HIIT Workout: The Ultimate Guide

I knew I needed to get to the gym, but I felt overwhelmed by all the workout equipment. Not only that but committing to an hour each time just didn’t seem realistic for me.

That’s where HIIT saved the day and it boasts serious results quickly.

How to go about it? That’s why we’re here. If you’re looking to enjoy a hardcore workout that doesn’t require hours of your time, you may have hit the jackpot.

HIIT workout includes:

  • Benefits.
  • Intervals.
  • Intensity.
  • HIIT exercises.
  • HIIT workouts.

What Is HIIT?

HIIT stands for “high intensity interval training.” In these sessions, you’ll alternate between high and low-intensity intervals. A typical routine takes about 20 minutes.

Even though this seems short in duration, don’t brush it off as easy or not worth your time. On the contrary, HIIT has tremendous benefits you shouldn’t overlook and it’s completely customizable to fit your needs. This means it’s suitable for anyone, regardless of your fitness level.

High vs. Low Intensity

You might be curious how to determine what constitutes as high or low intensity? High intensity includes movements like jumping jacks or burpees done at a rapid pace. Light jogging on a treadmill would be an example of a low-intensity activity.

During the high-intensity portion, you hit it as hard as you can, safely, of course. This increases your heart rate, which trains your body to circulate oxygen and blood efficiently. In turn, your muscles end up using fuel more successfully, helping you get in serious shape.

With that said, maintaining high-intensity workouts for a long period is impossible, if not dangerous.

This is why the low-intensity segments are in place. During these bursts, you slow down and possibly even rest. Your heart rate drops and you have a chance to catch your breath before returning to your maximum capacity again.

Men with rope in functional training fitness gym in a crossfit workout

Advantages of a HIIT Workout

The benefits might surprise you and there are plenty, including but not limited to:

1. Burns Fat


Let’s face it, we all want a great body and part of that is losing our chubby bits. One of the main benefits of HIIT is that it burns fat. For overweight or obese individuals, in particular, the success rate is evident throughout multiple studies. 

That isn’t to say that gentler activities, such as a leisurely run, won’t help you shed those undesirable pounds. Still, if you want more extreme results, you should consider adopting a HIIT regime. 

One study found that pushing it harder for short intervals decreased absolute fat mass by roughly 28 percent more than low-impact exercises. Another trial on overweight young women had similar results: the HIIT group lost more weight than participants who walked or jogged only.

An added perk is that upping the intensity can target fat in notoriously troublesome areas, such as in your abdominal area. If all other options have failed to get rid of a jiggling belly, HIIT could prove to be your savior for six-pack abs. 

2. Boosts Metabolism

The word “metabolism” is thrown around a lot, but many might feel lost as to what it is. In simple terms, it refers to how well our bodies convert what we eat and drink into energy. 

Aside from other factors such as physical activity levels, your metabolism can impact weight maintenance. A lower metabolic rate can increase your risk of weight gain, meaning you’ll want to kick it into a higher gear if slimming down is your goal.

Research shows that HIIT routines can boost metabolism after exercising at a higher rate than weight training or jogging alone. It might even stay up for as long as an entire day.

Note that a better metabolism isn’t the be-all-end-all of weight loss, but it can help you burn calories more efficiently, which is part of the package. 

3. Targets Insulin Resistance

The fat-burning and metabolism-boosting benefits of HIIT can tackle another related health issue: insulin resistance, also known as insulin sensitivity. When your body has trouble converting glucose in your blood to energy, you have a resistance to insulin. 

This syndrome is associated with increased body fat as well as a higher risk of diabetes, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, and other unpleasant consequences.

One trial revealed diabetic patients enjoyed reduced blood sugar levels after HIIT workouts. Another small study demonstrated that this form of exercise limited the harmful effects of acute insulin resistance.

4. Reduces Blood Pressure

For those that suffer from high blood pressure or hypertension, HIIT could help you out. As you probably already know, the condition is one of the most common predictors of heart disease.

The traditional exercise recommendation for patients is low-intensity pursuits, such as walking more often or light jogging. However, HIIT could be a better strategy for both lowering blood pressure and preventing hypertension in at-risk individuals.

An added benefit is that it doesn’t take too long for these positive changes to manifest. Two months of high-intensity exercise improved or normalized blood pressure levels in hypertensive participants. 

Similar to the fat-burning benefit, most studies point to success with overweight or obese individuals, not those with normal body composition. Still, if you’re prehypertensive—the stage that precedes hypertension—you won’t lose anything by giving HIIT a try, except perhaps unwanted fat.

If you’re overweight or obese, this could have a positive impact on your heart health. Obesity and heart disease go hand-in-hand, so you could work on solving two concerns at once.

5. Improves Oxygen Consumption

How well our muscles use oxygen is directly linked to our endurance. This translates into one’s overall fitness levels and how long they can keep up with any given exercise. 

If you’re training for an upcoming marathon or a similar activity that demands high endurance, HIIT could be the ideal complement. That won’t happen after one workout, but with persistence you should see results. 

Plus, with better overall fitness, you can help stave off disease and other ailments associated with being “out of shape” including cardiovascular disease and more.

Research indicates that HIIT is as successful at raising oxygen consumption as longer-lasting endurance workouts. 

6. Maximum Efficiency

It’s 2020 and most of us can barely find time to cook dinner, much less work out for a solid hour on a daily basis. This is one of the biggest appeals of HIIT is that it doesn’t take much time to see results.

Schedule in a 20-minute workout, three days a week, and you can benefit from that alone. It doesn’t get much more efficient than that.

7. Good Adherence Rates

One of the problems many of us encounter when we work on our health is keeping consistent with our new lifestyle changes. It’s all too easy to slip back into poor eating habits or skip your daily workout to watch your favorite show or go out with friends.

The time constraints we mentioned could play a role in adherence rates. For example, diabetic patients should aim for 150 minutes of moderate activity per week. Unfortunately, many diabetics don’t manage to achieve that. 

If you’re set in your routines or live a hectic lifestyle, it can be tough to find that time. If you aren’t struggling to make time for exercise, you’re more likely to sustain your routine. No matter how busy you are, 20 minutes or less out of your day isn’t too high of a cost.

You would think—considering how challenging HIIT workouts are—that you’re more likely to give up sooner rather than later. The opposite is true: an investigation on 17 overweight participants found most of them enjoyed HIIT and stuck with it.


Where to Begin: HIIT Exercises

Does all of this sound enticing? You might be wondering where to begin. Whether you decide to hit the gym or do a HIIT workout from the comfort of your own home, these exercises can get you started:

HIIT Basics

It’s good to begin with a few basic exercises before building up to an entire routine. The HIIT session below will take you around 10 minutes in total and involves plenty of rest. This is a wonderful option for beginners or those that haven’t worked out in ages.

Steps

You’ll complete five rounds in total, each lasting for two minutes. Move as quickly as you can through the round and rest until the clock is up, then move to the next round.

  • Jumping jacks: Aim for 25 per round. Stand upright with your legs closed and arms resting by your sides. Slightly bend your knees as you jump your legs apart and raise your arms in the air where the hands will meet above your head. Bring the arms back down, legs returning side by side. Repeat.
  • Burpees: 15 per round. Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and arms resting by your sides. Bend your knees, reaching forward and towards the floor. Plant your hands on the ground in a push-up position and kick both legs behind you as you enter a plank pose. Hop your legs back to the front, stand and jump into the air, extending the arms overhead. Repeat.
  • Rest: Take a breather for the remainder of the round, walk slowly in place or back and forth. When the timer is up, go back to the beginning of the interval (jumping jacks).

Take It Up a Notch

For those that found the HIIT Basics a bit too easy, turn up the heat with the following workout.

Steps

We’re doubling our time here, which makes this HIIT workout around 20 minutes long. You’ll complete five rounds at around four minutes per round, spending 40 seconds on each exercise with a 20-second break in-between them.

  • Squats: Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip’s width apart, toes facing forward and arms reached out ahead. Bend at the knees, driving your butt backward as if you’re going to sit on an invisible chair. Keep your toes and heels firmly pressed into the ground, shoulders back and chest upright. Aim for a 90-degree angle, with your thighs parallel to the ground. Stand back up and repeat.
  • Jumping lunges: Start by standing with feet around shoulder-width apart. Jump your right leg forward and left leg back, entering into a lunge position. From there, jump up and switch your legs to the opposite stance. Repeat.
  • Burpees: Reference the burpee example from “HIIT basics” above.
  • Plank: Take a standard push-up position but lower your forearms to the floor, hands in front and with elbows bent at a 90-degree angle. Your shoulders will be directly above your elbows with a straight line from your heels, through to the crown of your head. Engage the abdomen and push through the feet for stability.

Hit Your Limit

Are you past the basics and coasting through our 20-minute workout? 

We have one final routine for you to try out—it’s only four minutes, but don’t let the short duration fool you. 

This sort of HIIT is known as Tabata training, and involves 20 seconds at full power with only 10 seconds off for eight cycles. Since you’re going non-stop, you’ll switch between two separate sets of exercises to avoid total burnout:

Minutes One and Three

  • Jumping jacks: Start out with a classic, jumping jacks. Consult our how-to guide from the “HIIT basics” section. 
  • Mountain climbers: Get into plank position as per the instructions above in “take it up a notch.” While maintaining correct form, bring your right knee to your right elbow. Repeat with the left, and cycle between your two legs.
  • Burpees: Reference our example video and details for doing a burpee above.
  • Tricep dips: Grab a chair for this one. Get into a squat position in front of the chair. Place your hands behind you on the seat, and bend your elbows at a 90-degree angle. Kick one leg out every dip to make it harder.

Minutes Two and Four

  • Scissor kicks: Lie flat on the floor. Lift your legs to hover off the ground by a few inches. Kick your legs one by one up and down in a scissoring motion.
  • Squats: Hit the glutes and the thighs with squats for 20 seconds, as per our example above.
  • High-knees (optional freeze): One by one, raise each knee up as high as you can and put it back down. You can freeze in between each repetition to test your balance, but don’t stay still for too long.
  • Push-ups: Get on the floor in plank position and place your hands directly underneath your shoulders. Lower your body and then push back up again. You can keep your knees on the ground if you can’t manage.

The video below shows more examples of a complete HIIT Workout:

30 Days Hiit Challenges

HIIT Tips

As we already know, HIIT is an efficient system that you can easily build upon as you progress and your endurance increases. If you want to get the most out of your workout, follow these tips:

  • Wear good shoes: The last thing you want is discomfort. Look for cross-trainers that are lightweight, yet supportive. Do you suffer from flat feet? Make sure your footgear has enough arch support.
  • Stay fueled: The American Council on Exercise recommends a snack or meal filled with carbs and protein a few hours before your HIIT workout. This ensures you’ll have the energy you need to go full force. Think simple foods like yogurt and nuts, for example.
  • Warm-up: It’s easy to forget about warming up, but it’s essential. Spend around two to five minutes, prepping your muscles. This could consist of light cardio such as walking or using a rowing machine if it’s available. Jumping jacks or arm circles are other great options, just don’t tire yourself out.
  • Don’t forget to breathe: We know, it sounds silly but it has its merits. You want to get as much oxygen as you can and not be completely winded after your intervals. Breathe in your nose and out of your mouth, bringing in as much air as you can in the process.
  • Be realistic: Expect to be exhausted after your first few attempts. If your current physical activity levels can be described as “nonexistent,” don’t be disheartened if you need to take frequent breaks as you build up your endurance.
  • Safety first: The point is to push yourself, but not to the point that you hurt yourself. You can always modify exercises as needed to suit you, like doing burpees but skipping out the jump when you stand back up. 
  • Motivate yourself: HIIT won’t work if you aren’t consistent. Make a list of what you want to achieve to motivate yourself on days when you’re dreading your workout.

HIIT It

Are you ready to get started on your HIIT workout routine? Don’t forget to change things up as your fitness level increases. It shouldn’t be long before you see results.

Whether you’re looking to build your endurance or metabolism, or simply want a brief, efficient workout that fits into your busy schedule, HIIT has you covered. Start with a 10-minute routine and build up to a longer session when you’re comfortable.

Good luck on your HIIT journey and let us know how your experience pans out, we’d love to hear from you.

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