High-intensity interval training might leave you gasping for air, but the benefits packed into these quick workouts are definitely worth your while.
Out of all the excuses to put off exercise—and we know, there’s many—lack of time seems to take the cake. (Mmm, cake.)
Between a demanding career, your responsibilities at home, and attempting to maintain a social life (#FOMO), carving an hour out of 3-5 days per week to exercise can seem like an unending nightmare. And if you hit the gym with that attitude, chances are your workouts are gonna be as boring as spaghetti without sauce. Workout motivation is low.
But you know what? Plenty of busy people find the time to take care of their health, so let’s stop this pity party in its tracks. An answer to your workout motivation is low exists— and no, it doesn’t involve an “As Seen On TV” gadget.
Four words: High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). This super fast but effective workout is easy to squeeze in between meeting Jessica for avocado toast and picking the kids up from daycare.
Even if you’re not pressed on time, you should still give HIIT a go. It offers a ton of benefits for both your body and mind— your butt will feel thoroughly kicked at the end of each session.
Let’s be real, nothing good ever happens by standing still. So get out and get a move on! Take a look at the links below and see what spikes your interest, or simply keep reading to learn why experts swear by this calorie-shredding technique.
- What is HIIT?
- Benefits of HIIT
- Burn Calories
- Lose Fat
- Gain Muscle
- Boost Metabolism
- Strengthen Heart
- Lower Blood Pressure
- Higher Human Growth Hormone
- Regulated Blood Sugar
- Getting Started with HIIT
What is HIIT?
While the name sounds like you’ll be training to be an MMA fighter, HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. It’s used as an umbrella term to describe a number of different workouts that follow the same interval guidelines.
The philosophy is simple: you exert short bursts of maximum effort during highly intense exercises that are separated by brief rest periods in between.
A HIIT workout is super different than weight lifting, steady cardio, or low-impact balance exercises. In fact—are you ready for this? A benefit of HIIT has the potential to produce twice the results of SIT (Standard Interval Training) circuits in the gym. That is a sexy statistic my friend.
You get in, you put your head down, you give it all you got, and then you get out. Workouts usually top out at around 30 minutes, but you can find an effective HIIT routine that takes as little as 10 minutes. (Remember that bit we said about no more excuses? Yeah we’re looking right at ya.)
“What?! I only have to work out for 10 minutes? How does this miracle system work?” you might be wondering.
The magic is in the rest intervals.
Take your standard SIT bench pressing set, for example. After busting out a bunch of reps, it’s suggested that you wait 60-90 seconds to give your muscles recovery time before the next exercise.
HIIT is similar, but these workouts require your all-out effort (with a mix of cardio and full body work) to get your heart pumping and the rest periods are typically “active” instead of passive.
No, active rest is not the same thing as spooning Ben and Jerry’s into your mouth as you sit on the couch. It’s different than passive rest because instead of staying still to catch your breath, you’re still moving. It might be something less intense, like a set of bodyweight rows after a minute of burpees, or briskly walking after a sprint up the stairs.
Your heart rate never reaches a state of rest, which helps you burn more fat in less time. Whoa, crazy right?
Don’t be fooled, though; HIIT workouts aren’t for the faint of heart. They require that you to go into complete beast mode, even if it’s only for 5-15 minutes. They’ll push you to your limits, no doubt, but if done correctly, you’ll score some massive gains.
Benefits of HIIT
Alright, so you still need more proof? The list of HIIT benefits is a long one, and some certainly stand-out above the others.
HIIT exercise burns more calories and sheds more fat during (and after!) your workout than you would with a continuous aerobic exercise like biking, swimming, or running.
You read that right. With HIIT, you continue to burn calories for up to 48 hours once you’re done working out, just enjoying a little RNR at home. Torch calories while watching Netflix? Um, yes please.
Don’t expect the same after a long, easy run. It’s the high intensity that creates the coveted “after burn” effect.
Maximum energy exertion translates to a shorter workout time requirement—a major pro for all you busy-bodies out there.
We get it, not everyone can afford to spend an hour at the gym several times a week. Traveling, to-do lists, and a million other things can seem to throw a major wrench in our exercise routines, but HIIT is the perfect solution.
Plus it requires no physical equipment (any plyometric activity will do!), so you have the flexibility to squeeze in a workout wherever, whenever, on your lunch break, or in the living room.
Think of it this way: instead of running at a slow pace for 30 minutes, you’re sprinting for 3. Then you’re off to the next activity in your circuit, continuously switching gears.
Tired of the same morning run? Sick of being yelled at by an overly-enthusiastic spin instructor? One of the benefits of interval training is that it makes working out more exciting, allowing you to mix it up and target different muscle groups however you choose.
In fact, your exercise routine doesn’t have to be routine at all. Things can feel a bit mundane during marathon training, but HIIT is a great way to spice up your workouts so you never hit that dreaded burn-out phase.
Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits of HIIT so you can become the latest convert to this fitness craze.
If burning calories is your primary workout motivation, HIIT is your one true love.
When comparing SIT to HIIT, the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research reports that “subjects burned significantly more calories” with HIIT workouts.
Research across the board shows that high-intensity interval training torches more calories than low intensity, standard interval training. (Thanks, science!)
However, if you’re looking to lose weight and burn massive amounts of calories, optimizing your intense exercise circuit is critical.
Your goal is to target your body’s large muscle groups. Burpees (although, admittedly, no one’s favorite) are perfect because they engage your chest, core, arms, and legs all at the same time. Jump squats are another great full-body exercise you can perform with high intensity for a short interval.
HIIT is a pretty hot buzzer word amongst fitness trends
right now, and to avoid just following another fad and hopping on the HIIT train, you’ll need to keep an eye out for misinformation. Be mindful of what exercises actually qualify as “highly intense.”
Keep in mind, some of these activities require a reasonable amount of fitness to safely execute. And if you want to avoid injury, proper men’s or women’s training shoes are a must. Men’s training shoes and women’s training shoes
are designed to support side-to-side movements—not just the forward motion of running—along with the stability and flexibility required by various HIIT routines.
Slow down there, you overachiever. Even if you are already in good shape you should begin slowly with no more than two HIIT workouts a week. If you go too hard too soon, you could put too much strain on your body, wind up injuring yourself, and be forced to seek out compression therapy or some other form of relief.
Stay conservative as you start to crush your circuits and your body builds its stamina—you’ll be shredded no time, just you wait.
Losing fat is far easier said than done… but we probably don’t need to tell you that.
Our bodies can be pretty dang stubborn and resistant to change, but that doesn’t mean you should lose hope—especially if you haven’t tried HIIT yet. HIIT just might be the magic sauce you need to get your body to let go of those fat stores it’s been clinging onto.
How? Insulin sensitivity. Bare with us for a second as we explain… Insulin essentially shuttles nutrients through the bloodstream to your muscle tissues in need, signaling the cells to open up and absorb oxygen, protein, amino acids, and lipids (A.K.A. fats).
High intensity workouts kick your body’s repair cycle into hyperdrive and provoke your thirsty muscles to become more insulin sensitive—meaning they will actively absorb more nutrients (including fats!). As a result, less fat is stored elsewhere, and if your diet lacks the fat your muscles need to repair and rebuild themselves, your body will begin to consume its own fat stores instead.
HIIT won’t necessarily trick your body into consuming its own fat all on its own—that will take some extra dietary measures—but it will change the way your muscles absorb nutrients due to a heightened insulin sensitivity.
Similar to calorie-burning workouts, fat-burning HIIT workouts will require 100% of your effort. In order to trigger an insulin spike, you’ll need to place your muscles under pretty significant stress.
Looking for an exercise to target your legs? Weighted lunges followed by active rest is a solid way to go.
With enough persistence and high-intensity work, you can definitely whip things into shape with a HIIT regimen that makes the fat just fly off.
Remember, in your mission to tone up and slim down, consistent exercise is only half the battle. Your diet plays a crucial role in your body mass composition, so make sure you’re following a clean eating plan to achieve the best results.
While we can’t guarantee you’ll end up as The Rock’s body double, HIIT workouts are also great at building muscle mass and strength.
Exercises like jump squats, kettlebell swings, power cleans, and snatches can develop power and speed that’ll benefit any athletic performance. These rockstar exercises use multiple muscle groups, meaning it’s “full body” work. Which does what, again? Ah yes, burns more calories while you build lean muscle—glad you’ve been paying attention.
One great HIIT move to gain muscle is an overhead medicine ball throw. You begin in a squatted position with the medicine ball at your chest, then explosively jump up, raising your arms, and throwing the ball over your head, then catching it as it comes back down and landing with a stabilized core. Repeat that move for 20 seconds, then rest for 20 seconds.
This type of movement forces your body to recruit fast-twitch (type II) muscle fibers. Yeah, we know that sounds like the name of an an energy drink. But these guys are responsible for the size and definition of a particular muscle, making you appear toned while burning the most calories so you can melt fat.
If you’re looking for maximum muscle gain, use a 1:1 ratio between power exercises and rest. HIIT usually calls for a 2:1 ratio, but when power moves are involved, you should only do about 5-7 intense reps in order to avoid injury. You want to give your muscles as much time as possible to recover, but you never want your rest interval to be longer than your exercise interval. So get back to work in 20 seconds and show that workout who’s boss!
But what’s the point of building muscle if you can’t keep it? Good question. Any dieter can tell you how difficult it is to lose fat without losing muscle through steady-state cardio, but a study published in the American Physiological Society shows that HIIT cardio allows you to preserve your hard-earned gains while ensuring most of the weight loss comes from your fat stores.
It’s all about finding that sweet spot—toned and defined, but neither too muscular nor too lean—and HIIT is a great system to achieve this balanced level of fitness.
Truly, this stuff is a win-win if you want to be a well-rounded athlete.
You know when you push yourself to the point where it feels like you might literally keel over and die? Yeah, that sensation means you’ve entered your anaerobic zone.
When you work out in your anaerobic zone—between 80-90 percent of your maximum heart rate—it means that you’re training without oxygen. The energy spent on replenishing your cells’ oxygen debt causes “excess post-exercise oxygen consumption” (EPOC), which is what leads to that aforementioned after-burn effect. Suffocating your cells = fat loss. Sounds crazy, but you can’t argue with the facts.
Oxygen consumption and calorie burning remain elevated for up to 48 hours depending on the intensity of your intervals, and your metabolism stays boosted while your muscle cells repair and restore themselves.
The faster your metabolism, the more calories you need to fuel your body—or alternatively, you’ll need to eat more snacks. Yay!
Let’s get to the heart of the matter— your heart! (Ha, we missed out calling as stand-up comedians). In addition to burning calories (even while sedentary through EPOC), anaerobic training forces your heart to work extra hard. And just like a muscle, your heart will grow stronger with repeated use.
Strengthening your cardiovascular health with HIIT workouts means you’ll notice a definite improvement in performance across all your athletic activities.
Don’t want to take our word for it? Fine! One study found that after 8 weeks of a HIIT routine, participants could bicycle twice as long as they could before interval training while still maintaining the same pace.
There’s a couple reasons why. For starters, HIIT improves your VO2 max (a measurement of how much oxygen a person can utilize during intense exercise) more than moderate training. Every single cell in your body depends on oxygen to function, and the more energy your body needs, the more oxygen it needs correspondingly.
Also known as “aerobic capacity”, the greater your VO2 max, the faster and farther you can push yourself without feeling fatigued. HIIT boosts your aerobic capacity by making your heart more powerful and increasing blood volume—allowing you to claim your throne as the Cross-Training King or Queen.
Furthermore, with a stronger heart, you’ll have a higher anaerobic threshold (the point at which your body’s aerobic system can’t keep up and the anaerobic system kicks in. What a beast!)
At this level of exertion, lactate levels sky rocket and accumulate quickly in the bloodstream, causing you to experience that oh-so intense burning or cramping sensation athletes know all too well.
HIIT improves your endurance by helping your body withstand more stress and exertion before hitting the anaerobic threshold, staving off those dreaded dead legs, side stitches, and muscles that feel like they’re on fire. Bye-bye body obstacles, hello results!
Lower Blood Pressure
You should associate high blood pressure with one word: bad! While it might seem counterintuitive, a heart-pumping HIIT workout is actually immensely beneficial for reducing high blood pressure (known as hypertension).
Why? The lactate buildup that stems from extreme exercise triggers adaptations in your muscles and heart. The intense bursts work magic on your blood vessel walls, causing them to loosen up a bit, improving arterial stiffness and lowering your blood pressure. One word: good!
The American Journal of Cardiovascular Diseasecompared two groups of women who were at high risk for hypertension; one group was assigned 16 weeks of HIIT, the other 16 weeks of CMT.
I bet you know where this going. When compared to the CMT group, HIIT participants showed significantly better improvements to insulin sensitivity, stiff arteries, and cardiorespiratory fitness.
Even if you don’t currently struggle with hypertension, the risk of high blood pressure increases with age. Fatigue, confusion, vision problems, difficulty breathing, chest pain, pounding in your ears, and a slew of miserable symptoms are in the future for people with high blood pressure.
That’s why it’s important get your heart into good shape now by harnessing the benefits of HIIT!
Higher Human Growth Hormone
Human growth hormone (HGH) is sometimes dubbed the fountain of youth. It slows down the process of aging by increasing your exercise capacity, bone density, and muscle mass while also decreasing body fat. If only you could put a little of that in your protein shake!
HGH speedily decreases after adolescence, taking the lean body mass, energy, and healing capacities of our youth along with it.
If you’re balling on a celebrity budget, you can experiment with HGH supplementation. Otherwise, you can find it naturally through the benefits of HIIT.
High intensity interval training is shown to stimulate the production of this powerful anti-aging hormone. One study conducted by Loughborough University showed a single 30 second sprint raised HGH concentration by a massive 450 percent.
Sprinting up flights of stairs a couple times a week could potentially make the difference between you aging more slowly than others. Not only that, but you’ll enjoy improved immunity, better sleep, and enhanced sexual performance thanks to higher HGH levels. That’s the trifecta right there, folks.
Regulate Blood Sugar
Have you heard the rumors about HIIT and type 2 diabetes? This is one time we’re happy to say the gossip is true— intense interval training can help regulate your blood sugar, which is great if you want an exercise program with minimal time commitment and low volume requirements.
A recent study showed that the benefits of HIIT were far greater than moderately-intense workouts for people with type 2 diabetes. Another reason having “no time” to take care of your health is no longer an excuse!
One HIIT protocol in particular was particularly effective amongst diabetes patients: 10 sets of 1-minute vigorous efforts at approximately 90 percent aerobic capacity, broken up by 1-minute rest periods, done 3 times per week. After just 2 weeks, the study showed this training reduced 24-hour mean blood glucose in type 2 diabetes patients who had been previously inactive.
Whether or not you struggle with diabetes, you can still cash in on this benefit of HIIT. Everyone should work to regulate their blood sugar levels in order to say goodbye to those mid-afternoon energy crashes and sudden mood swings.
Getting Started with HIIT
Okay, so the benefits of HIIT are pretty clear across the board. Interval training promotes accelerated weight loss, muscle growth, cardiovascular health, and optimized bloodstream contents (A.K.A. all the good stuff).
Not to mention that these workouts are super fast, convenient, and capable of being done with little to no equipment at any improvised location.
If you’re ready to reap the benefits of HIIT, keep these pointers in mind to minimize your risk of injury and maximize all that this training has to offer.
- Start slow, with 1 HIIT workout per week, building up to 3 weekly sessions max followed by a recovery day.
- Always warm up and cool down to prevent an accidental muscle tear.
- Listen to your body and modify your exercises as necessary.
These workouts should definitely have you gasping like a fish out of water. However, chest pain is a red flag; if you experience any, it’s time to back off and slow down.
Otherwise, don’t be intimidated by interval training! Know that those much needed rests are waiting for you at the end of your set, so get out there and HIIT it hard.