If you want to get fit, you’ve got to try HIIT. Short for high-intensity interval training, HIIT workouts alternate bouts of challenging (high intensity) exercise with periods of rest.
The workouts are short but effective, producing similar cardiovascular benefits as you’d get with much longer sessions. Women in a 2016 study, for instance, got the same results from 20-minute high-intensity interval training workouts as others did with slower, 40-minute sessions.
Don’t let the word “intensity” scare you off, though: HIIT workouts can be scaled up or down to any level, because your “high intensity” isn’t the same as anyone else’s. The key is that when you’re working, you’re working as hard as you can while staying safe. Follow these seven tips to accomplish both, and then try one of the four HIIT workouts for beginners to get started.
This is true for any type of exercise program, but it’s the kind of advice that exercisers often ignore. It’s especially important for HIIT training, though—you’ll be working at high, intense heart rates. Ask a doctor if performing these types of efforts is safe for you right now.
Almost any type of exercise can be used in a HIIT session: walking, running, swimming, boxing, weightlifting, calisthenics, biking. What turns a workout into HIIT is alternating a high-intensity work period with a lower-intensity period of rest. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, those periods can be as short as five seconds, or as long as eight minutes.
If you choose to walk for your HIIT workout and choose a 20-second work interval and a 40-second rest interval, here’s how it would work: You’d walk as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 40. Repeat for the number of intervals you plan for your workout.
Keeping track of those work/rest periods can get confusing, especially when you’re working hard. There are many free interval timer apps available for smartphones. These will let you preset your work and rest periods and can even be used while still listening to your favorite music.
While some of the more famous and popular HIIT workouts feature work periods that are longer than the rest periods, beginners should start with more rest than work. Consider having a rest period that’s three times as long as your work period.
So, if you’re doing your high intensity effort for 10 seconds, you’d rest for 30 seconds. This will allow you to make each work interval truly high intensity, which is the key to getting results.
Because you’re working so hard during the work intervals, HIIT workouts shouldn’t last as long as normal workouts. Getting similar results in a shorter amount of time is the whole point!
Start with HIIT sessions that only last five or 10 minutes. This will let you work really hard during your work intervals instead of “leaving something in the tank” for later intervals.
The last few tips refer to this, too, but it’s worth repeating: When you’re performing a work interval, you should be working hard. For a workout to be HIIT, the work intervals should be an eight or none on a one to 10 scale of perceived effort. That’s an effort that equates to 80 to 95 percent of your maximum possible heart rate.
That level of intensity—the “high intensity” of “high intensity interval training”—is what provides results fast. So, if you’re performing a walking interval, don’t just walk a little faster. Try to walk as fast as you can while staying safe.
HIIT efforts are intense, and your body needs time to recover. Do HIIT workouts only once or twice per week to start, with at least two days of rest in between sessions. On other days, you can do traditional, consistent speed exercise.
Each of these four HIIT workouts is designed for beginners, with longer rest periods and shorter work periods. As you get stronger and fitter, you can start to shift this balance, chipping five seconds off the rest periods or extending the work periods by five seconds to get closer to a one-to-one ratio of work to rest. Just make sure that your work intervals stay at a high intensity, so you’re still doing HIIT!
These HIIT workouts for beginners can also be remixed to use other exercises. If you’ve been doing the “Walk Hard” workout for a while and want to switch to a stationary bike, go for it! Don’t like pushups? Skip that exercise in the “Bodyweight Circuit.” Do your HIIT your way.
Before starting any of these HIIT Workouts for beginners, warm up. Get your heart pumping a little with some brisk walking and move your joints through a wide range of motion: swing your arms, swing your legs, swivel your hips and bend your knees. A warmup should literally warm you up, so make sure you’re not stretching, but moving. After your warmup, try one of these four HIIT workouts.
This workout couldn’t be simpler. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! In each work interval, walk as fast as you safely can.
One of the best-known HIIT workouts is often called “Tabata training,” named for the lead scientist on a 1996 study on HIIT. In this type of HIIT, exercisers work hard for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. They repeat this for four minutes.
That’s a little intense for beginners, so reverse it! Choose any type of exercise you want: Jumping jacks, high knees, jogging in place or a cardio machine. If you have access to it, one of the best options are the types of stationary bikes equipped with fans that do arm and leg action simultaneously. These make it easy to work really hard, so they’re great for HIIT. Once you’ve chosen your exercise, here’s the protocol:
Calisthenics and strength exercises can also be used for HIIT. This short circuit workout uses four exercises to keep your heart pumping. In each work interval, do one exercise for the prescribed amount of time. After your rest interval, do the next exercise in the next work interval. So, in work interval one, you’ll do squats. After you rest, you’ll do a bout of incline pushups. Keep cycling through the four exercises for the length of your workout.
Do each move for 15 seconds, then rest for 45 seconds. Try to do four rounds of the circuit, for a 15-minute workout. If that’s too hard, start with two or three rounds and build up to it. Adjust the workout as needed!
If you want to make sure your work intervals are really high intensity, try the rowing machine at a gym. The diabolical machine makes you use your whole body at once. If you haven’t rowed before, ask a trainer at the gym to give you a quick demonstration on proper form so you stay safe, and give yourself lots of rest between intervals.
*Always speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.