If you liked the Choose Your Own Adventure books as a kid, then you’ll probably love what High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) workouts have to offer. They’re convenient, customizable, and charged with energy. Perfect for beginners, this type of exercise allows you to combine different forms of cardio and strength training to build a long-lasting fitness routine on a busy schedule. Here’s how to tackle HIIT workouts most effectively as you work to reach your health goals.
Start with Tabata-style HIIT workouts.
High Intensity Interval Training, known as HIIT, involves short bursts of high-intensity exercise broken up by active rest periods.
“A good HIIT to start with might be something like Tabata, a very common HIIT formula, which is 20 seconds of work and 10 seconds of rest, typically done for four minutes, or eight rounds,” says Aaptiv trainer Erin Sanders “Or simply doing work for a given amount of time that is good for you with an adequate amount of rest. For example, you could do 30 seconds of work and 30 seconds of rest for a set amount of rounds.”
ACSM Certified Personal trainer Allison Gaulke of Power Life Yoga says tabata-style HIIT workouts can be easy to follow for beginners. They can also be customized based on your needs. As with any physical activity, it’s important to do some light stretching before and after HIIT to prevent injury and ease your body in and out of each workout.
Trust you’ll build endurance over time.
“Even if you are new to working out or new to HIIT training, you can work off your own Rate Of Perceived Exertion (RPE), meaning you give what you can, and you work at a level of intensity that is good for you.” says Sanders. She notes that most people who take her HIIT classes are a range of ages and levels. She encourages everyone to push themselves while listening to their bodies.
To build endurance, Gaulke says to start with 15-20 minutes of a HIIT workout and work up from there. “I would also recommend starting with either equal or slightly higher rest intervals to your work intervals, such as working for :30 and then resting for :30, or working for :30 and then resting for :45.”
Don’t do HIIT every day.
Getting a fantastic workout done in a short amount of time seems like the perfect type of exercise to do every day—but experts say you only need two at the minimum to see the benefits.
“For an average person, I would say 2-4 HIIT classes a week would be good, depending on how frequently you go to the gym,” says Sanders. “But don’t make it the only workouts that you ever do in your week. Incorporate some strength training workouts, cardio, and stretching and alternate those between the days you do HIIT.”
Additionally, rest is vital during the actual HIIT workout, as it provides solid cardio conditioning—so don’t skip those intervals!
Add weights to switch it up.
“The beauty of HIIT is that anything goes!” Gaulke says. Though HIIT is primarily done for cardio, strength, or a combination of both, you can also use weights or even body weight exercises to amp up your workout.
“Sprint repeats are an example of doing a HIIT workout that can be easily personalized,” says Sanders. “You can work at great intensity for an interval with the elliptical, treadmill, stair climber or while running. Or, add a heavy set of lifts, set up as an EMOM (every minute on the minute, you have a given amount of reps) or by doing a Tabata. You can also mix and match them, like doing 1 minute of strength, followed by 1 minute of cardio.”
HIIT gets easier over time.
HIIT is popular, says Gaulke, due to its ability to burn a lot of calories in a short amount of time. With intervals, your body increases its metabolic rate by constantly increasing and decreasing heart rate.
“HIIT workouts are also good for training the body’s energy systems, because intervals are our own natural way of doing work and improving,” says Sanders. “If you are new to running, you might naturally go faster for a period of time until you become fatigued. Then, you’d slow down and recover until you were ready to run again. That is essentially interval training. If you have to do a quick run up a flight of subway stairs every day, over time, it gets easier and you become better at it. Your muscles adapt and your heart rate comes down a little faster over time. You don’t become winded as easily so your oxygen capacity also improves. The same thing is true for HIIT training.”
There are a couple caveats. If you have a heart condition, you may want to skip HIIT workouts as well as check with your healthcare provider before starting. And, if you’re recovering from an injury, you may benefit from choosing other, lower-intensity workouts or exploring modifications. One example is holding a plank from your knees rather than doing full-on burpees as part of a work interval, or adding more rest intervals.
Don’t be intimidated!
“If you are going to do a HIIT workout at home,” shares Gaulke, “I suggest starting easy and building up. If you can work with a trainer, that’s even better. The instructor will help you challenge yourself and make sure you are doing all the exercises correctly. He or she can also help modify if needed.”
“My advice for someone new to HIIT? Don’t be intimidated,” advises Sanders. “Do your best, start slow and do what you can. Little by little, you will improve your strength and stamina, and then be able to give more and more and more. After all, it’s never supposed to get easier—you just get better.”