I’m sure you hear people talking about doing a High Intensity Interval Training – HIIT workout. What is an HIIT workout?
An even more important question is: should you do it?
This article explains HIIT for beginners and will give you some great HIIT tips.
There’s no doubt about it: using HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) helps many people – men and women – meet their fitness and fat loss goals.
Even people who had struggled with weight loss have found that HIIT workouts changed everything for them.
HIIT is just what it’s name implies. Do some physical activity with a high level of intensity. Then pause. Stop and rest. Repeat.
This process of intense exercise followed by a rest break is repeated a number of times.
What Is HIIT?
Are you an HIIT beginner? Maybe you’re not even at that stage. Maybe you just want to learn about this HIIT thing that you keep hearing about.
Some people are put off by the idea of “high intensity.”
In fact, just yesterday a friend told me that she could never do HIIT because she’s not in very good shape.
I explained to her that each person has a personal definition of high intensity.
So long as YOU are working hard then you are experiencing a high intensity workout.
For a fit runner it could be sprinting for 100 yards. For a beginning runner perhaps their high intensity workout would be jogging. Of course, for a person who is really out of shape, then just walking around the block could qualify as a high intensity workout.
For each sport we could develop similar groupings. It doesn’t matter whether we’re talking about weight lifting, swimming, or bicycling.
Your goal with a high intensity workout is to bring your muscles close to exhaustion. You’ll know when you’ve reached that point. You’re muscles will start yelling at you.
Then you’ll experience the so-called after burn effect. Even after your breathing and pulse return to normal, your body (especially your muscles) continue to burn calories. This boost may last up to 48 hours.
Like I mentioned, the idea of interval training is doing an intense exercise but then taking a break. The break could be moving more slowly or it could be stopping and resting.
Swimming for 30 minutes non-stop would be a non-interval training exercise.
By way of contrast, swimming for one minute and then resting for 15 seconds would be interval training.
HIIT – High Intensity Interval Training
To add it all together, HI + IT = HIIT.
This equation can be your secret weapon to quickly build muscle and burn fat.
Academic studies have shown that an HIIT workout is better than a continuous workout.
In what way is an HIIT workout better?
HIIT gives faster results. You will need fewer workouts each week and those workouts can be shorter. It’s hard to believe, but 27 minutes of HIIT three times a week, gives all the benefits of 60 minutes of cardio five days a week.
Hence, HIIT is better in two ways.
- It requires less time per workout.
- It requires fewer workouts each week.
Several HIIT Workout Methods
HIIT is a training method that has been used for years by many successful athletes. The truth is, men and women were using these techniques before the name was applied to them.
Back in high school, I was on the cross country team. This was a few years ago, but my coach had us doing an HIIT workout. I don’t think anybody used that term back then, but that’s what we did. We would sprint one way down the football field and then return at a very slow jog.
One of my friends (one of our top runners) mastered this. His jogging back down the football field was so smooth but so very slow that it was almost painful to watch him.
There are several HIIT methods to chose from.
The most popular ones are Tabata Method, Turbulence Training, and Little Method.
The Tabata Method is named after its developer Dr. Izumi Tabata.
The Tabata Method is based on alternating high intensity exercise for 20 seconds followed by 10 seconds of rest. This is repeated for eight sets. Thus a Tabata workout only takes four minutes to complete.
Dr. Tabata developed his method by working with Olympic speed skaters who followed this routine four times per week.
You can read a bit more about the Tabata Method here.
My personal favorite is Turbulence Training created by Craig Ballantyne.
In the basic method he recommends weight training sets alternating with cardio sets.
His workouts may take up to 45 minutes, however, you only do them three times per week.
You can read a bit more about Turbulence Training here.
InfographicThe following infographic (from Greatist) gives you a lot more detail about HIIT.
HIIT Workout Benefits and Results
Why Use HIIT?
An HIIT workout has several advantages over “standard” workouts.
During the low intensity part of the workout, your body has a chance to recover some. Even though it’s only for a short time, the recovery period allows you to work harder so you gain more muscle and use more calories during your workout.
Also, the alternating heavy and light work keeps your muscles from falling into a pattern. It’s possible for your muscles to adapt to your routine and learn how to not work as hard as your want them to.
Another reason to use HIIT workouts is that research has shown that you can get the same fitness results as from a “standard” workout in less time if you use the HIIT method.
According to studies, some of the benefits of HIIT are it:
- Efficiently burns your adipose tissues (body fat).
- Improves your insulin-muscle sensitivity.
- Increases your resting metabolic rate.
- Improves your aerobic and anaerobic systems.
- Raises your body’s levels of fat oxidation.
- Significantly raises the production of growth hormone levels.
- Suppresses your post-exercise appetite.
Does HIIT Work?
Many people when they start an exercise program are focused on weight loss.
They also think that to lose weight they need long exercise sessions.
However, you may find that physical activity done continuously for 30 minutes or more, regardless of the low amounts of energy it requires, will only wear you out.
Jogging around the block for an hour may not give you better results than doing ten minutes of alternating sprints and walking.
Intense Muscle Activity
HIIT workouts require intense muscle activity. When you do intense workouts week after week, your muscles develop and adapt to the movements.
Over time (and it may not take very long) you should experience increased:
- Muscle firmness
Due to requiring intensified energy levels as opposed to constant low and moderate amounts, HIIT works by toning the muscles. Because it accelerates fat loss, bodybuilders can benefit from it, too.
HIIT is Simple
The HIIT cardio and weight training routines are simple.
HIIT training results shared by individuals who have tried them out show that it’s not necessary to learn complex movements to achieve real results.
HIIT workouts can be very short. If you can add a few minutes into your morning routine, you can get your workout done before you head off for work.
No heavy equipment is required. Many exercises can be done at home so you won’t need to sign up for an expensive gym membership.
So long as you have the right mindset to commit to regular sessions, you can achieve your weight loss goals.
HIIT is a Success
Numerous success stories suggest that an HIIT workout program is more effective for improving aerobic and anaerobic systems and attaining fat-burning goals compared to other cardio and weight training regimens.
Medical and nutritional researchers from the University of New South Wales have reported that subjects, in a period of six weeks, have been satisfied with their new physique.
As they imply, an additional factor to its success is not being difficult to incorporate.
Even if you only do 2-3 minutes per workout, you can burn more fat than with your typical steady-state exercise routines.
8 Benefits of Doing an HIIT Workout
Fortunately, the benefits of HIIT are real and you can see good results after only a few sessions.
Benefit #1 – You Save Time
One of the first people to prove real HIIT benefits was Dr. Izumi Tabata.
He had one group of Olympic speed skaters do HIIT workouts that were only 4 minutes long. Another group of skaters did longer steady-state workouts more times a week.
The HIIT group showed better fitness results compared to the control group.
Other studies have consistently shown that you can get better fitness results from short HIIT workouts compared to ordinary, steady-state workouts.
Benefit #2 – You Experience The Afterburn Effect
Because HIIT workouts are intense, they produce what is known as afterburn.
During your HIIT workout, you consume a lot of oxygen. After your workout ends, your body now brings everything back into balance.
You body needs to replace oxygen that you consumed and repair muscles. This activity requires calories. This means that your body continues to burn calories after you’ve stopped exercising.
This can happen after any type of exercise you do. However, because HIIT is so intense, this afterburn effect is greater than with many other exercise routines.
Also, because of your HIIT workout, you will gain muscle mass. It’s well known that muscle cells use more energy, even at rest, than fat cells. That means your resting metabolism will become higher.
Even when you’re asleep or watching TV you’ll burn more calories than your buddy who doesn’t exercise.
Benefit #3 – You Burn Fat
Another benefit of HIIT is that you burn fat.
Your HIIT workout causes your body to produce growth hormone and testosterone. Yes, ladies, you also need testosterone.
These two hormones help your body burn fat.
An interesting benefit is that HIIT causes your body to burn belly fat. Of course, fat from all parts of your body will be reduced. However, it is the belly fat that will experience the largest proportional reduction.
Benefit #4 – You Lose Weight, Not Muscle
One of the things people always worry about is losing muscle during the time they are losing weight.
It’s a reasonable fear since this is often the case.
However, a benefit of HIIT training is that you can lose weight but not lose muscle.
Benefit #5 – You Build Muscle
This benefit adds on to the previous one.
With HIIT you can actually get the benefit of losing unwanted fat and weight AND building muscle at the same time.
Let’s be clear, no one is suggesting that you’re going to start looking like the Incredible Hulk. In fact, that’s probably not your goal.
However, if you want to lose body fat and gain muscle, then HIIT can help you do it.
By the way, you should want to gain muscle. The added muscle will make you look more fit and your body will more easily burn calories.
Benefit #6 – No Equipment Necessary
There are lots of ways to do HIIT workouts.
If you’re going to the gym, you can easily turn a workout on a treadmill or elliptical machine into an HIIT workout.
However, there is no special equipment you need to get the benefits of HIIT.
For example, you can turn a run into an HIIT workout by alternating sprints with jogging.
Even if you don’t want to go outdoors, you can get a great HIIT workout using bodyweight exercises.
For example, you could do jumping jacks for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds. Keep doing this for eight repetitions and you’re done a four-minute long HIIT workout. All without any equipment.
Benefit #7 – Do It Anywhere
Since you don’t need any special equipment to do your HIIT workout, it’s easy to see that you can do your HIIT workout anywhere.
You don’t need to go to the gym to do a bodyweight workout routine.
You don’t need to go outdoors.
So, even if you’re traveling for business or vacation, you can still do an HIIT workout in your hotel room.
Benefit #8 – You Won’t Be Bored
Many people complain that they find exercise boring.
Though I’ve never had a problem with boredom, I understand that many people do.
When I used to ride an exercise bike, I would listen to music or a lecture.
Adding an HIIT element to your exercise routine can help you reduce boredom.
You’ll need to pay closer attention to your workout to make sure you switch from high intensity to low intensity at the right time.
Just this switching of intensity levels can help make your exercise routine less boring.
Who Is HIIT For?
HIIT is for everyone. However, I want to mention one important qualification.
I’m sure you’ve heard this before: talk to your doctor before beginning any exercise program. Especially if you have not been exercising regularly, get a check up and make sure you can exercise without hurting yourself.
Beyond that, HIIT will work for men and women. It will benefit folks who play in sports leagues. It will help middle-aged adults who want to lose weight and feel stronger.
Research results reveal that this popular cardio and weight training program is effective for fat loss and better health.
People of all ages who wish to get back in shape should give it a try.
Combining alternating high intensity exercises and rest periods, it’s among the simplest yet most dependable weight loss strategies.
HIIT will work for you even if you don’t have a lot of time. If you can only spare five minutes, you can do your workout and be on your way to getting the physique you want.
So long as you regularly do the exercises, losing weight, losing unwanted fat, and feeling more fit won’t be all that difficult.
Steady-State Exercise vs HIIT Calories Burned
If you’re trying to lose weight, then you want to know if doing HIIT will help you burn calories.
The short answer is, “Yes, of course.”
If you’re curious and want to know more, then keep reading this section.
What Is A Calorie?
Every food you eat gives your body two main things: energy and the nutrients your body needs to function.
In practical terms, a calorie is a measure of how much energy your body can derive from a food.
Sure, not all foods are created equal.
Some foods give you lots of energy and few nutrients. Those are the foods that are called “empty calories.” They are “empty” of nutrients.
Other foods will give you lots of nutrients but very few calories.
Whether you’re eating a lowly pea or a magnificent triple chocolate fudge cake, you’re body is getting more energy and nutrients.
By the way, if you’re interested in a more technical definition of a calorie, then take a look here.
Why Do Calories Matter?
I’m sure you’ve heard a woman, as she starts taking a bite of a rich dessert, say: “A minute on the lips, forever on the hips.”
Maybe you’ve even said it yourself.
What truth is being stated here? If the foods you eat give you more calories (food energy) than your body needs, then the extra calories are converted into fat.
Here’s how Dr. Willett said it on page 45 of his popular book Eat, Drink, and Be Healthy:
“Much of what you eat is, or can be if needed, converted to the energy coin of the realm, a six-carbon sugar called glucose. When you eat, some of the glucose dumped into your bloodstream is used immediately by your cells. Some is linked into long chains, called glycogen, and stored in your muscles and liver. Any leftovers are converted to fat and squirreled away in special fat storage cells and padded in between muscles.”
Let’s understand what Dr. Willett is saying.
A lot of the food you eat is converted into energy.
That energy can take three forms: glucose, glycogen, or fat.
The glucose is used by the body immediately for current energy needs.
The glycogen is stored, but in a way that the body can quickly call on it, for example, during exercise.
The fat is stored in various parts of your body and can be used for energy under certain circumstances.
Women tend to store fat in their buttock and hips, and hence the saying, “forever on the hips.”
Men tend to store fat around their midsection, the famous beer belly.
How Are Calories Burned?
Your body uses calories to fuel all of your daily activities.
Even if you are not moving, there are still a lot of things going on inside of you.
For example, your body needs energy for all of these tasks:
- blood circulation
- brain activity
- maintaining body temperature
- digesting food
- controlling muscle tension to keep you upright
This is what’s known as basal or resting metabolism.
Your resting metabolism is what’s going on during times of no physical activity (sleeping) or very low physical activity (watching TV, sitting in a boring meeting at work). Your head bobbing at the meeting does not count as physical activity. 🙂
Physical activity is the other category of calorie burning.
Exercise and Calories
Exercise can be either intense or low level physical activity depending upon what you are doing and your weight.
There have been many studies done to determine how many calories your body burns during different activities.
It’s not a surprise, but the number of calories burned depends upon how intense the activity is and how much you weigh.
The Mayo Clinic website reports on a number of activities and several body weights. You can see the full chart here.
I’ve included an excerpt from that chart. I’ve chosen activities that you might do as part of an HIIT workout. Also, I’m only looking at one weight, 160 pounds.
|Activity done for 1 hour||Calories burned if you
weigh 160 pounds
|Aerobics, low impact||365|
|Bicycling, <10 mph||292|
|Resistance (weight) training||365|
|Running, 5 mph||606|
|Running, 8 mph||861|
|Walking, 2 mph||204|
|Walking, 3.5 mph||314|
Remember, all of the calorie numbers assume that you did the activity for one hour.
Probably the first thing to notice is that none of these activities use very many calories.
In fact, some of them are depressingly low.
HIIT Workout and Calories
Let’s assume you did an HIIT workout of running and walking intervals.
According to the chart, running at 8 miles per hour will burn 861 calories.
If your walking interval is done at 2 mph, then you will burn 204 calories.
So the total calories burned would be 861 + 204 = 1065.
But, remember, those numbers are based on doing each activity for 1 hour each, or a total of two hours.
If you do an hour-long workout, then your total HIIT calories burned would be 1065 / 2 = 532.5.
Again, these numbers are for a person who weighs 160 pounds.
I guess the best way to summarize this is to say, “Your mileage may vary.”
HIIT – More Bang for Your Buck
There’s an interesting thing about HIIT and fitness.
Dr. Izumi Tabata found in his research that Olympic speed skaters who did HIIT workouts showed greater fitness results than those who did steady-state workouts.
In fact, the skaters following the HIIT method worked out fewer times per week and for shorter time periods.
This would imply that an HIIT workout actually consumes more calories than a steady-state workout.
Summary of HIIT and Burning Calories
We started with the question, “Will an HIIT workout burn calories?”
We knew the answer before we started, it just took us a bit of work to fill out all of the steps.
It’s good to keep in mind that just because you workout, you can’t ignore what you eat.
Any workout will burn more calories than sitting at home watching TV.
There’s good reason to believe that an HIIT workout will burn more calories than other types of workouts.
So if you eat two or three servings of that triple chocolate fudge cake, all is not lost.
However, maybe next time you’ll want to hold yourself back a bit and just have one piece. 🙂
HIIT for Beginners
As the name implies an HIIT workout is intense.
Therefore, don’t dive straight into an HIIT program.
Consider your current level of fitness. If you’ve not been exercising regularly, first consult with your doctor or a fitness specialist.
You should start slowly and build yourself up.
Also note, always warm up before starting a rigorous exercise.
How To Do HIIT
You do an HIIT workout by choosing a high intensity activity and a low intensity activity.
For example, like my high school cross country team, our high intensity activity was sprinting followed by a low intensity jog.
Another example would be doing jumping jacks for 20 seconds followed by resting for 10 seconds. During the 20 second work period, you try to do as many jumping jacks as possible.
Another way would be to do, say 15 or 20 jumping jacks, followed by a ten second rest interval.
Note: if your low intensity interval is a rest break, it’s still a good idea to keep moving a bit so that your muscles don’t stiffen up.
Favorite HIIT Routines
Almost any exercise can be used as the basis for an HIIT workout. Here are some examples for you to try.
- Arm circles
- Brisk walks
- Butt kicks
- Jump rope
- High knees
- Lunges (full lunges and side lunges)
- Weights or Kettle bell
- Mountain climbers
- Jumping jacks
A good way to design an HIIT workout for yourself is to alternate upper body and lower body exercises.
For example, you could do a whole workout by doing squats for 20 seconds and then resting for 10 seconds. That means one round would take you only thirty seconds. If you then do 12 rounds like this, your workout would take only six minutes.
The downside to this routine is that you’re working only your lower body.
You will get better results if you use two exercises such as squats and mountain climbers. You could first do six rounds of squats and then do six rounds of the mountain climbers.
Your whole workout will still only take 6 minutes, but you have turned it into a full-body workout.
When To Do HIIT? How Often to Workout?
You should only do HIIT workouts 2 or 3 times a week. If you do more than that you risk injuring yourself.
Make sure you have a rest day in between your HIIT days. In other words, don’t do your HIIT workout two days in a row.
Many people want to know if it’s better to exercise in the morning or the evening after work.
People have found that they can get good results no matter what time of day they exercise.
The most important thing is to be consistent and try not to miss too many of your workouts.
Where To Do HIIT?
Fortunately, this question has an easy answer: wherever you want.
If you have a gym membership, you can do HIIT workouts at the gym. You can easily turn your time using an elliptical machine or treadmill into an HIIT workout.
The is also true for using weights.
The important thing is to make sure you’re careful to do all of your repetitions using proper form. Don’t let your desire to quickly do lots of repetitions become an excuse to use sloppy form.
If you like running, then you can turn part of your run into an HIIT workout by varying your speed during your run.
Of course, you can easily do HIIT workouts at home. For example, you can use the Home Workout Revolution by Craig Ballantyne.
6 Keys to HIIT Workout Success
This section shows you six key concepts that will lead you to HIIT training success.
Key 1: Set Your HIIT Workout Goals
If you’re like most people, you’ve made resolutions in the past. How many of those resolutions have you kept?
That’s what I thought.
It seems that fewer than 1 in 10 people keep their New Year’s resolutions past January.
There is a better way. That is to set goals. In particular, set SMART goals.
Let’s explain this with an example.
Here’s a typical New Year’s resolution: I resolve to exercise more this year.
That’s a great idea. However, the resolution is vague. You can easily fool yourself into thinking that you’re succeeding.
Here’s an example of a SMART goal: I will do an HIIT workout three times a week.
Let’s look at what makes this SMART goal different than the resolution.
SMART goals are:
- Specific – “three” compared to “more”
- Measurable – how many times did you exercise this week?
- Attainable – the goal should be reasonable for YOU
- Relevant – if you succeed, will you be closer to meeting your bigger goals?
- Time-Bound – “times a week” compared to “this year”
You can learn more about SMART goals over at Wikipedia.
Key 2: Workout Within Your Limits
Have you ever started a new exercise program with tons of energy and enthusiasm?
Then the next day you’re so sore and achy that you can hardly move for the next week.
When you first start an exercise program, doing more is probably not better for you.
When you start a new HIIT workout routine this is super important. Because you are doing your workout with intensity, there may be a greater chance of strain or injury.
Always be sure to exercise within YOUR limits.
One way to make sure you stay within your limits, is to do your HIIT workout based on time, not on the number of repetitions.
For example, say you are doing jumping jacks. You could chose to do 30 jumping jacks and then rest before doing another 30.
You would be better off to do jumping jacks for 20 seconds and then rest for 10 seconds.
Also, be sure to always do your exercises with proper form. Losing the ability to do an exercise with the best form is a signal that you’re reaching your limit.
Key 3: Gradual Increase
I think the applicable saying here is, “Rome was not built in a day.”
Neither were you.
Just like you didn’t put on an extra ten pounds of body fat in a week, so too you won’t take it off in a week.
Patience is the key.
Make sure you’re doing your current level of activity with proper form before you decide to jump up to the next level.
Somewhat related to this is the warning to always consult with your doctor before you start a new exercise program.
Key 4: How Many HIIT Workouts Each Week?
HIIT workouts should only be done two or three times a week.
If you’re new, start with two and then add a third workout after a few weeks or so.
If you do HIIT workouts more often than three times a week, you risk wearing yourself out. This can result in a lowering of your fitness level, not increasing it. It can also increase your risk of injury.
On your off days, you can do a light workout. That could be a brisk walk or some similar activity.
One thing I like to do on my off days is a short routine of five repetitions of the exercises I’m doing during my regular HIIT workout.
I find that helps me stay flexible and I can be very careful to do each movement with the best possible form.
Key 5: Vary Your HIIT Workouts
The idea of putting variety into your HIIT workout takes two forms.
1. Within a workout, do more than one exercise.
For example, don’t just do a whole workout of jumping jacks.
It’s really good to do a workout that alternates between upper body and lower body exercises.
Here’s an example of such a routine:
- lower body – jumping jacks
- upper body – push ups
- lower body – squats
- upper body – plank
- lower body – lunges
2. Be sure to change your routine
That is, don’t keep doing the same exact set of exercises day after day and week after week.
Some people like to do a different routine each time they do an HIIT workout.
Other people (I’m raising my hand) like to do a workout for several weeks and then switch to another routine.
Either way is good.
Changing is important so that your body doesn’t fall into a rut and your workout stops being as beneficial.
Also, by changing your routine you’ll use different muscles which is good for your overall fitness.
Key 6: Find Cheerleaders
Even though I’m listing this as Key #6, in many ways it could be the most important.
I’m sure you’ve heard the idea that who you hang out with makes a big impact on your happiness and success.
Here are several ways to do that. Pick those that fit into your budget and life style.
1. Join a gym
Of course, not any old gym. Make sure the owner / trainer understands what you want to accomplish and will help you get there.
2. Work with a personal trainer
Finding a personal trainer can give you that personalized boost that you need to not miss workouts.
A trainer can customize a workout plan for you, monitor your progress, and ensure that you are using proper form for each exercise.
3. Workout with a friend
Having a workout buddy can give you that extra push to get out the door on days when you don’t feel like working out.
Many people find that even though they may want to skip a workout, they’ll do it anyway so that they don’t let their friend down.
4. Find an online community
There are many supportive online communities where you can share you successes and get a pep talk when you are feeling down.
For example, Craig Ballantyne offers such a community for people who have purchased his Turbulence Training system. You can read a review of his workout program here.
Final Thoughts – How to Get the Benefits of HIIT
While working as a fat-burning strategy, the HIIT weight training program is beneficial for obtaining lower and upper body fitness as well as optimal health.
Apart from helping you to lose 50% more calories from your fat and carbohydrates stores, it will help you get fit and stay fit.
In this article I’ve summarized 8 of the known benefits of HIIT and discussed how you can start your own HIIT workout program.
My wife and I have been doing HIIT workouts for over 2 years now. And, yes, we’ve experienced all of the benefits that I’ve written about here.
You too can experience these benefits.
Our favorite workout program is the Home Workout Revolution by Craig Ballantyne.
Craig was one of the first personal trainers to create workout systems based on HIIT methods.
The Home Workout Revolution contains follow along videos (I’ve counted 90 of them). These videos are meant to take HIIT beginners and build up their fitness level step by step.
Visit Craig Ballantyne’s official website to discover how the Home Workout Revolution could work for you.
(BTW, these days the Home Workout Revolution is combined with one of Craig’s new programs called Skinny in Six.)