If you’ve been following fitness trends over the last several years you’ve probably heard a lot about one of the best ways to cut fat fast… High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

High Intensity Interval Training has caught on quickly over the last several years. More and more fitness-minded individuals are starting to experience the significant benefits this form of exercise can deliver. If you decide to take advantage of HIIT you could also begin to notice impressive changes.

If you’re still unsure about how to properly perform High Intensity Interval Training, or don’t fully understand HIIT, then let’s talk about why it should be a must-have in your arsenal of fitness routines.

The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training

Before we get started on the types of High Intensity Interval Training, let’s talk benefits. Since everyone usually wants to know what they’ll get out of a training routine, this is a natural first step in familiarizing yourself with High Intensity Interval Training.

When you incorporate High Intensity Interval Training into your health and fitness regimen, get ready to experience some seriously accelerated fat burning effects. Imagine being able to burn fat faster – even while you sleep. High Intensity Interval Training not only crushes calories while you’re performing the exercises, it spikes your metabolic rate so you continue to burn calories faster. Even for up to 48 hours after your High Intensity Interval Training workout is complete. The fat burning potential of High Intensity Interval Training makes this worth emphasizing. High Intensity Interval Training is a great way to accelerate fat loss and positively impact your overall body composition.

Another benefit of High Intensity Interval Training is that it’s time efficient. One HIIT session could take anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes depending on how you structure your HIIT routines. So for those with a busy schedule, there shouldn’t be any excuse for not being able to fit in a quick workout session. Just about anyone can carve out this amount of time in their day.

One more great thing about High Intensity Interval Training training is that it’s less likely to cause muscle loss compared to the steady state cardio you may be more familiar with. Steady state cardio is where you simply perform an exercise at the same level of intensity for a prolonged period of time. Unfortunately, steady state cardio can enhance your body’s ability utilize lean tissue as a fuel source instead of body fat. This is obviously what we don’t want to happen. The muscle-burning potential of steady state cardio is especially true at a higher intensity or prolonged duration. This effect is less than ideal because you could see a decline in your resting metabolic rate, which makes losing body fat more difficult. It also makes maintaining body weight a challenge too, if that happens to be your goal. Additionally, it will also cause you to look less fit than before because you’ll be eating away at the type of body tissue that gives you tone and definition.

The primary goal of anyone engaged in a fitness program should be to maintain or build lean muscle. Not lose it. Unfortunately, burning lean muscle mass is what steady state cardio sets you up for. On the other hand, High Intensity Interval Training can promote building lean muscle mass because of its varying levels of intensity. It also requires greater overall strength output by the body. You may even find that after doing High Intensity Interval Training for a while your performance in the weight room experiences a dramatic increase.

Finally, High Intensity Interval Training is also going to send your overall fitness level soaring. Since the intensity level of HIIT is so extreme, you’ll improve your cardiovascular conditioning, enhance speed and power output (depending on the variety of High Intensity Interval Training you do), and train your body to become more resistant to illness and fatigue.

As you can see, these are all extraordinary benefits that will carry over to other forms of activities. Needless to say, there is much to be gained from high intensity interval training.

Still interested? Then let’s move on to the types of High Intensity Interval Training you should consider.

Types of High Intensity Interval Training

Now that you understand the primary benefits of High Intensity Interval Training, let’s dig deeper and talk about the types of HIIT you can perform. High Intensity Interval Training, as the name suggests, is a form of training where you alternate periods of very intense exercise at an all-out pace, immediately followed by short, yet active, rest periods that allow for a very brief amount of recovery. Take note that each high-intensity and low-intensity period is considered an “interval.”

Generally, you’ll want to make your active rest periods twice as long as the work interval, however, if you are performing very short work intervals (e.g. 15-20 seconds each), you might bump that up to three times the length of time (e.g. 45-60 seconds). This is because the shorter those work intervals are, the more intense the exercise should be. As such, more recovery time may be required.

This on/off interval cycle is then repeated until you reach your desired time limit, which should be anywhere from 20 to 35 minutes. Again, depending on the length of each interval, the shorter the interval the more High Intensity Interval Training cycles you will typically perform. Lastly, try stacking these intervals between a 2 to 3 minute warm up and then a 2 to 3 minute cool down, and you should be all set.

Now, you can perform High Intensity Interval Training through a number of different modes. Running outdoors is a typical favorite, as you can accelerate as quickly as your body will allow. Contrast this to the treadmill where you are relying on the machine to speed up for you. Obviously each has its own pros and cons. The main recommendation is that you choose the exercise you enjoy performing the most, in a location that’s best for you. For example, some individuals prefer a stationary bicycle at their local gym because they can easily fine-tune the intensity and aren’t at the mercy of the weather. Others prefer running outdoors because of the therapeutic effects of being closer to Mother Nature.

Cycling or spinning is another great way to get an High Intensity Interval Training workout outdoors or in. Additionally, the weight of the equipment will add extra resistance to the equation. Cycling or spinning will target your lower body, and will help improve lower body strength and reduce repeated impact on joints – all while boosting fitness levels and annihilating body fat.

For those who want to get more of their upper body into the mix, rowing is another excellent choice for an High Intensity Interval Training session.

Alternatively, you can incorporate resistance-based exercises into your High Intensity Interval Training program by utilizing a slightly lighter weight than you would normally use for strength training routines. You can then couple that with compound movements. For example, a clean-and-press or a kettlebell swing are both fantastic exercises that will help strengthen your entire body while devouring a massive number of calories in the process.

As you will need to be mindful of the overall tempo of your High Intensity Interval Training session, you will also need to adjust the weight accordingly so that you can maintain proper form and intensity.

The type of High Intensity Interval Training exercise you choose will very much be a personal preference. Be sure to first consider which routines you enjoy doing, then determine which of these routines are your best options for reaching your goals quickly, comfortably, and in an enjoyable way. If you’re unsure which direction to take, try mixing it up with different exercises each time you perform High Intensity Interval Training until you find a routine that fits.

To help you get started, I’m going to cover a couple of High Intensity Interval Training plans. The first plan utilizes sprinting as the form of exercise. The second utilizes bodyweight activities. Again, there are countless options for HIIT, so use what works best for you.

Sample High Intensity Interval Training Routine: Sprinting

Below is a sample High Intensity Interval Training routine. This routine includes high-intensity and low-intensity intervals as well as the recommended warm-up and cool-down periods at each end.

For the high-intensity intervals, I suggest spending 30-45 seconds at a rate of perceived exertion (RPE) of approximately 8 (on a 1-10 scale, with 10 being the most intense). Then when you switch to a low-intensity interval I recommend spending 60 seconds at a RPE of approximately 4.

Warm-up – Low Intensity: 2-3 minutes (RPE ~4)

Interval 1 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)
Interval 2 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds (RPE ~4)
Interval 3 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)
Interval 4 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds (RPE ~4)
Interval 5 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)
Interval 6 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds (RPE ~4)
Interval 7 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)
Interval 8 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds (RPE ~4)
Interval 9 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)
Interval 10 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds (RPE ~4)
Interval 11 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)
Interval 12 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds (RPE ~4)
Interval 13 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)
Interval 14 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds (RPE ~4)
Interval 15 – High Intensity: 30 seconds (RPE ~8)

…Continue this high/low intensity interval cycle until you reach your desired goal time for this HIIT session, which should be 20-35 minutes.

Cool-down – Low Intensity: 2-3 minutes (RPE <4)

Sample High Intensity Interval Training Routine: Bodyweight

Warm-up – Low Intensity: 2-3 minutes

Interval 1 – High Intensity: 30 seconds of Burpees
Interval 2 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds of Marching in Place

…Repeat 3 times, then continue onto next set…

Interval 3 – High Intensity: 30 seconds of Mountain Climbers
Interval 4 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds of Plank Hold

…Repeat 3 times, then continue onto next set…

Interval 5 – High Intensity: 30 seconds of Running Knee Raises
Interval 6 – Low Intensity: 60 seconds of Front Crunches

…Repeat 3 times, then continue onto next set or start over from Interval 1, until you reach your desired goal time for this HIIT session, which should be 20-35 minutes.…

In this type of circuit you can perform lower intensity exercises to form your ‘active rest period’ as you will still be giving your body the chance to recover between the more intense intervals.

These are just two samples of High Intensity Interval Training workouts. Feel free to get creative and come up with your own varieties.

What to Know Before You Begin

Before you dive right into High Intensity Interval Training, there are a few more things you should know. While this workout program can be extraordinarily effective, it’s only effective when done properly.

First, realize that because High Intensity Interval Training is so intense you should never attempt to do it daily. Think of it as similar to a weight training routine. Your body is going to need time to rest, recover and grow stronger. Therefore, High Intensity Interval Training should only be performed two to three times per week. You can bump this up to as many as four times per week if you’re a seasoned High Intensity Interval Training pro. I recommend staying on the conservative side of twice per week if you are also doing a number of other intense workout sessions, like heavy weight lifting on your non-HIIT days.

Second, always warm-up prior to your High Intensity Interval Training routines. I already mentioned this as part of the core HIIT protocol. However, because it’s such an important aspect of the program it deserves to be repeated. Since High Intensity Interval Training can be extremely demanding, if your body isn’t properly warmed up before you begin, you’ll be at a much higher risk of straining or pulling a muscle. This may lead to injuries that could have you sidelined for days, weeks, or even months, and wipe away any progress you made.

Take 2-3 minutes and perform good warm-up prior to beginning High Intensity Interval Training. Not only does warming up prevent injuries, it will also help ensure that your performance is at its peak throughout your routine.

The third thing that you should know is that if you have never done any form of exercise before, High Intensity Interval Training is not for you. At least for now. It’s important that you have a bit of a cardio experience prior to getting started with HIIT. This means that you should be able to successfully complete 30 minutes of moderate-intensity cardio without rest, before transitioning into High Intensity Interval Training. Don’t rush into HIIT. If you start too soon, and without any prior training, you may just find that you dislike it because it’s far too challenging for the level of fitness you’re currently at.

This brings me to the next point… Be patient. Even if you’re experienced and can easily knock out 30 minutes of cardio without stopping, High Intensity Interval Training workouts are seriously intense. If you find that you’re getting overly fatigued after the first routine, take a few days off and scale back a bit during the next session. Progress at a pace that’s right for you, and not at a pace you think you should be doing. Try to avoid being influenced by how others are performing. As you see your fitness level improve you can increase the level of intensity from there.

Lastly, just as with any weight lifting routine, make sure that you fuel your body properly around your workouts. I recommend getting a balance of protein and carbohydrates into your tank before and after High Intensity Interval Training. This will provide you with the energy to perform at your best and recover quickly. I recommend a quick whey protein shake to give you that extra boost. Don’t try to perform High Intensity Interval Training in a fasted state or you’ll quickly find that you might not be able to stick to the level of intensity needed to maximize your results.

At this point you should have everything you need to begin an effective HIIT program. If you’re a beginner, get excited because this is definitely one of the best forms of exercise that you could be doing to take your fitness to the next level. Just be smart about how you proceed with High Intensity Interval Training and you’ll be seeing results in record time.

About the Author

Robert Martin

Robert Martin is the founder and author of Fitties. With more than 20 years of experience in the fitness industry, Robert is a veteran advertising and marketing professional and has proudly worked with industry-leading media, including CNN and Associated Press.