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HIIT Training | Your Complete Guide

Updated: Mar 21

A woman participating in HIIT training.

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If you’re new to HIIT, you’re in the right place. In this article, you’ll learn a range of surprising health and fitness benefits associated with high-intensity interval training. Also, you’ll get answers to common frequently asked HIIT questions. And if that wasn’t enough, you’ll even walk away with a few workouts to try.


So, by the end of this blog, you will know how HIIT can enhance both your fitness and health. How to organise a HIIT workout and incorporate them into your exercise routine. And how to engage in HIIT safely and effectively.


What’s HIIT training?

HIIT is an acronym for High Intensity Interval Training. For a specific duration of time – which could range from 10 to 60 seconds – the objective is to exercise as hard as physically possible.


Concluding each high-intensity interval, you would take a rest of equal duration. The rest period can include reduced-intensity activities or walking about.


That’s HIIT in a nutshell: short bursts of high-intensity activity interspersed with low-intensity active recovery or short rest periods.



Can you do HIIT training too often?

When working at maximal intensities a greater strain is placed on the cardiovascular system. This poses a significant risk factor to the under-trained, the elderly, and people who have an underlying medical condition or a weak ticker. If you identify yourself with any of those categories it wouldn’t be wise to dabble in HIIT – certainly not without consulting your doctor first.


However, we always have the option of moderating the intensity. This then arguably nullifies the HIIT element but we would do well to remember that intensity is relative. Each person’s physical capacity is unique and what might not be intense for one person could be very intense for another.


Get start with these simple Home HIIT Workouts >

HIIT training improves sports performance

Assuming you have none of the health conditions listed above, HIIT can be very good for you. The benefits of high-intensity training are supported by an abundance of sports science research.


If it is enhanced performance you are searching for, studies have shown that, when cyclists and triathletes were put on HIIT programmes, their VO₂ max and power out-puts noticeably improved – in a mere three weeks (Etxeberria et al – 2014).


HIIT’s a go for rowers

Another study showed the performance-enhancing power of HIIT. Two groups of ‘well-trained’ rowers were put on a ten-week exercise programme. Half engaged in long-slow distance training (LSD) and the other half supplemented with HIIT sessions.


Concluding the ten weeks, the HIIT rowers exhibited significant improvements in the 2000 metre ergo test – when compared to their L.S.D. counterparts (Niamh et al –2017).


HIIT training burns fat

A recent study published by the British Journal of Sports Medicine showed HIIT to be a more effective exercise modality for ‘burning’ fat than traditional continuous or ‘MOD’ (moderate-intensity continuous) training.


This flies in the face of conventional wisdom which would have us believe that the best way to keep that belly at bay is to go on long slow runs. When in fact studies are showing that a short sharp high-intensity interval session can yield the same – if not better – results. 


And this leads us nicely to another benefit of this increasingly popular method of training.


HIIT workouts are time efficient

Unlike L.S.D. – long slow duration – a HIIT session can be polished off within 15 to 20 minutes. (These durations do not include the warm-up. It would be remiss of me to pass up this opportunity to emphasize the importance of warming up before a bout of HIIT. The risk factor for injury increases significantly if we engage in high-intensity exercise without first elevating the heart rate and raising core temperature.)


So, for the time-strapped Westerner or the perpetually busy person, HIIT offers all the health and fitness benefits of traditional styles of exercise but can deliver them in a third of the time.


Related: Get your keep fit fix with this 30 Minute HIIT Workout >

High intensity interval training

‘Ok, you have me convinced. But how do I get more HIIT into my life then?’ It’s quite simple. Convert one or two of your current weekly workouts into short-duration high-intensity sessions.


Remember, though, because HIIT places greater stress on the cardio-respiratory and muscular systems, it is important that you ensure to enforce at least three days’ rest between bouts. This will provide your body with the time it needs to recover.


Other methods include

  • One super-duper HIIT session each week; perhaps on a Monday to kick the week off or, better still, on a Friday to finish on a high (excuse the pun).

  • Interchanging muscular endurance-orientated HIIT with cardio HIIT sessions (such as this Hill Sprint Workout).

  • Integrate HIIT into regular sessions. For example, the first 20/30 minutes could be dedicated to muscle toning or skill-based activities and, for the final 20/30 minutes, you could go nuts with you know what!


What exercises should I include in my HIIT workouts?

Typically, HIIT is reserved for cardio exercises. HIIT cycling! HIIT rowing! HIIT skipping! And, of course, HIIT running! But, while cardio is conventionally used for high-intensity interval training, you can incorporate resistance exercises.


Related: Ready to try these HIIT Cardio Scorchers >

For example, you could keep things super-simple by throwing five exercises together – row (250m), 10 kettlebell swings, 10 burpees, 10 plyometric box jumps, 100 punches either on a boxing bag or with resistance bands – and for 20 minutes aim to sustain near maximal intensity.


You can rest but the period of rest should not exceed the bursts of high intense activity.


High intensity workouts

To conclude this blog, I have created four HIIT workouts for you to try. A couple of points on the workouts are worth considering before rushing off to get your training gear.


First, all the exercises can be changed or modified to suit equipment availability and/or ability. If you do not have access to a competition kettlebell, for example, you replace it with dumbbell alternatives.


Second, ensure to warm up thoroughly before engaging in the session plans.


HIIT training workout #1: Cardio & kettlebell

The objective here is to HIIT the cardio stations and then use the kettlebell exercises as a form of ‘active recovery.’ Ensuring to sustain between 85 to 95% of V̇O₂ max, cycle through the circuit as many times as you can in 10, 15, 20, or 30 minutes.


  1. 50 Skips (or 50m sprint)

  2. 10 x KB swings

  3. 50 Skips (or 50m sprint)

  4. 10 x KB single arm press

  5. 50 Skips (or 50m sprint)

  6. 10 x KB single arm pulls

  7. 50 Skips (or 50m sprint)

  8. 10 x KB squats


HIIT training workout #3: Cardio & resistance

For this HIIT training session, set a 30-minute countdown timer on the rower (you can supplement with any CV exercise; just ensure that each set takes roughly 20 seconds to complete – which is equal to 100m of rowing at 1:45/500).


The training method is as follows. Perform 100m rowing at maximal intensity then complete 10 reps on the resistance exercise. Following this process, progress through the plan until you have worked through the eight stations.


That would constitute the completion of one full cycle. Try to get through as many cycles as you can in 30 minutes.


  1. 100m Row

  2. 10 DB Snatches

  3. 100m Row

  4. 10 DB Thrusters

  5. 100m Row

  6. 10 Burpees

  7. 100m Row

  8. 10 Press-ups


HIT training workout #3: HIIT Cardio

The sessions so far have either focused on muscular endurance or a mixture of muscle endurance and cardio. This HIIT session focuses exclusively on aerobic and anaerobic conditioning.


For 10, 20, or 30 minutes, you are to interval sprint on the rower. (But as I explained in the introduction to this section, you can change the exercise if the one selected does not suit your training preferences. If you’re not keen on rowing, replace it with running, cycling, skipping, swimming, or the cross-trainer.)


Applying the two training points outlined below can improve the quality of your intervals.


  1. The distance should be short – no more than 200 metres. Why? Without embarking on a biology lesson, which I know little about, the energy system (ATP) that powers sprints is quickly exhausted. You get about 20 to 30 seconds tops before you gas and have to shift down the gears. Doing so defeats the objective of HIIT – which is to remain in the anaerobic threshold.

  2. The interval duration should be balanced by a period of reduced-intensity activity or rest. As a rule of thumb, it’s optimal to stick to a 1:1 ratio – that is, 20 seconds of high intensity followed by 20 seconds of reduced intensity or rest.


HIIT training workout #4: Combat conditioning

Our final HIIT training workout is for the fighters in the audience. The exercises selected aim to promote functional strength and explosive power – as well as, of course, combat conditioning.


Interspersed between the resistance exercises are high-intensity ‘strike stations.’ The strike of choice is shadowboxing with light dumbbells. However, you can substitute shadowboxing for your strike of choice.


The exercise method is clear-cut. Set a 10-, 20-, or 30-minute countdown timer and progress through the list of exercises as many times as possible. Remember to take your time on the resistance stations. Focus on form but also apply maximum power through the movement. Maintain a methodical output and don’t hesitate to take a few seconds to rest before transitioning.


During the 20-second shadowboxing bouts, aim to throw as many punches as physically possible before the round ends. Increase the training intensity by holding a pair of light dumbbells.


  1. 10 reps KB swings

  2. 20 seconds Shadowboxing

  3. 0 reps Medicine ball slams

  4. 20-second Shadowboxing

  5. 10 reps Plyometric box jumps

  6. 20-second Shadowboxing


 

The final interval

The aim of this blog was to provide you with more than just an insight into the benefits of HIIT. I wanted to outline a framework that would enable you to incorporate HIIT workouts into your exercise regime.


By doing so, you’ll be able to tap into the performance-promoting powers of high-intensity interval training.


If you have reached these concluding remarks a little more knowledgeable and with an urge to shoehorn more HIIT into your routine, then I have succeeded.


All that’s left for you to do is start HIIT training >


 

Never be without a workout!

Get your hands on 80 training sessions (including HIIT!) with the Hungry4Fitness Book of Circuits & Workouts Volume 3 >

HIIT training blog concludes with the HUngry4Fitness Book of Workouts.

 

About Adam Priest –

A former Royal Marines Commando, Adam Priest is a content writer, college lecturer, and health and fitness coach. He is also a fitness author and contributor to other websites. Connect with Adam at info@hungry4fitness.co.uk.


 

References

Naroa Etxebarria, Judith M. Anson, David B. Pyne & Richard A. Ferguson (2014) High-intensity cycle interval training improves cycling and running performance in triathletes, European Journal of Sport Science, 14:6, 521-529, DOI: 10.1080/17461391.2013.853841


Niamh J. Ní Chéilleachair, Andrew J. Harrison & Giles D. Warrington (2017) HIIT enhances endurance performance and aerobic characteristics more than high-volume training in trained rowers, Journal of Sports Sciences, 35:11, 1052-1058, DOI: 10.1080/02640414.2016.1209539


Ives. L (16 February 2019) Short bursts of intense exercise 'better for weight loss' https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-47242940

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