position, hands under shoulders, legs extended behind you, balls of feet on the ground, body in a straight line from head to toe.
- Lift your right hand and your bend elbow to place your right forearm on the ground.
- Do the same with the left forearm, coming into forearm plank.
- Then rise back up to high plank with the right hand and then the left.
- Continue moving from high to low plank, alternating which forearm goes down first each time. Keep your hips as stable as possible.
- Do 30 reps.
If you can't keep your hips from shifting side to side as you move from high to low plank, you might find it beneficial to set your feet wider apart or perform the movement from the knees.