High-intensity interval training (a.k.a., HIIT) is a triple threat: “It’s quick, easy, and effective,” says Angela Gargano, a certified trainer and creator of Strong Feels Good & Pull-up Revolution. And pretty much anyone can benefit from it, no matter your age or fitness level.
And you don't even need to go to a gym to do HIIT, Gargano points out. There are many HIIT workouts you can do at home right in your living room with zero equipment. Another cool aspect of HIIT is that there are many ways to mix it up. For instance, one of Gargano’s fave HIIT formulas is a Tabata, which is when you do four minutes alternating between 20 seconds of a movement and 10 seconds of rest. “At first when you hear 20 seconds on of a movement and 10 seconds off, you're like 20 seconds? That’s it?” She says. But then you quickly change your tune—trust.
Tabata isn’t the only way to get your HIIT on. In fact, you could do working intervals as long as 120 seconds. Keep reading for everything you need to know about the training method including its (many!) benefits, trainer tips for beginners, and 20 of the best HIIT workouts to get started with today.
What HIIT Training Actually Means
Let’s back up a second. There tends to be a lot of confusion around what HIIT technically is and how it’s different from a generally tough workout. In fact, even health professionals may find all the jargon confusing. “How I've always explained HIIT to my clients is that you're going to do a moment of really intense work followed by some rest,” says Gargano. “It's not just high intensit the entire time.”
The recovery bursts are key so that you can go all out when the time comes. “Interval training that really taxes you and maximizes your effort and intensity,” adds Jenna Matroni, a group fitness instructor at Equinox and a coach at Orangetheory. What makes it different from other fitness pursuits is that it should *really* tax you to the point of exhaustion, she says. “That's why you need to take a break. It's not like being on the treadmill for half an hour at the same speed. Your heart rate is changing.” To get more specific, HIIT intervals should be at about 85 to 95 percent of your max heart rate, research suggests.
FYI, there’s also sprint-interval training (or SIT), which involves going even more all-out during work intervals and recovering for longer in between them.
The Benefits Of HIIT
There are plenty—both mental and physical. Here, five to consider:
1. It's short and sweet.
“You’re getting your heart rate up and down, so you're able to burn a decent amount of calories in a short amount of time,” says Gargano. “You could even do a 15-minute workout and get your heart rate up and get in and out of there.” Research backs this up: Study participants who did a HIIT program ended up with similar body composition as those who did a moderate-intensity routine—but the former group did so in half the time, per a study in the Journal of Diabetes Research.
2. You’ll up your V02 Max.
HIIT is perhaps one of the best ways to increase this health metric that is considered the “gold standard for how we measure cardiorespiratory fitness,” according to the Mayo Clinic. V02 Max is the maximum amount of oxygen your body can take in and use during exercise at your 100-percent intensity. And increasing it has many benefits including upping exercise performance and even reducing all-cause mortality and cardiac-related mortality.
3. You’ll be doing your heart a favor.
“It's good for your cardiovascular health and your heart is going to get stronger,” Matroni says. Specifically, HIIT workouts may improve blood sugar and blood pressure as well or better than moderate-intensity workouts can, according to some small, short-term studies.
4. You’ll burn calories during—and after!—your workout.
“If you are maxing out and getting close to your max heart rate, you're going to experience something called EPOC, which is post-exercise oxygen consumption,” says Matroni. “That basically means that you are going to continue to burn calories once you're done.”
5. You’ll boost your mood.
“You're going to push yourself to that breakthrough moment because you're really pushing yourself,” says Gargano. Thanks to all the endorphins, “you're definitely in the best mood after you do something like [HIIT] because you're really challenging yourself. Matroni agrees, adding that any time you're doing an effective workout, you're going to get some kind of high, but with HIIT, “getting endorphins will happen.”
20 Best HIIT Workouts To Try
Keep scrolling for 20 (!) great high-intensity workout options to try that range from five to 45 minutes and include all different protocols. Note that since HIIT has such a broad definition we used the term somewhat loosely to curate a great mix of options for every type of exerciser. For all workouts, do *not* forget to warm up. And never sacrifice form for speed.
Warrior Tabata Dumbbell HIIT
This 30- to 45-minute workout from Gargano includes stellar agility moves like speed skaters and thrusters.
Time: 30-45 minutes | Equipment: dumbbells | Good for: total body
Instructions: After the dynamic warm-up, you’ll conquer the Tabata circuit. Each exercise is performed for 20 seconds with 10 seconds of rest. Feeling extra brave? Try 30 seconds on, 10 seconds off. Next comes a core bonus that includes 5 additional exercises before the cool-down.
30-Minute HIIT And Core Workout
Another Tabata workout with Gargano, this follow-along-video includes an extra focus on the core that "will leave you feeling empowered and energized!" she says.
Time: 30 minutes | Equipment: dumbbells | Good for: total body
Instructions: After the dynamic warm-up, you'll move into an intense Tabata circuit, followed by the four-move core bonus and a cooldown.
Six-Week Beginner HIIT Interval Plan
This isn't just one workout, it's six weeks of 'em for a longer-term, effective cardio HIIT regimen. Happy running!
Time: 6 weeks | Equipment: none | Good for: cardio
Instructions: See full plan at left and at the link below.
30-Minute Treadmill Interval Workout
This efficient treadmill routine from Victoria O'Neil, CPT, progresses from a moderate effort to an ALL-OUT (caps intended) sprint.
Time: 30 minutes | Equipment: treadmill | Good for: cardio
15-Minute Cardio HIIT Workout
This quick burn from LES MILLS GRIT purports to improve cardiovascular fitness, increase speed and maximize calorie burn—all in under 15 minutes.
Time: 15 minutes | Equipment: none | Good for: cardio
Instructions: After a quick warm-up, you'll get into the "giant circuit" followed by a 1-minute challenge.
Kayla Itsines' 30-Minute HIIT
Kayla Itsines herself takes you through this high-intensity workout that will leave you feeling "sweaty but satisfied." There is one rule, though: Keep moving until the music stops.
Time: 30 minutes | Equipment: none | Good for: total body
Instructions: You'll do three circuits of exercises followed by two 2-minute challenges. Don't forget to stick around for the 7-minute finisher!
How often should you do HIIT?
Maybe less often than you think, actually! “The biggest issue with HIIT is some people will only do HIIT, and that's where we're seeing a problem right now,” Gargano says. “You still need to do your strength training. You shouldn't just be doing cardio or just be doing HIIT. I think it's a great thing to sprinkle in twice a week depending on how your body feels with it."
Can beginners do HIIT?
Beginners can totally benefit from HIIT, says Gargano. Just start with one workout a week and work on perfecting the movements with just your bodyweight before adding weights. Most importantly, find what works best for your body, Gargano emphasizes.
Matroni suggests looking for a HIIT class and letting the instructor know you’re a beginner so they can pay special attention to your form.
She notes that she always asks people to let her know if they’re new when she’s teaching so she can do exactly that. “I like to know when it's somebody's first class so I can work with them and make sure they're picking up lighter weights and doing fewer reps but are focused on form.”
Speaking of, it you’re doing HIIT that involves weights, go lighter than you think you need to—or just do bodyweight—to make sure you get your form right.
12 Best HIIT Exercises To Try
If you'd prefer to take a DIY approach to HIIT, or practice working one or two HIIT moves into your routine at a time, take a look at this list of trainer-vetted HIIT exercises. You can do them at home or in the gym—and they'll definitely get your heart rate up.
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