While the majority of people know exercise is important for their health, they are constantly battling against the clock. Many people say they don't have enough time to exercise or can’t get to the gym because of their schedule.
If this sounds like you, you may want to consider adding high-intensity interval training or HIIT workouts into your routine.
What is HIIT training?
HIIT involves a short time frame of intense exercise alternated with rest periods. You can include any exercise into your HIIT circuit. The beauty of the HIIT format is that you can play around with the interval time and rest period. For example, you can take 45 seconds to exercise and 15 seconds to rest for a total of 15 minutes, 20 seconds to exercise and 10 seconds to rest for a total of 20 minutes or any other iteration you can think of. Aim for 10- to 30-minute HIIT workouts no more than three times a week.
While exerting your maximum effort during the short exercise periods may seem tiring, it can provide major health benefits such as building a healthier heart, burning more fat and increasing your metabolism. HIIT will give you more bang for your buck in terms of exercise, results and calorie burn.
And if you are someone who is recovering from an injury or has low back pain or joint pain, know that HIIT doesn't have to be high impact. You can choose low-impact exercises and perform HIIT workouts on fitness machines like a stationary bike too. Always speak with your healthcare provider before starting any new workout program.
Here's everything you need to know about HIIT for beginners.
HIIT workout benefits
1. Improves oxygen consumption and blood flow
Oxygen consumption is your muscles’ ability to use oxygen. Why is this important? You’ll improve your cardio endurance, so you won’t get as tired as you did when you tried doing HIIT for the first time. You will feel stronger and less fatigued.
Endurance training — the opposite of HIIT — is known to improve oxygen consumption with its consistent long sessions of running or spinning at a steady rate. But, HIIT has shown the same benefits within a shorter time period.
In terms of blood flow, your heart is constantly pumping blood through your circulatory system to deliver oxygen and nutrients. Researchers have found that HIIT can support and strengthen your circulatory system to withstand your HIIT workouts without feeling super fatigued.
2. Promotes cardiovascular health
Research continues to show the beneficial relationship between HIIT and heart health. One systematic review found that HIIT reduced blood pressure and resting heart rate in individuals who are overweight and obese. Another found that HIIT exercise was safe and actually more effective than moderate-intensity continuous training in individuals with cardiovascular disease.
3. Enhances energy expenditure
HIIT workouts have been shown to burn more calories when compared to steady cardio like running thanks to the variation in heart rate that comes with a HIIT workout. Researchers found that HIIT burns 25-30% more calories compared to other forms of exercise, and you continue to burn calories even after you’ve completed your workout. This is called EPOC (excessive post-oxygen consumption). A 2019 study reported that those who did HIIT workouts lost 28.5% more fat than people who did moderate-intense steady cardio like running.
There is a direct relationship between the amount of energy used during your workout and the number of calories burned. To really maximize your EPOC or calories burned, be sure to target total body exercises with the support of staying hydrated and getting quality sleep.
4. Quickens the metabolism
Studies have shown that HIIT can increase your metabolic rate in the hours after a HIIT workout and even more than jogging. The same study also suggests that HIIT could shift the body’s metabolism toward using fat for energy as opposed to carbs. Stimulating and boosting your metabolism can help you burn more calories, lose weight and keep the weight off.
5. Improves mood
Exercise, in general, is known to boost mood, concentration and more, but recent research found that individuals who participated in HIIT or moderate-intensity training (MIT) had significantly reduced stress, anxiety and depression as well as increased resilience.
Tips for getting started with HIIT
If you're a HIIT beginner, the best advice is to keep the exercises simple. Don't worry about complicated workout movements — you'll get your heart rate up quickly even with the most basic HIIT exercises. Before you get started, make sure you're set up:
- Find a designated workout space where you can move.
- Get a timer or stopwatch ready. You can even use the one on your phone.
- Purchase a good-quality sports bra designed for high-impact activity.
- Make sure you have the best sneakers to support you during your workout.
- Always incorporate at least a five-minute warm-up before the HIIT workout begins.
- Choose exercises you enjoy and focus on form.
- Find a workout buddy to keep you motivated and make the workout fun.
- Take time for a proper cool down and build in ample time for recovery.
The recommendation for HIIT is no more than three times a week, with the workout ranging from 10-30 minutes. Start slowly and progress the exercises and intensity as you get stronger. Just because HIIT workouts may be on the shorter side, they can be intense. (It stands for "high-intensity interval training," after all!) These routines warrant just as much stretching and recovery as longer workouts.
Sample HIIT workouts
Try any of these workouts to start incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine.
- Stationary bike (all levels): Push for 30 seconds at high intensity with medium to heavy resistance and maximum exertion, then allow 30 seconds of recovery. Perform eight rounds total.
- Bodyweight (beginner): Alternate between jumping jacks and squats or jump squats. Perform 20 seconds of jumping jacks, then rest for 10 seconds of recovery. Then perform 20 seconds of squats or jump squats, and rest for 10 seconds. Complete eight rounds total.
- Dumbbells (intermediate): Alternate between dumbbell thrusters and renegade rows with a medium set of weights. Perform the exercise for 30 seconds, then rest for 15 seconds. Complete eight rounds total.
- How to do a dumbbell thruster: Hold your dumbbells by your ears with your elbows facing forward and your feet hip-width apart. Perform a squat, then drive to a standing position and punch your weights up over your head until your arms are straight. Slowly lower your arms to your start position.
- How to do a renegade row: Start off in a high plank with one dumbbell in each hand. Open your legs about hip-width apart and row your right elbow back while maintaining a plank. Be sure that your hips are not moving. You will alternate your arms here.
The bottom line: Is HIIT training worth it?
From improving mood and circulation to building strength and stamina, HIIT is an incredible form of fitness that yields real results. By using your maximum capacity during the work period, you'll elevate your heart rate and get in a great workout all in a short period of time. HIIT is at-home friendly and typically doesn’t require equipment, so you can even practice the workout while traveling. Just make sure you have enough space to move and a timer and you'll be good to go.
Tatiana Lampa has a degree in Nutrition & Exercise Sciences, a certified personal trainer and corrective exercise specialist. She is also the founder and creator of the Training with T App and Move Better program. Tatiana started her career as a fitness professional 7 years ago in NYC. Tatiana has trained hundreds of clients worldwide and worked alongside many fitness brands and magazines and will be a contributor for Good Housekeeping’s fitness and wellness content.