I love to run, like a lot. I started running around 8 to 9 years ago and have participated in many races (not as a competitor), including marathons, half marathons and every distance in between.
And truth be told, my recreational running career has been (and still) a very successful and happy experience.
Nevertheless, during the last decade, I have made some mistakes with my running. I have to admit. And one of the things I wish I had known and put into practice early on is the training method known as high-intensity interval training.
In fact, the first two to three years of my running lifestyle consisted of working my a$$ off only to see my running performance plateauing while getting more injured in the process. Not only that, but also the pounds I have lost started to creep up.
Nonetheless, my whole approach to fitness and running has drastically changed once I added high-intensity interval training to my workout program.
Therefore, Today I’m going to share with you a basic introduction to this excellent training method, along with some of the best running and non-running HIIT workout routines that you can start doing right now—provided that you get the full scope of HIIT and how it works (read—be careful here).
High-Intensity Interval Training Defined
When it comes to getting the most out of your workout program for fat loss and optimum fitness, high-intensity interval training is the way to go.
Hailed by most fitness experts as the closest thing to a training shortcut that produces quick results, HIIT is backed by sound scientific study and countless personal testimonies.
The exact defining parameters of HIIT are a bit vague, which is one of the reasons there is so much controversy surrounding the topic. Nonetheless, here is a basic definition to get you started on the right foot.
High-intensity interval training involves alternating between intense bursts of anaerobic activity (running, rowing, jump roping, biking, etc.) with periods of moderate or low aerobic activity for recovery.
The typical HIIT workout format involves performing 20 to 60 seconds of intense activity near your peak ability, followed by a comparable rest period of low to moderate exercise, repeating the cycle for a total of 15 to 30 minutes.
That’s a sharp contrast to the traditional and steady-state cardio that most people do when they think about ramping up their lungpower. Nevertheless, according to research, HIIT method takes much less time than traditional steady-state cardio and it’s far superior when it comes to increasing fitness and burning calories.
Therefore, the typical HIIT session may only involve 7 to 14 minutes of total intense work and total session duration lasting 20 to 30 minutes, including the warm-up, the intervals, and the cool down.
Intensity is key
To make the most out of HIIT, you need to perform the high burst intervals at your maximum effort, not just an elevated heart rate or challenging pace. When you are doing HIIT form workout, your heart rate gets raised to its max, then you rest for a moment before you do it all again.
A Formula for Success
Here is a step-by-step breakdown of an efficient HIIT workout
- Start with a warm-up
- First interval: go for maximum cardio power for 30 to 60 seconds. You could also aim for maximum reps depending on which workout is on schedule.
- Recovery period for 20 to 60 seconds (or more, depending on the workout)
- Repeat step (2) and (3) seven to ten times
- Cool down.
Of course, the above strategy is not written in stone.
The Origins of HIIT
Contrary to popular belief, high-intensity interval training is not a new concept. It was first formalized by German coach Woldemar Gershler decades ago to train runners. But since then, HIIT has crossed over to the fitness industry due to its scientific proven benefits when it comes to fat loss, building muscle and ramping fitness prowess.
The Benefits of High Intensity Interval Training
Reduce Body Fat
According to a famous Australian study, subjects following a 20-minute high interval routine, comprising of 8-second sprints, followed by 12-second of rest, lost six times more body fat than the group performing a steady 45-minute cardio routine.
Therefore, when it comes to burning fat, go hard and short. In fact, it takes the “I don’t have time for exercise” excuse right off from the equation. If anything, working out for fat loss does not have to take a toll on your daily calendar.
Image Credit – BodyRock TV via Flickr
High intervals shed more weight, even when you are resting and sleeping, through what’s known as excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, or EPOC. According to a 2001 study at East Tennessee State University, you could wind up actually burning off as much as 100-extra calories over the 24 hours following an HIIT workout.
From the looks of it, that don’t add up to much, but it builds up over time. And it’s the perfect edge you need with your fat-burning efforts.
According to research, HIIT styled workouts can help you lose the fat without losing the muscle—especially since long steady state cardio workouts are notoriously known for encouraging muscle loss (just look at long distance runners), especially the runner didn’t meet their daily caloric needs.
According to a study in the Journal of The International Society of Sports Nutrition, following an HITT routine, coupled with taking beta-alanine supplements, can create an anabolic effect—which is the right mode for building muscle—while opting for a six-week HIIT program, even in the absence of strength training.
Not only that, but study has also shown that HIIT training fires up the production of the human grown hormone, HGH, by roughly 400 percent during the 24 hours following an HIIT workout.
Cutting The Junk Is The Big Promise
With interval training, you get to cut the junk volume without sacrificing endurance gains.
HIIT workouts can deliver the same fitness benefits in half to one-third the time as those endurance workouts, according to a study at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario.
In fact, performing 2.5 hours of HIIT work produced similar fitness gains to doing 10.5 hours of standard endurance training, according to study. To put that into perspective, the research shows that HIIT training is 4 times more effective as traditional cardio training.
In fact, I do believe that by reducing mileage and opting for intense and short intervals you will become a faster, injury-free runner.
In other words, even if you are an endurance athlete, you are better off doing plenty of HIIT workouts. Leave the long runs at a steady pace for working on polishing your running form and mechanics.
Do it Anywhere
What’s more? Well, most HIIT workouts are incredibly versatile.
You have a lot of training options when it comes to HIIT style workouts. You can perform bodyweight exercises, dumbbells, kettlebells, jump rope, weights, sandbag and TRX training exercises, as well as running workouts on the track, treadmill, and other cardio options such as rowing, biking, swimming, etc.
In other words, the workouts variations are almost endless.You are only limited by your own imagination.
The Dangers of HIIT
Please don’t get me wrong.
I’m a big proponent of high-intensity interval training. But that doesn’t mean that I’m not also aware of some its dangers. Burnout and injury are topping the list.
Yes, it’s effective.
Yes it’s awesome
But surely it’s not easy, nor is it for the faint-hearted.
Truth be told, ask anyone who has done HIIT the right way and will tell you that HIIT is super HARD, painful at times, and nauseating and a$$ kicking at other times, if you are not prepared for it.
Therefore, if you are nursing an injury, have any cardiovascular or circulatory problems, or are an entirely sedentary person who has never done any form of intense exercise before, then please, please, the intensity that comes with HIIT is not for you—at least for the time being.
And if you have any doubts or second thoughts concerning your current ability to take up HIIT training, then you might need to check in with a doctor before even trying easier versions of HIIT.
How to start – The Prerequisites
To do HIIT without risking injury or burnout, first of all, you need both a solid base of cardio power and total body strength and endurance. Second, you will need to start slow and build it up gradually—regardless of your current physical fitness level.
How should you know that you are ready for it?
Well, for starters, if you have been running on a regular basis for the last three to four months, consistently doing challenging runs at 70 to 80 percent of your effort level, while completing, at least, a weekly long run of one hour or more, then I believe you have enough fitness base for HIIT workouts.
Otherwise, if you are a beginner, aim first to build your base before upping the ante.
If you are really out of shape, then invest a few months in building your stamina by running regularly at leas three times per week until you can run for 30 to 40 minutes at 70 to 80 percent of max and without much trouble, before adding interval training to your workout program.
And when you decide to start HIIT, begin with one session a week.
The first step of is the warm-up phase and skipping it is flirting with disaster. In fact, if you skip the warm-up, then you are bound to experience premature fatigue, discomfort, injury, even a severe burnout.
A decent warm-up involves a light jog for 5-minute, followed by some ballistic stretches (just like a swimmer before he hits the pool) and dynamic bodyweight exercises like squats, lunges, inchworms and plank holds.
The rule of thumb is that the more intense you are planning to work out, the longer it has to take you to warm up and get your body ready for the intensity ahead.
Top 15 High Intensity Interval Workouts You Need To Try
Here are six HIIT workout variations to help you get into the best shape of your life. These workout variations can take you from HIIT beginner to HIIT stud in the shortest time possible.
Pick one or two to incorporate into your weekly program. Include, at least, a day of rest in between each workout. And if you want more HIIT workouts, then a simple Google search yield an endless number of routines to help reach whatever type of fitness goal you have in mind.
Image Credit – KOM Eventos via Flickr
When you’re opting for interval training, sprints should be the bread and butter of your program. In fact, sprints are the most common form of HIIT there is. They’re simple, quick and will boost your max Vo2 and fitness level in no time.
But you need to do them right; otherwise, you’re risking injury or/and burnout.
Start your sprint sessions with a proper warm-up that includes a five-minute slow jog, coupled with dynamic moves and track & field drills to get your body ready for the speed ahead.
Choose a sprint distance that’s suitable to your current fitness then perform your first sprint at no more than 80 percent of your max effort. Take a 30 to one minute to recover, then repeat the process six to eight times, depending on your fitness schedule.
Finish the session with a five-minute slow jog as a cool down, followed by light stretching.
Here is a quick video teaching how to develop proper sprinting form:
2. Hill Sprints
Once you are comfortable sprinting on a flat surface, then you might consider taking your sprints up a notch. Hill repetitions are the way to go if you are looking to tax your body to the limit while building killer lower body speed and strength.
Here is how to proceed:
Pick a hill with a steep slope—anywhere between 100 to 300 feet long.
As usual, start your session with a warm-up on a flat surface, then go for your first sprint up the hill while pacing yourself. Jog down slowly for recovery, and repeat the cycle five to eight times. Finish the session with a 5-minute slow jog and stretch your lower body thoroughly.
Here is another YouTube tutorial showing proper hill sprinting form:
3. Bodyweight HIIT Workout
If you are a newcomer to the world of weight training, then I suggest that you start with this bodyweight routine to help you build the total body strength and endurance needed for more challenging and intense HIIT workouts.
What I really like about bodyweight exercises is that they are convenient, easy to learn and scalable—so as long as you are performing them with good form and staying within your fitness level, you will eventually grow stronger without running the risk of injury and/or burnout.
Aim to complete five sets of ten to 15 reps of:
- Air squats
- Forward lunges
4. Tabata Protocol – The Running Version
The Tabata protocol is the brainchild of Dr, Izumi Tabata. This particular HIIT method was made famous by a 1996 study published in the Journal of Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise.
Tabata training involves performing 20 seconds of full burst work on each exercise, followed by 10 seconds of recovery
Here is a Tabata inspired running workout.
Begin with a 10-minute warm up run at a comfortable pace.
Next, run for 20 seconds at the hardest and fastest pace you can keep up, then follow it by a 10-second slow jog recovery period.
Make sure to perform the high-intensity boots at the fastest pace you can eke out without sacrificing form.
Then repeat the on and off pattern for eight times.
Last up, finish the workout with a 5-minute slow jog as a cool down.
Image Credit – Andrew Wilz Via Flickr
5. Tabata Protocol – The Strength Version
This version is a bit advanced and will challenge both your aerobic and anaerobic ability. So please be careful here and remember to stay within your fitness level.
Each Tabata set involves doing 20 seconds of strength training, followed by 10-second recovery break, then a 200-meter run at a moderate pace
After finishing up the first round of exercises, you rest for one to two minutes and you repeat the whole cycle. You can design your own Tabata sessions according to your needs and fitness goals. You can opt for any exercise you see fit.
Take at least two minutes to recover fully, then repeat the protocol three times for a three round counting.
Here is the workout routine:
- Do as many high knee sprint 20 seconds
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Do as many squats as possible in 20 seconds
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Do as many push-ups in 20 seconds
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Do as many burpees as possible in 20 seconds
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Do as many sit-ups as possible in 20 seconds
- Rest for 10 seconds
- Do as many squat jumps as possible in 20 seconds
Then rest for one to two minutes, and repeat the circuit for two to three times, finishing it off with a 10-min cooldown of stretching and foam rolling drills.
6. HIIT Time Challenge
The HIIT time challenge is the way to go if you are looking for that extra edge with your training.
Start your session with a 10-minute warm-up of light jogging. After that, in a span of 20 minutes, do as many rounds as possible (AMRAP) of:
- 10 military style push-ups,
- 10 hanging leg raises,
- 10 jumping squats,
- 10 burpees,
- and 10 pull-ups.
Record your result and aim to beat your record on your next session. Constant improvement is crucial for making the most out of your life and training program.
7. Jump Rope HIIT Workout
Another cardio workout favorite of mine is the jump rope.
Rope jumping can help you burn mad calories, improve foot speed, increase coordination, build muscles in your legs and boost your overall agility and explosiveness. However, this exercise can be high impact—so make sure to listen to your body and stay within your fitness level the entire time.
Aim to jump as fast as you can one each jumping rope exercise while keeping control of the rope and keep proper form the whole time.
Here is how to proceed
Start with a 5-minute forward jumping rope exercise at a comfortable pace to warm up your body and get your muscles ready to fire up. Then, put the rope down and do a set of full body dynamic stretches to get your body ready for the action.
Next, do the following jumping rope exercises:
- One minute of forward jumps
- One minute of alternate foot jumps
- One minute of side to side jumps
- One minute of double unders
- One minute of high knee jumps
- One minute of one foot hops
Rest for two to three minutes, then repeat the circuit for two to three times.
8. Plyometric HIIT Workout
Also known as explosive training, this type of training requires your muscles to make use of maximum force in minimum time.
Therefore, plyo exercises can be quite dangerous if you don’t perform them with the right form. So be careful and make sure to listen to your body throughout the workout.
On the following workout routine, you will be performing a plyo move for 30-second, then recover with a 30-second break, then move to the next exercise, and repeat.
Rest for one to two minutes after completing the whole circuit, then repeat it for two to three times.
For more challenge, consider holding dumbbells at your sides, or using a weighted vest for added resistance.
Aim to complete the following exercises with one-minute rest in between round.
- Box Jumps
- Plyo push-up
- Jumping lunges
- 180-degree squat jump
9. The Ab Worker
You can also use HIIT training to sculpt and tone your midsection with this challenging core workout. As you already know, a strong core is key to athletic performance—especially if you are serious about building proper running form and efficiency.
Plus, it’s more way fun to exercise your abs HIIT style than is it when doing more traditionally structured abdominal workouts.
Aim to complete three sets of:
- 25 Russian twists (on each side)
- 20 Woodchoppers
- 25 Mountain climbers
- 20 Bicycle crunches
- 20 Hanging leg raise
10. Medicine-Ball HIIT Workout
Med balls are usually lightweight and designed for simple grip and maneuverability, and they are another powerful tool for HIIT styled workouts. Med balls can target just about every muscle group in the body, boost coordination, increase endurance, challenge core stability, and improve your grip strength.
Image Credit – Transformation Video via Flickr
Most of med ball exercises tend to full body moves that target a lot of muscles—especially the muscles of the core, including, the upper abs, lower abs, obliques, and glutes.
Plus, they are also fun to use and can help you break away from the monotony of traditional weight training.
Aim to complete three sets of eight to 15 reps of:
- Rock and roll up
- Medicine ball push-up
- Wall toss
11. Sleds Workout
Sled training is a grueling workout with a straightforward premise: you have got to push the sled from point A to point B as hard and fast as possible without sacrificing form.
If you are a beginner, start out with a 35-pound slate or lighter weight. No need to load up the sled with a lot of weight. Once you have mastered the ins and outs of proper form, then aim to add gradually more weights.
Here is what how to proceed
Load a sled on each side and push it for the desired distance, pause, rest if you need to, but aim to complete the given distance as fast as possible.
Rest for one minute and repeat for five to seven more times.
To keep the proper form as you move forward, aim to keep a straight line from head to ankle throughout the exercise. You have to press and drive the feet diagonally into the ground with each step you take.
The power needed for the forward momentum must come from the hips and legs, therefore, never use the arms to push the sled.
12. “Fight Gone Bad” CrossFit HIIT WOD
You cannot do HIIT workouts without adding some CrossFit WODs (Workout of The Day) into the mix. In fact, the whole CrossFit philosophy revolves around the principles of HIIT training.
I really like the “Fight Gone Bad” WOD because it’s intense and will have you doing all sorts of plyo, resistance and cardio exercises. In this workout, aim to complete as many reps as you can in one minute of each exercise with minimum rest as possible between each exercise.
To do the “Fight Gone Bad” WOD, complete five rounds of:
- Wall-ball, 20-pound ball, 10 ft targets (Reps)
- Sumo deadlift high-pull, 75 pounds (Reps)
- Box Jump, 20″ box (Reps)
- Push-press, 75 pounds (Reps)
- Row (Calories)
14. Filthy Fifty CrossFit Workout
The filthy 50 is brutal CrossFit staple workout of rigorous exercises that’s guaranteed to push you to the breaking point.
This CrossFit WOD is a grueling physical conditioning test because you will have to literally be good at all facets of fitness: strength, speed, endurance and mental resiliency.
In other words, you have to be a well-rounded kinda of an athlete.
The circuit involves performing 50 reps of 10 different exercises, all done as quickly as possible of the following:
- 50 box jumps with a 24-inch box,
- 50 jumping pull-ups,
- 50 kettlebell swings,
- 50 walking lunge steps,
- 50 knees to elbows,
- 50 reps of push press with 45 pounds,
- 50 back extensions,
- 50 wall balls using a 20-pound ball,
- 50 burpees
- 50 double-unders.
If you can pull this off under 30 minutes, then you are in an awesome condition!
15. Heavy Rope HIIT Workout
Rope training is one of the recent additions to my training arsenal and thank God, this training method is something else, and it’s really powerful and efficient when it comes to pushing both the aerobic and anaerobic systems to the maximum level.
Image Credit – Jake Saund via Flickr
The majority of heavy rope exercises strengthen and target every major muscle in the body, with the emphasis on the muscles of the legs, shoulders, arms, and the core, while giving you a killer cardio conditioning workout all in one go.
So if you are an already established HIIT practitioner and in an excellent shape and you are looking for a new twist in your fitness routine, then heavy rope training is just what the doctor ordered.
Here is a workout routine to try
Start with a 10 to 15 minutes dynamic warm-up, then perform the following battling rope exercise:
- One minute of rope waves
- One minute of Shoulder Press
- One minute of rope spirals
- One minute of side slams
- One minute of Alternating Wave Lunge Jump
- One minute of start jumps.
Featured Image Credit – Ashley via Flickr