Long workouts are for the birds. Why spend two hours in the gym if you don’t have to? If you’re looking for a way to break out of a mental or physical rut in training, a few good HIIT workouts will do just that. Like most training styles, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can be molded to suit your needs, but no matter what your gym goal is, you’re in for an explosive heart rate and a character-testing challenge.
The best way to set up your HIIT workouts is to start with a specific goal in mind and paint the rest of the canvas accordingly. This means that all of your favorite — or most-dreaded — exercises can be integrated to construct the HIIT workout of your choice, whether you’re after more strength, better body composition, or tightened conditioning.
Here are the five best HIIT workouts that will send a shockwave through your training.
Best HIIT Workouts
- HIIT Workout For Strength
- HIIT Workout For Muscle Growth
- HIIT Workout For Endurance
- HIIT Workout For Conditioning
- HIIT Workout For Fat Loss
What Are HIIT Workouts?
HIIT or “high-intensity interval training” workouts are short bursts of grueling exercise followed brief, structured rest periods. The idea is to dramatically spike your heart rate, much like a sprint interval, and have a predetermined amount of rest between each effort.
The rest periods should strictly accommodate the more immediate energy systems (phosphagen and glycolytic) that power hard lifting, allowing you to work at a high level repeatedly without getting too winded too fast. With this in mind, your HIIT workouts will therefore only last between 10–20 minutes on average, based upon how you set up your exercises and rest periods.
In order to create a HIIT workout to compliment (or even directly improve) your strength, it helps to know what aspects of training have the greatest impact on force production. Strength and power both lie on the upper extremities of the force production continuum. Where absolute strength exercises might not be the easiest to implement into a HIIT workout, power exercises, which can help improve the rate of force production, certainly are.
A properly designed HIIT workout should feel like a sprint – with high intensity effort followed by a brief rest period. In order to best improve your strength, you’re going to want to include a variation of the exercise you’re trying to get strong at – in this case, a squat. From there, a series of progressively more explosive exercises to help keep the heart rate high and challenge your speed of force production can really round out the circuit.
Perform this circuit five times, resting for 2-3 minutes between each round.
Note: Choose your loads according to your repetition count. A heavy goblet squat followed by moderate Kettlebell Thruster and bodyweight jump squat.
Muscle growth requires a lot more volume and less rest than building strength or power. You can take advantage of this greater need for volume by integrating a muscle-building workout into HIIT format. A great way to accomplish this would be to choose non-competing exercises that target different muscle groups and tapering from larger movements to smaller as fatigue accumulates.
Pairing leg and shoulder training into one HIIT workout is a good option to keep the exercises (and therefore your heart rate) flowing without interruption. Perform the leg exercises first, as you’ll want to be as recovered as possible for technique preservation. After that, light your shoulders on fire with easy-to-transition dumbbell exercises that hit them from all angles.
Perform this circuit four times, resting for 1 minute between each round.
- Dumbbell Romanian Deadlift: 1×10
- Dumbbell Walking Lunge: 1×12 per leg
- Dumbbell Glute Bridge: 1×15
- Dumbbell Z-Press: 1×12
- Dumbbell Lateral Raise: 1×15
- Dumbbell Upright Row: 1×15
Note: Start the workout with your dumbbells pre-arranged, scaled for both leg and shoulder exercises.
High-intensity interval (endurance) training is an experience like no other. Combining the sprint effect of HIIT-style workouts with the goal of building endurance means one thing, less rest time. Challenging the energy systems with limited rest will force your body to become more efficient at recovery, both during and after each round.
It makes the most sense to combine full-body higher repetition exercises with shorter rest periods to get the most out of your endurance HIIT workout. “Spike” exercises can also be used alongside more direct muscle group exercises to elevate the heart rate and keep it high during the entirety of the workout.
Perform this circuit five times, resting for 30–45 seconds between each round.
- Burpee: 1×10
- Rack Position Kettlebell Reverse Lunge: 1×12 per leg
- Mountain Climber: 1×20 strides
- Push-Ups: 1×15
- Kettlebell Swing: 1×15
Note: Load per exercise should be scaled to accommodate your current cardiovascular fitness level.
HIIT and conditioning goals go hand-in-hand; however, a deviously designed workout can overload your energy systems in a way that only a movie villain would think up. With specially selected exercises at just the right time, you can drop a bomb on your conditioning – stopping each energy system from reaching a full recovery before the next challenge hits you full force.
A few handy implements and a prowler push can directly challenge a ton of your major muscle groups while spiking your heart rate every time you think you’ve reached a plateau. This one is not for the faint of heart. Whether up or down, each one of these exercises is scalable to accommodate the challenge you need. Breathe deep and try to keep your lunch down.
Perform this circuit five times, resting for 2 minutes between each round.
- Medicine Ball Slam: 1×10
- Prowler Push: 1×30 strides
- Kettlebell Reverse Lunge: 1×10 per leg
- Prowler Push: 1×30 strides
- Medicine Ball Slam: 1×10
Improving body composition is the process of reducing body fat while increasing lean body mass as simultaneously as you can. Incorporating HIIT training into a body composition goal should focus on combining big exercises that will burn a ton of calories. The more muscles involved, the better.
Using dumbbells or kettlebells are a great way to create an easy-flowing HIIT workout. Keeping the pace high is critical to peaking your heart rate and maintaining a time-efficient workout. A few good compound exercises programmed in the right order should keep you moving and tax your entire body.
Perform this circuit five times, resting 1–2 minutes between each round.
- Double Kettlebell Clean: 1×5
- Double Kettlebell Front Squat: 1×10
- Kettlebell Shoulder Press: 1×10
- Kettlebell Romanian Deadlift: 1×10
- Double Kettlebell Swing: 1×15
Benefits Of HIIT Workouts
High-intensity interval training workouts are extremely time efficient. They’re also an explosive challenge to your cardiovascular system, but the perks don’t start and stop at your heart. With the huge variety of exercises, implements, and some ingenuity, HIIT workouts can easily service a bunch of different training goals at once.
Between the predetermined exercises, sets, and repetitions and structured rest periods, HIIT workouts are extremely fast-paced. Most will likely only last between 10–20 minutes once everything is said and done.
While it may not seem like a huge amount of time to dedicate to a workout, the repeated bursts of high-intensity activity can stimulate your cardiovascular system to improve without an exhaustive hour-long session that you might be used to.
HIIT workouts have been shown to improve cardiovascular health benefits to a similar degree as steady-state styles of training. The repeated spike and readjustment of your heart rate appear quite effective at building up cardiovascular power and capacity — with the short recovery times building up endurance to a surprisingly comparable extent as well. (1)
Similarly, body composition improvements from HIIT have been shown to be comparable to moderate intensity steady-state cardiovascular training sessions as well. (2)
One of the biggest drawbacks of conventional cardiovascular training is that it tends to be long-form. This often takes the shape of rhythmic, potentially mind-numbingly repetitious sessions on a piece of cardio equipment or pounding the pavement outdoors. By employing HIIT workouts instead, your session can be completely tailored to any number of different exercises that suit your fancy.
As long as big, full-body movements with minimal rest periods are made central to the workout itself, you’re in business.
Who Should Do HIIT Workouts
A well-designed HIIT workout can be fantastic for just about anyone, with the root of the training style being based upon making a lot of positive change to your cardio in very little time. However, the “high-intensity” moniker implies a few prerequisites that should be covered in terms of safety and experience level prior to starting your workout.
One thing to consider when planning to start HIIT workouts is your experience level. The higher your training age, the more exercises that you can employ for a HIIT workout. This raises the ceiling of effectiveness – but also prevents staleness from using the same repeated workouts due to a lack of technical skill with the biggest or baddest exercises.
A second prong of the experience level conversation is your starting cardiovascular fitness level. HIIT is, as advertised, high-intensity. Unless you’re experienced with this style of training, it’s worth scaling your exercise difficulty, rest periods, or loading downward to ensure you’re safely training and not setting yourself up for pain later on.
High-intensity interval training often calls for explosive or advanced exercise techniques to best drive the heart rate up. Certain exercises should be scaled to your skill level if you haven’t performed them within other styles of training before.
Variations of hinges, cleans, or other strength and power exercises may become increasingly risky to perform as a part of a HIIT circuit as you accumulate fatigue. When necessary, choose less-complex variations that match your strength or experience level.
Plyometric exercises should also be used sparingly. While popular, plyometric exercises load the body differently than strength more muscle building exercises. Repeated, explosive plyometrics shouldn’t be used as part of a HIIT circuit because small technique errors or the accumulation of repetitions needed to peak the heart rate can be disproportionately hard on the joints.
HIIT workouts are a breathtakingly effective way to train the cardiovascular system alongside a number of other goals at the same time. You can seamlessly weave them into off days or as a capstone to your workout proper. While they offer a tremendous amount of versatility, the beauty of HIIT lies in the proper manipulation of work-to-rest ratios so you’re getting the most bang for your buck in the gym.
Work hard for a few big exercises and minimize your rest – it’s a surefire way to blow up your heart rate in no time. Keep in mind that the best way to program your HIIT workouts is with exercises that you can perform well, even while fatigued, and you’ll find yourself safely lying in a pool of well-earned sweat before you know it.
- Foster, C., Farland, C. V., Guidotti, F., Harbin, M., Roberts, B., Schuette, J., Tuuri, A., Doberstein, S. T., & Porcari, J. P. (2015). The Effects of High Intensity Interval Training vs Steady State Training on Aerobic and Anaerobic Capacity. Journal of sports science & medicine, 14(4), 747–755.
- Keating, S. E., Johnson, N. A., Mielke, G. I., & Coombes, J. S. (2017). A systematic review and meta-analysis of interval training versus moderate-intensity continuous training on body adiposity. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity, 18(8), 943–964.
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