If you’re struggling to find time to exercise or come away from the gym feeling you haven’t worked out hard enough, HIIT could be perfect for you. The vigorous training style is sure to make you break a sweat and is focused on helping you burn the most calories in the shortest period of time.
It might seem an intimidating thought for fitness beginners to start high-intensity interval training, but with our guide, you can build the confidence to get stuck into a class or start a routine on your own. Here we explain the basics of HIIT, its benefits, and some great exercises to incorporate into your routine.
What is HIIT?
Before starting a HIIT workout, it’s important to know what it actually involves. HIIT, or high-intensity interval training, is a form of cardiovascular exercise that involves alternating short, intense bursts of activity with brief recovery periods.
During a HIIT workout, you’re meant to push your body to its limits during these intervals by performing strenuous exercises. The aim of the game is to rapidly increase your heart rate and burn calories faster than you usually would in a less intense workout.
The short recovery periods between each workout allow you just enough time to catch your breath and prepare for the next intense interval. This way, you can sustain a high level of effort. HIIT sessions are typically shorter in duration than a typical gym workout and can range from 10 to 40 minutes, making them ideal for individuals with busy schedules.
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Typical exercises performed in a HIIT workout
Any exercise performed that is included in a HIIT workout is meant to be intense and raise the heart rate as much as possible. If you’ve never been to a HIIT class before or are trying to craft your own personal routine, then here are some of the exercises most commonly used.
Getting to grips with these on their own before putting them together for your first HIIT session can help build your confidence. Here are some common exercises used in HIIT workouts:
- High knees
- Mountain climbers
- Shoulder taps
- Full body crunches
If you’re looking for more exercises to add to your HIIT workout or want explanations on how to perform exercises similar to the ones above, check out the guides in our fitness section.
Here you can find inspiration, including guides to full body workouts at home and how to start using dumbbells, with workout guides and tips from personal trainers.
How HIIT workouts can be structured
HIIT workouts are always done following a structure of high-intensity exercise, then a short rest, followed by more high-intensity exercise. There are several ways you can tweak this structure. Here are the top three:
- Interval timing: HIIT workouts can be structured by alternating periods of high-intensity exercise with periods of active recovery or rest. For example, 30 seconds of all-out sprinting followed by 60 seconds of walking or jogging, repeated for a set number of cycles.
- Circuit training: HIIT workouts can be structured using a circuit format, where participants move through a series of exercises targeting different muscle groups with minimal rest in between. Each exercise is performed at a high intensity, and the circuit is repeated for multiple rounds.
- Tabata protocol: Tabata is a specific form of HIIT workout that follows a 20-second intense exercise period followed by a 10-second rest period, repeated for eight cycles. This structured timing helps maximise intensity and efficiency in a short period of time.
Top 5 benefits of HIIT workouts
You now know what HIIT is, but why should you be doing HIIT workouts? Here are the five top benefits of HIIT:
1. Efficient and time-saving
One of the biggest attractions of HIIT workouts is that they can be done quickly and don’t take up as much time as a traditional workout. They can be completed within 20-40 minutes, meaning you can achieve maximum results in a shorter amount and fit them around a busy schedule.
2. Quick calorie burn
When doing a HIIT workout, you can burn a lot of calories in a short period of time because you will be pushed to your limit during each exercise. Your heart rate will maintain a high rate during the whole workout because of the intensity the exercises are performed at. In comparison to a traditional workout, which has longer breaks and less intense exercise, you will burn calories quicker.
3. Improved cardiovascular fitness
HIIT workouts challenge your cardiovascular system by rapidly increasing and lowering your heart rate. Over time, this can improve your cardiovascular endurance, making activities like running, cycling, or even daily tasks easier to perform.
For more ways to improve your cardiovascular fitness, check out our fitness page.
4. Adaptability and variety
A great benefit of HIIT training is the variety of exercises you can perform during it. Mixing up the exercises keeps the workouts interesting and can help increase your motivation levels. You can also adapt each exercise to your preferred fitness level, meaning HIIT classes can be accessible to everyone.
5. Better mental health
HIIT workouts offer mental health benefits such as boosting your mood and reducing stress, symptoms of depression and anxiety. This happens as exercise promotes the release of the brain’s ‘happy chemical’, endorphins. With the consistent performance of HIIT workouts, you should feel a boost in mood.
6 top tips for beginners starting HIIT training
If you’re new to HIIT, try and follow these top six tips for beginners. By following this, you can stay safe whilst working out and ease into the intensive exercise.
- Start slow: Begin with shorter HIIT sessions and gradually increase the duration and intensity as your fitness level improves. This way, you can avoid injury by not overexerting yourself.
- Warm up: Always warm up your body with dynamic stretching and light cardio exercises to prepare your muscles for the intense workout. Again, this protects you against injury.
- Modify exercises: Modify high-impact movements or complex exercises to lower-impact or simpler versions until you build strength and technique. This way, you mix up the workouts, which can keep you interested and motivated during training (and it helps you avoid injury).
- Listen to your body: Pay attention to any pain or discomfort during the workout. Take breaks or modify exercises if needed to prevent injuries. For example, if you have a tight shoulder, don’t do shoulder exercises and train your legs instead.
- Rest: Allow sufficient rest between HIIT sessions to give your body time to recover and avoid overtraining. Aim for 1-2 days of rest per week.
- Stay hydrated: Drink water before, during, and after the workout to maintain hydration levels. This will help you train well and avoid your body being sapped of energy.
Want more guidance and expert tips on fitness routines and products? Check out our fitness section, with guides including the best multi-gym equipment for working out at home, how to use resistance bands, and how and when to use pre-workout.
Finn Byrne is a Digital Writer for Immediate Media. He works across several brands including The Recommended, RadioTimes.com, MadeforMums and BBC Gardeners’ World. Finn has previously written for publications including MyLondon, The Mirror, The Express, and The Star. When not writing Finn enjoys spending time on the football pitch and getting stuck into a book.