Whether your fitness goal is to build muscle, resistance, or weight loss, HIIT workouts (high-intensity interval training) are a great addition to anyone’s routine. These fast-paced short bursts of intense cardiovascular exercise can fit into any schedule because they’re extremely versatile, so there are a million ways to build a HIIT routine that fits you and your lifestyle. You can make your session very short or go on for a little longer if you have the time, change up the exercises and combine them as you go, and even modify the focus of the session according to your specific fitness goal for that day. And you don’t even need equipment to get your workout done! You can plan a HIIT session according to what’s available for you at the moment, whether you don’t have any equipment at all, only have free weights and resistance bands, or have the whole gym to yourself - It fits every situation!
But why would I want to include HIIT into my workout routine? How is it good for me?
Well, aside from being versatile, convenient, and less time-consuming than other fitness approaches, this form of exercise helps burn calories even after your workout is over by increasing post-exercise oxygen consumption. This is commonly known as EPOC, and it refers to the two-hour period that comes after finishing your routine when your body is slowly going back to its usual pace and recovering from the workout, using energy in the process. An increased EPOC means more calories burned overall, and also helps tap into fat stores for more energy, making it ideal for those who are looking to lose body fat. It’s also great for those strength training since it helps maintain and even promote muscle growth because it requires the use of major muscle groups, keeping them working very hard, and building your resistance along the way. It works for every fitness goal!
As you can see, the benefits of HIIT training are amazing, so if you want to get the most out of each session, make sure to follow these tips to help you get very far on your fitness journey!
If you're new, start slowly
Starting slow is the first thing that you need to do if you want to get into HIIT as smoothly as possible. HIIT can be as intense as it gets, but if you’re new to it you need to give yourself time before you actually take on the bigger challenges, so pace yourself according to your current fitness level. This can be done by changing the weight, speed, duration, or number of reps so that your HIIT session feels hard enough at the end, but does not make you struggle throughout the exercise so that you can always keep proper form and intensity. The reason for this is to prevent any unwanted injuries from going too hard too fast without being physically prepared for it, and mentally too since trying new exercises that you can’t properly execute can feel frustrating and even make you want to quit! Taking it slowly not only means changing up your workout so that it fits your fitness level, but also allowing a few days to properly recover and refuel your body for your next session. And don’t worry, getting used to the intensity won’t take too long if you’re consistent with it, and you’ll enjoy the journey because you’ll be challenging your body instead of burning it out!
Get the structure down
There are countless ways to structure a HIIT workout, so you can pick the one that works best for you and your lifestyle. These are the things to decide before you get into your session:
- Intensity: Depending on your fitness level, the intensity of your HIIT session will vary. For beginners, performing at 60-85% of your max heart rate is good and helps you get the hang of it, but for more advanced trainers performing at 95% of your max heart rate should be the goal. To calculate your max heart rate, you need to subtract 220 from your age, which will give you the average maximum number of times that your heart should beat per minute when you’re exercising. Or, if you don’t have a fitness tracker, just make sure to give all that you’ve got. Intensity is key when doing HIIT workouts!
- Total workout time: The total workout time for HIIT sessions usually ranges between 15 and 30 minutes depending on the time that you have available and your endurance level, but it can be shorter than that. You can choose to work out for 10 minutes or even 5 if that’s what you feel you can do on that day. With time, you’ll build your endurance and last longer, but when you’re just starting just focus on getting it done so that you can grow used to that level of intensity.
- Working and resting times: HIIT workouts consist of short bursts of intense exercise followed by short rest periods, and you get to choose how much time you spend doing each. Ideally, your work periods will be longer than the recovery periods, but at the beginning you can twist the ratio so that you rest for a little longer, giving you time to catch your breath and prepare for the next exercise. A good example would be working out for 30 seconds at full intensity followed by 60 seconds of rest. You can also play with the intensity here, working out for 1 minute but at a lower intensity so that you don’t get tired quickly, and then resting for 2 minutes. Eventually, you’ll be able to work at the max intensity for longer periods and with little rest in between.
- Exercises: There are countless exercises that you can choose to include in your HIIT session, but that also depends on what you have available at the moment. Just as we said at the beginning, HIIT workouts fit any situation, so you can choose bodyweight exercises if you don’t have any equipment, go for weight training with dumbbells and kettlebells, or use gym machines such as the stationary bike if they’re available. Exercises such as burpees, planks, push-ups, squats, and mountain climbers are all great for this type of workout but try to choose the exercise order carefully. Make sure to alternate easy exercises and hard exercises so that you don’t burn yourself too quickly and get to finish the session with enough intensity.
Aside from those four key elements, don’t forget to warm up properly before your workout so that your muscles are ready to take on the challenge, and cool down after to get your body back to its usual resting state.
Here’s an example of a HIIT workout with no equipment:
Complete 3 rounds, 45 seconds per round, and 15-second rest in between each exercise. Rest for 1-2 minutes in between rounds.
- Reverse lunges
- Triceps dips
- Jumping squats
- Butt Kicks
This HIIT workout is slightly longer and will take you roughly 17-18 minutes depending on the amount of rest taken. But if you’re short on time, reduce the amount of time spent per exercise, or pick three exercises instead of five. Whatever you choose to do, remember to give it your all!
Keep it simple
Keeping things simple might help make HIIT more sustainable for you. Yes, HIIT workouts can be intense, but do they also need to be complex? Not really! A lot of people like to include a bunch of exercises in their HIIT session, and that’s perfectly fine if they’ve prepared for it, but it’s not necessary and you can have a perfectly good session with only 1 or 2 exercises, what matters is the intense and fast-paced aspect of it. Either route is fine, just pick the one that works for you.
If you have less time and want to go the simple route, sprint intervals and jumping rope are two examples of cardio exercises that can make up your whole HIIT routine because they make you work hard in a short period. This works best for those who don’t have time to schedule their workouts and just want to get them done without stressing out too much about what and how to do it, and it’s also easier for those who are just starting since you can better focus on your form and slowly but surely get the hang of it. So pick your favorite exercise and stick to it, maybe interchanging it with another one so that you don’t get bored too fast, or do them back to back for a more intense workout. And if you feel up to the challenge and have the time to plan it out, then feel free to go all out by adding different movements to your session! Just keep in mind that you don’t need to do it and that you can go back to the simple route at any moment without compromising your fitness goals.
Focus on full-body movements
When doing HIIT workouts, the best approach is to focus on full-body movements so that you can target everything at once in this fast-paced workout session. This is particularly important if you choose to do only one or two exercises per session because this way you don’t have to worry about making it up later to the muscle groups that you didn’t target. Burpees are a great example of a good all-in-one HIIT exercise because they involve all of your main group muscles throughout the whole range of movement, from going down into a plank to a push-up and then back up again to the explosive jump. Keep this in mind next time you’re working out, and if you choose to do several exercises that target different body groups, make sure you’re not leaving anything out! The more complete the exercise is, the better.
Modify when needed
Whether you plan your routine yourself or a personal trainer/app does it for you, if you feel like you need to change something, then go ahead and do it! Don’t stick to one routine because you feel like you should be able to do it no matter what. Modifying your workouts is a key part of any fitness journey in order to do what’s best for your body at all times. You can lower the intensity of your workout if you’re feeling more tired than usual on a given day, or maybe you realize it’s too tough for you so you choose to keep it that way for a while. If you’re injured or have a hard time doing certain movements, you can always modify them so that you’re still working hard without putting your body under too much stress. Modifying your routine also means increasing the intensity when you feel like you’ve plateaued and need more challenging movements to keep building your strength and resistance. Always make sure to listen to your body and respect its limits, and don’t think twice about modifying your HIIT session whenever you feel like it’s needed!
Fuel your body properly
HIIT workouts are intense, so you need to prepare your body beforehand so that it’s prepared for the challenge. First and foremost, make sure to drink lots of water! Keeping hydrated is important when doing any kind of exercise, and you know this, but it’s particularly crucial when you know you’re going to be breaking a heavy sweat. Don’t forget to constantly hydrate during the session too, and after, to ensure that you’re making up for the amount of liquid that you lost during the workout. Your muscles need it for good performance and proper recovery, so always keep a water bottle with you or an electrolyte drink to keep your body in tip-top shape.
Besides keeping hydrated, fueling your body also means getting the nutrients that you need to crush your workout because they help keep your muscles in good shape while also giving you enough energy to burn during your session. Eat a light but healthy meal 1 to 2 hours before your workout, and try to include enough protein, complex carbs, and healthy fats in it so that your body is covered on all bases. A good post-workout snack can be a protein bar or a shake made with your favorite protein powder to properly recover after an intense HIIT session. And remember, lots of water!
Get enough rest in between sessions
We briefly mentioned this earlier, but we’re making it a tip by itself because that’s how important it is to rest between sessions! When doing HIIT workouts, you perform at up to 95% of your max heart rate, pushing your body to the limit, so you need to rest plenty to start again with all you’ve got. Not resting enough is a common mistake that can lead to injuries and strain, and then you won’t be able to do your workout at all. If you’re just starting, doing your HIIT session once a week on top of your usual workout is great and gives you plenty of time to recover, and you can work your way up to 2-3 times a week when you’ve built enough strength and endurance. Never underestimate the power of a good night’s sleep and some active resting days!
And there you have it! These tips will help you get the most out of each fat-burning HIIT session to really break a sweat and burn calories during and after your intense workout. Remember to hydrate a lot and to modify your routine according to your fitness level, always listening to your body first. And if you need help structuring your routine or creating a plan for your next HIIT session, check out the Fit With Iulia app! Iulia plans new goal-focused workouts each week to help you get better and more effective results, and you can also use the app to track your macros, your progressive overload, and much more. Try your first workout for free by downloading the Fit With Iulia app, choose a goal, and start your first workout with Iulia – no subscription required!