Those strength training can have a hard time finding workouts that push their cardiovascular fitness, or they're just trying their best to avoid cardio altogether! It's understandable, lifters don't typically think of cardio as their favorite form of training, but it is important to keep your heart healthy... And it doesn’t hurt that it helps accelerate fat loss. So whether you love cardio workouts or hate them, you can't avoid them forever!
There are two main types of cardio: Low-Intensity Steady State Cardio and High-Intensity Interval Training. Whether you're weight training or just working out for weight loss, every good workout routine has a mix of both types. But HIIT workouts do tend to be the most popular because unlike traditional steady-state cardio, HIIT accelerates your heart rate, really pushes you to sweat, and helps burn calories during and even after your training - All in a short amount of time! So it gives you all the benefits you want from traditional cardio, but allows you to do it in a shorter time period so you have more time to lift weights and balance your hectic daily schedule!
HIIT workouts can be a cardio saving grace! And we want to help you have a full-body HIIT session that is going to be effective so you reap all the benefits these workouts offer by giving you 10 of the best HIIT exercises that will get your heart rate pumping, your muscles working, and your entire body sweating, but first let's talk a little bit about what makes a good HIIT workout.
What makes HIIT workouts so good?
A HIIT workout consists of short bursts of intense exercise performed at up to 95% of your max heart rate followed by lower effort rest intervals. So, why is HIIT training so effective? Well, it comes down to the benefits. One of the best benefits of HIIT is that it's a time-efficient way to exercise and burn calories even after you've stopped training. This happens because a good HIIT workout increases your metabolic rate for hours.  HIIT is also the ideal cardio for those resistance training because some of the exercises that are used for it require the use of various major muscle groups which can help maintain or even build muscle. This brings us to the last great point about HIIT, it's extremely versatile! Meaning that you can easily create a HIIT routine using a combination of different exercises, making it easy for you to change up your routine as you make progress. Plus, you can create different workouts like something more focused on resistance training and requires resistance bands or free weights (light, not heavy weights), or something more cardio-focused that requires no equipment. You can easily create a HIIT workout you can do at home whenever you're short on time or try something more challenging at the gym! Not only that, but you can create a workout based on how much time you have to work out, so you can have a quick 15-minute workout or extend it even longer if you have more time. That's the beauty of HIIT.
Now the key to making effective HIIT workouts comes down to the intensity. True HIIT requires you to be explosive and intense during your short work period, but at the same time making sure to maintain a consistent level of effort across all exercises. You should aim to perform at up to 95% of your max heart rate. To calculate your max heart rate, all you have to do is subtract 220 from your age. That will give you the average maximum number of times your heart should beat per minute during exercise. If you don’t have a fitness tracker that tracks your heart rate, then just make sure to give each exercise your max effort!
Although HIIT is great for all fitness levels, beginners should start by structuring their HIIT routine a little differently than someone who has been doing them for a long time. Instead of 15-60 second intervals executed at nearly 100% intensity, try a slightly longer interval of a minute to three minutes at 80% max effort. Followed by a longer rest period of 1-2 minutes or up to five minutes of lower intensity exercise or active recovery. You'll still work up a sweat, and as your body adjusts you can reduce your time intervals and rest period.
Intensity aside, the next key to a good HIIT sesh is the exercises! That's mostly a matter of personal preference, but we'll give you a list of our favorite fat burning exercises that you can use to create a full-body workout.
Best HIIT exercises
These exercises will help you get your sweat on (and burn fat 😉) whenever you need to do a quick home workout or need a quick cardio workout after lifting weights. We put together a list of bodyweight exercises (no equipment required) with a few that do require equipment that you can include in your exercise rotation. That way you can easily create HIIT workouts you can do at home, but also at the gym!
Plank w/ dumbbell row
Place your hands on a pair of dumbbells and set your body in a push-up position. Make sure that your arms are completely straight with your hands directly beneath your shoulders and your palms facing each other. Keeping your abs tight and elbows close to your body, row one dumbbell off of the floor, pulling your elbow as high as you can while you squeeze your shoulder blade back. Return the dumbbell to the floor. Repeat on the other arm.
Tips: As you row the dumbbell up make sure that your torso does not rotate to one side or the other. Make sure your core is tight and engaged throughout the move. For beginners, you can modify the move by doing it in a kneeling push-up position.
Stand upright with your feet hip-width apart. Begin to shift your weight to your right foot, bend your right knee, and then push through your foot to jump to your left. When you land on your left foot, cross your right foot behind you as you lower your until your left thigh is parallel to the floor. Pause for a moment and then repeat the movement to your left, pushing off with your left foot and landing on your right foot.
Tips: Be careful on your jump, make sure it's explosive, but not too much that it causes you to fall or lose balance. For beginners, make this move easier by shortening the jump distance, or slowing your tempo. If you want more of a challenge, hold a dumbbell on each hand, but keep the weight low to avoid unwanted injuries.
Start with your arms by your side, feet shoulder-width apart, head up, and back straight. Keeping your back straight and chest up, squat down as you inhale until your upper thighs are parallel, or lower, to the floor. Now pressing mainly with the balls of your feet, jump straight up in the air as high as possible, using the thighs like springs. Exhale during this portion of the movement. When you touch the floor again, immediately squat down and jump again.
Tips: Make this move harder by adding a weight! Hold a dumbbell with both hands in front of your chest as you do the exercise.
Split lunges w/ shoulder press
Get into a staggered stance with your right foot 2-3 feet in front of your left foot. Hold a dumbbell in each hand with your arms bent 90 degrees and palms facing in. Lower your body into a lunge position and push back up to a standing position as you simultaneously press the dumbbells overhead. Lower the dumbbells back to the starting position. Switch legs and repeat (or do 10-15 reps, then switch legs).
Tips: If you don't have dumbbells do the exercise without it. Or you can also try jumping lunges (without weight) for something a little more intense.
Get into a push-up position (high plank), but instead of pushing down and then up, you'll place your right elbow under your right shoulder, then follow with your left elbow under your left shoulder to be in a low plank position. Make sure that your shoulders are stacked over your wrists and begin to press back up to a high plank position starting with your right arm. Repeat the movement, alternating leading arms each time.
Tips: To modify the move to be more beginner-friendly, get into a kneeling push-up position instead.
Start by standing tall with your feet together. Then begin to lower your body into a squat and place your hands on the ground and directly in front of your feet. Keep your core tight as you jump back. Jump back far enough so that you are fully extended and in a push-up position. Do not let your butt stick up in the air. Then jump your feet back up to your hands and jump up off the ground.
Tips: If you want to really up the intensity and build lower body strength then try a single-leg burpee. The move is exactly the same, except you start by standing on one leg and complete the move using only that leg and then repeating with the other. This requires a lot of core strength so work your way up to this move by doing core exercises and practicing other lower body unilateral exercises.
Lie on your back with legs straight and arms extend out at your sides. Lift your upper body, lift your heels about 6 inches off the floor and rapidly kick your feet up and down in a quick, scissor-like motion.
Tips: Try not to move too fast, you don't want your legs flailing around. This is a core-strengthening exercise so focus on keeping your core engaged throughout the entire movement.
Get into a plank position, making sure your wrists are stacked beneath your shoulders and body in a straight line. Step your right foot to the inside of your right palm. Jump your right foot back to plank position. Do the same on the left side, and continue alternating in quick succession.
Tips: If you're up for a challenge and have a gliding disc (a towel works too), then try sliding mountain climbers. You simply position your feet on the discs as you assume a plank position and slowly begin to complete a basic rep, as you move use your non-sliding leg and upper body to stabilize yourself. This variation will fire up your quads more than the original version.
Standing shoulder-width apart, place a kettlebell on the floor slightly in front of you and between your feet. Bend slightly at the knees and focus on hinging mainly at the hips to grasp the kettlebell. Pull it back between your legs to create momentum, then drive your hips forward and straighten your back to send the kettlebell up to shoulder height. Let it return back between your legs and then repeat the move.
Tips: Don't use your upper body too much, focus more on using the hamstrings and glutes to power through the move. If you don't have access to a kettlebell at the gym or at home, you can use a dumbbell. For beginners, try practicing the move with a long resistance band before trying it with a kettlebell. Simply anchor the band to a secure point near the floor (bottom of the door or on the bottom of a squat rack), then perform the move as directed.
Stand upright holding one end of a jump rope in each hand, you should be standing in front of it so the rest of the rope is behind you. Keep your elbows close to your body and your arms bent at about 90 degrees out to your sides. Begin to swing the rope over your head and down toward your feet in front of you, jumping over it. Continue jumping until the time is up.
Tips: Don't swing your shoulders too much, primarily use your wrists and forearms, and jump on the balls of your feet. Use a weighted jump rope to increase the intensity.
There you have it, 10 exercises to include in your HIIT workouts! Remember, as with any high-intensity exercise don't forget to hydrate and warm-up! These moves require a lot of jumping so you want to make sure your muscles are warmed up and prepared, you can do this by combining a few static and dynamic stretches.
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