Basics of a HIIT Workout: What It Is & How To Do It

Most people who want to get in shape are looking for a way to do the least possible amount of work for the quickest results.  While any workout regimen requires discipline and consistency, HIIT may be the closest type of training to get maximum results with the least time commitment.

What is HIIT?

HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a style of workout where participants do strenuous work at near-maximal effort for short intervals (often 20-90 seconds) followed by comparable rest periods.  Most HIIT workouts are between 10-20 minutes.  So even with a warm-up and cooldown, you can get in a great HIIT session in only 30 minutes.

HIIT Workout 101

Because the workout intervals in HIIT are so short, you should expect to be doing a near-maximal effort (80-90%) during the working period.  This means you’ll really be able to take advantage of the recovery windows.  For instance, a HIIT running workout might look like this:

  • 3-5 minute warm-up walk or light jog
  • 30-second sprint
  • 60-second walking or light jog recovery
  • 30-second sprint
  • 60-second walking or light jog recovery
  • 30-second sprint
  • 60-second walking or light jog recovery
  • 30-second sprint
  • 60-second walking or light jog recovery
  • 30-second sprint
  • 60-second walking or light jog recovery
  • 3-5 minute cooldown walk or light jog with light static stretching of legs

In this cardio workout, you’ll be spiking your heart rate during the 30-second work intervals, then allowing your muscles and lungs to take a rest for twice as long.

A great HIIT workout doesn’t just have to be cardio-focused though.  You can do HIIT with muscular training as well by using similar work to rest ratios.  A sample muscular training HIIT workout would be:

  • Warm-up, then do each exercise below tabata style (20 second work, 10 second rest), switching exercises each minute for two rounds and adding a 1 minute rest between rounds.
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Goblet squats
  • Sit-ups
  • Push-ups
  • Cooldown and static stretches

HIIT isn’t for everyone

A HIIT workout can be scaled down to meet the needs of participants who are less familiar with the movements or are at a beginner level of fitness.  But HIIT is not for everyone.  If you have any of the below conditions, it’s best to pass on this training style and work with your physician and a personal trainer to decide on better options.

  • You have a heart condition – If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, hypotension, cardiovascular disease, or similar, it’s essential to consult with your doctor before starting any kind of fitness plan, especially HIIT.  The intensity works the heart extra hard, so you may need to work up with lower intensities at first.
  • You’ve never worked out before or struggle to complete short cardio intervals – It’s important to establish a base of cardiovascular fitness before increasing the intensity.  Before you start HIIT, you should be already be doing cardiovascular activity, like walking, for 30 minutes most days of the week.
  • If you’re feeling ill – Specifically, if you’ve had a respiratory infection or any illness that impacts your ability to breathe well, it’s best to avoid HIIT until you’re fully recovered.  Since HIIT also takes a toll on your nervous system, it’s best to wait until you’re back at 100% before pushing your body close to its maximum effort.
  • You want to do the same workout every day – HIIT is not designed to be used in everyday training.  It’s imperative to give your body time to rest after intense interval training—plan to do HIIT a maximum of 3-4 days per week to allow adequate recovery.

If HIIT sounds exciting and you think it might be for you, give it a shot at your local gym or by using a simple workout or a video at home.  Remember, if you feel dizzy, light-headed, or get overly tired, stop working immediately and rest. HIIT should be an enjoyable way to up your cardio, burn fat and make the most of the workout time you have available. Happy HIITing!

Do you have a HIIT workout you love? Tell me about it in the comments!

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