Updated: Aug 30
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If you’re trying to burn fat and bring out a bit of muscle definition, you’re in the right place. HIIT workouts are one of the most effective ways for improving body composition and developing fitness. But the benefits of HIIT don't stop there.
HIIT aficionado Lee Driver tells us that high-intensity interval training can improve everything from sports performance to physical health. In fact, Driver claims that the health and fitness benefits of HIIT are so powerful that 'HIIT is now increasingly being prescribed by doctors to patients with all manner of conditions and ailments,' (HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training).
This article will show you exactly how to do this with 5 HIIT workouts. But before you dive into the five session plans below, it might be worth familiarising yourself with the dos and don'ts of the HIIT methodology.
What are HIIT workouts?
At its simplest, high-intensity interval training (from here on out HIIT) is where we exercise at super high intensities for short exposures. Typically, each high-intensity interval is immediately followed by a rest or active recovery exercise of equal duration.
The time exposure of each separate interval rarely exceeds 30 seconds. The reason why is because HIIT training is anaerobic and thus is powered by the adenosine triphosphate system (ATP). ATP is analogous to the nitrous oxide in muscle cars that gives them an explosive boost of speed.
But because it’s high octane stuff and limited in quantity, ATP is quickly exhausted. Once used up, which at maximal effort takes between 10 and 30 seconds, the body begins synthesising more. However, this takes time and rest.
This is where the rest or active recovery exercises comes in. The rest period between intervals provides the body with enough time to replenish the depleted stock of ATP. Right in time for the next high-intensity interval!
Are HIIT Workouts good for improving fitness?
Hell yeah! HIIT is an excellent exercise methodology for promoting cardiovascular and functional fitness.
HIIT sessions, because of the high intensity element, typically involve cardio and light resistance exercises. Heavy loads aren’t completely off the HIIT menu, but the heavier the lift the riskier it becomes. Especially if your technique isn’t polished to perfection.
Another attribute of HIIT is that it enables you to pack a lot of exercise into a short space of time. Within a 20- or even 10-minute HIIT session you could comfortably cover more distance or shift more poundage than you could in a ‘typical’ gym workout.
And don’t be thinking that short duration sessions are in anyway inferior to their lengthy counterparts. Recent studies have shown that exercising at high intensities, in for as little as 7-Minutes, can promote physiological adaptations.
Can anyone participate in HIIT workouts?
No, not everyone can or should participate in HIIT sessions. Why? If you have a pre-existing injury, even a minor one – such as a muscle strain – high-intensity training could exacerbate the injured area.
HIIT is also unsuitable for untrained people, the elderly or those carrying excess body fat.
Of course, high-intensity aerobic exercise places significant demands on the cardiovascular system. This poses a serious risk factor in those who have a weak heart or atherosclerosis – fatty plaque deposits (or ‘furring’) around the arterial wall.
However, that’s not to say that you should never incorporate HIIT into you exercise regime. If you fall into one (or more) of the categories identified above, firstly work on your general fitness and fat-loss. When you’ve improved your cardiovascular fitness and you’re at a healthier weight, then have a go at a short HIIT session.
As your fitness develops you’ll be able to get more adventurous and pit yourself against some of the more substantial HIIT workouts.
The dos and don’ts of HIIT workouts
Do ensure to participate in a progressive warm-up prior to HIIT. This is arguably the most important aspect of any HIIT session. By progressively warming up the initial interval won’t be such a shock to the system. (Think how taxing it is to sprint for a bus from rest – you’re bonked before the first 10 steps!)
Also, the warmer you are the better you will perform. The correlation between the two is pretty well established., hence the reason why all professional athletes pay special attention to pre-training warm-ups.
Finally, warming up well can significantly reduce injury risk.
HIIT with weights
Don’t HIIT with heavy loads, at least not until you have achieved a high level of technical proficiency. HIITing heavy poses a significant risk for beginners and intermediate trainers. This largely a result of sacrificing form for intensity. And though we should always maintain flawless form, if we don’t the risk factor is not as great if the resistance is low.
Do balance high-intensity intervals with periods of rest. The ratio of rest to interval is typically 1:1 – that is, the rest period is equal in duration to each interval exposure. And it is the interval length that determines the rest time.
In saying that, though, you can pretty much do as you please here. However, do bear in mind that if you take too much or too little rest it could adversely impact on your HIIT performance. This is certainly the case if your rest periods are shorter than the intervals.
Thinking back to the ATP energy system, which once depleted takes time to replenish, if we do not give the body adequate recovery time, our stock of ATP will not have restored. Thus we will enter the next interval with an energy deficit.
Mix up your HIIT workouts
Don’t be afraid to mix cardio and resistance exercises in the same session. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with shacking things up a bit by mixing modalities. For example, concluding a cardio row blast you could, after your rest recovery, hit a set of burpees, box jumps or kettlebell swings. In short, go nuts, experiment, have some fun.
5 HIIT workouts
It's time to put all that theory into practice. Below, I have created five simple HIIT workouts for you to try. Though the mechanics of the workouts are simple, they are still suitable for all levels of fitness ability.
For example, irrespective of if you're a beginner or a CrossFit champion, you can push yourself to limit of your physical capacity. Also, because the HIIT workouts are not overly prescriptive, you are able to modify them to align with your fitness goals.
HIIT Workout #1: 22 x 300m Row Sprints
How it works: Your objective is to complete 22, 300 metre row sprints (aim for under one-minute per interval). To achieve this time you will need to sustain an average pace of under 1:40/500.
Take a minute rest between each interval. However, if you are not feeling challenged you can reduce the rest to 30 seconds.
Make no bones about it, this is a tough HIIT session which transgresses some of the advice above. (The intervals are little longer than a conventional HIIT workout.) However, if you feel as though you’re not quite physically ready to tackle the session, you can modify it by reducing the interval row distances.
hiit jump rope workout
How it works: For 20 minutes you are to oscillate between skipping and kettlebell swings. Set a repeating 20-second countdown timer and try to skip as fast and as hard as you possibly can.
When the buzzer sounds take a rest of equal duration. (But if you want to challenge yourself, reduce the rest to 10 seconds.) Ensure that you’re ready to start swinging the moment the buzzer initiates the next interval.
The kettlebell swings should be performed at a moderate intensity. The HIIT aspects of this workout is expressed during the skipping intervals. Kettlebell swings have been included to broaden the training effect and promote muscle endurance.
Related: Whole-body 20 Minute HIIT Workout
treadmill interval workout
How it works: Exactly the same format as above, for 20-minutes you are to oscillate between sprints and air squats. Set a repeating 20 second countdown timer and try to cover as many metres as you possibly can. (It’s good practice to make a note of the number of metres you achieved as this can be used as competition for the next interval).
The moment the buzzer sounds, take a rest of equal duration. Ensure that you’re ready to start air squatting the moment the buzzer initiates the next interval.
You might be thinking how do you go from the treadmill to air squats. The trick is to pop off the running machine while the belt is still moving. Ideally, you should avoid stopping and starting the runner as this impacts on the fluidity of the interval transitions.
However, dismounting a treadmill at speed takes practice and confidence. If you're not up to it, that's not a problem. Just jettison the air squats and stick to the sprints.
Related: Ready for this HIIT Cycling Scorcher?
bodyweight hiit workout
How it works: For 10-minutes you are to progress through the circuit below. Set a repeating 10 second countdown timer and try to perform as many repetitions as possible on each exercise station.
You will no doubt notice that one full cycle through the circuit takes approximately 60 seconds. After 10 minutes, you will have completed 10 laps.
Structuring a session in this way makes it easier for you to keep track of your progression. Also, it’s quite convenient if you felt you had enough in the tank for another five laps.
1: 10 sec Burpee
10 sec rest
2: 10 sec Press-up
10 sec rest
3: 10 sec Mountain climbers
10 sec rest
Related: Need some Bodyweight Exercise ideas?
boxing hiit workout
How it works: For 20-minutes you are to oscillate between punching a boxing bag and slamming a medicine ball – both brilliant exercises and unparalleled fitness developers. So, set a repeating 20 second countdown timer and continuously hit that punch bag as hard as physically possible for the duration of the interval.
I guarantee that with inside 10 seconds your punches will resemble those of a Saturday night drunkard scrapping with a streetlamp.
When the buzzer sounds take your rest. Use this time to take your gloves off and prepare for the next exercise. Ensure that you’re ready to start slamming that medicine ball the moment the buzzer initiates the next interval.
Related: When you're done here, try this 30 Minute Boxing HIIT Workout
More HIIT workouts
At the end of this article, you should have a strong understanding of the key factors of high intensity interval training. In addition, you have a list of dos and don'ts that can enable you to create safe and effective HIIT workouts
But this article was about providing you with HIIT workouts to try. The five basic session plans above can be used to develop a wide range of fitness components. Also, you can tailor the workouts to suit your training facility and exercise objectives.
About Adam Priest –
A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and wellbeing practitioner. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam via LinkedIn or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Driver, J. (2017) HIIT: High Intensity Interval Training. CreateSpace. UK.
McArdle, W. D., Katch, F. I., Katch, V. L (2001) Exercise Physiology Fifth Edition. Lippincott, Williams & Wilkins.