The treadmill became my best friend after I quit playing basketball. But after hearing about distance running limiting muscle growth, and looking for other ways to stay lean, I found HIIT. This a simple, non-technical guide, of everything I’ve learned about HIIT (high-intensity interval training) after 30+ hours of research. Health benefits, workouts, science-backed studies, and more.
Let’s get into it.
|What does HIIT mean?||High-intensity interval training|
|What’s HIIT?||Short spurts of intense exercise followed by a brief resting period|
|Where can I do it?||Gym, home, outside, you name it.|
|Benefits||Burn calories faster, weight loss, increase aerobic capacity, help regulate eating habits, build muscle, improve libido|
|Workouts||Beginner and advanced workouts below.|
|FAQs||11 questions covered below|
|Diet||What to eat before and after a hit workout.|
WHAT IS HIIT AND WHY IS IT SO POPULAR?
High-intensity interval training (HIIT) consists of small bursts of intense effort followed by a resting period. An example of a HIIT workout on a treadmill would be 8 sets of 20-second sprints followed by 10-seconds of rest.
HIIT increases endurance and overall energy, burns fat and builds muscle simultaneously, boosts metabolism and helps regulate eating habits, and more importantly, burns more calories in less time.
HIIT can be done practically anywhere, on any machine, with or without weights, and by people of all ages, fitness levels, and athletic ability.
Increase endurance, burn fat, build muscle
Both HIIT and traditional endurance training will increase your aerobic capacity (VO2 max) but you’ll get better results in less time with HIIT — especially if you’re young and not very active (1).
The higher your VO2 max, the less likely you are to get cardiovascular diseases like high blood pressure, obesity, heart failure, coronary artery disease, or metabolic syndrome.
It also works both aerobic and anaerobic fitness levels allowing your body to burn fat and build muscle at the same time.
Lose weight and protect against diabetes
HIIT helps reduce body fat and prevent insulin resistance in young women which can lead to diabetes (4).
And you’ll burn even more calories than you would with sprint interval training (SIT) which is the same thing but intensity levels never drop below maximum effort (think: running vs. hauling ass) (5).
Compared to traditional cardio workouts (e.g. long distance running) it’s quite possible to burn twice the calories in half the time with HIIT training.
Boost metabolism, regulate eating habits
Like traditional weightlifting, there’s an ‘after-burn effect’ with HIIT known as EPOC — excess post-exercise oxygen — where your body continues burning calories for nearly two days after your workout (6).
This elevates your metabolism and can help control your sweet tooth by maximizing ghrelin and leptin. Ghrelin and leptin also help with fat burn and weight loss.
Improve focus, energy, libido
Quick, intense workouts like HIIT have been linked to enhanced cognition in children (8). HIIT helps to increase mitochondria levels which is what’s responsible for energy levels.
Studies have shown that long, intense workouts are tied to lower testosterone levels and libido.
Firm skin, fewer wrinkles (anti aging)
Physical activity of any kind, and HIIT training in particular, can help promote the growth of collagen in your skin which will lessen wrinkles, improve skin elasticity, and skin moisture.
INFLUENTIAL SCIENCE AND SCIENTISTS
The infamous Tabata HIIT regimen comes from Professor Izumi Tabata.
He studied 2 groups of athletes: one trained 3x per week at a moderate intensity for 60 mins, the other trained 3x per week for only 4 mins at max. intensity (20-second intervals, 10-second breaks).
After 6 weeks, they discovered HIIT’s unique ability to build muscle and burn fat simultaneously much faster than most traditional training methods.
Dr. Martin Gibala didn’t believe HIIT was for the average person. He argued that low volume HIIT was as effective as 4-minutes of Tabata. (9) He found HIIT training 3x per week to be the same as traditional cardio 5x per week..
In 2011, after further testing seniors and inactive people, they found HIIT reduces the risk of inactivity-related disorders/diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and cancer (10).
Jorge Zuniga, Creighton University, asked a simple question. What style of HIIT most impacts aerobic capacity (VO2 max) in the shortest time?
He tested 12 triathletes and concluded that 30-second intervals with 30-second rest at 90% max. was most effective.
Athletics coach Peter Coe had his son run 200-meter sprints with 30 seconds rest.
This type of training was inspired by German coach and university professor Woldemar Gerschler and the Swedish physiologist Per-Olof Astrand. (12)
Dr. Niels Vollaard believe, like Gibala did, that HIIT was too intense for the average person.
For six weeks they put 29 sedentary men/women through 3 10-minute workouts per week. They found aerobic capacity and metabolic health improvements across the board.
Each 10-minute bike session consisted of low intensity cycling with 1-2 max. intensity intervals (10-20 secs). (13)
If you need some ideas, check out the workouts below. Keep in mind, you can always tweak the duration/intensity of a HIIT workout.
If a workout calls for 10 x 30-second sprints at 100% max. effort, there’s no reason you can’t do 60-second sprints at 85% effort, especially if you’re a newbie.
30-minute basketball HIIT
Find more basketball workouts here.
Treadmill fat burning
Find more treadmill workouts here.
How to do HIIT on a stationary bike?
Find more stationary bike workouts here.
20-minute elliptical workout
Find more elliptical workouts here.
20-minute stairmaster workout
Find more step machine workouts here.
Find more swimming workouts here.
30-minute jump rope workout
More jump rope workouts can be found here.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS (FAQs)
Q: WHAT SHOULD I EAT BEFORE A WORKOUT?
A: Make sure you’re hydrated and have enough energy to burn. Carbs and some protein usually do the trick but don’t overdo it or you’ll end up feeling sluggish. Here are some ideas, try eating 1-2 hours before gym:
Wheat toast and eggs, granola and greek yogurt, peanut butter and banana sandwich, cottage cheese and dried fruit, and of course plenty of water (at least 1L).
Q: WHAT SHOULD I EAT AFTER A WORKOUT?
Once your workout is finished, eat within 45 mins. Some healthy suggestions include rice and a chicken breast (lean), greek yogurt and dried fruit, or peanut butter and apple slices.
Q: SUPPLEMENT RECOMMENDATIONS?
A: Supplements that boost your energy (temporarily anyways) are all over the place. My personal favorite pre-workout is caffeine in the form of coffee. I used to take pre-workouts like C4 but those things can’t be good for you.
Q: IS P90X HIIT?
A: Yes. P90x is HIIT because it incorporates intense intervals with short periods of rest.
Q: HOW DO YOU DO HIIT CARDIO?
A: Any intense interval session with short resting periods would qualify. Avoid long periods of moderate intensity and aim towards short spurts of intense effort. Example: 10 mins of 30 secs max. effort sprints on an air bike followed by 30 secs rest
Q: HOW OFTEN CAN/SHOULD YOU DO HIIT?
A: It depends on a few things: your fitness level, workout intensity, and recovery time. Seasoned athletes can handle 3-4 intense workouts per week. As a beginner, 2+ days per week is pushing it. When in doubt, listen to your body.
Q: CAN YOU BUILD MUSCLE WITH HIIT?
A: Yes! That’s the beauty of HIIT — you can build muscle and burn calories and fat simultaneously. The general rule of thumb is the shorter the intervals and the higher the intensity of those intervals, the more muscle you’ll ultimately build.
Q: CAN SENIORS DO HIIT?
A: Yes! HIIT can be done by people of all ages with modification. In fact, experts say HIIT is more effective in seniors and can increase energy/efficiency at a cellular level. This study suggests doing this workout 3 times per week: 10 x 60-second cycling at ~60% of max. power with 60-seconds recovery.
Q: CAN KIDS DO HIIT?
A: This study shows that HIIT is a feasible and time-efficient way to whip your kids into shape!
Q: BETS WORKOUT FOR FAT LOSS?
A: Dr. Tabata claims (see above) 4-minutes of 20-second max. effort intervals with 10-second rests are most effective. Here’s an infographic from Daily Burn that helps you find your perfect HIIT workout:
Came across lots of acronyms while researching, here they are:
CRF: Cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF)
MICT: Moderate intensity continuous training
HIIE: High-intensity intermittent exercise
SIT: Sprint-interval training
SSE: Steady-state exercise
LISS: Low impact steady state
REHIT: Reduced-exertion high-interval training
Here are some additional resources that I came across during my 20+ hours scouring the internet about HIIT. Wanted to include them here as I thought they might be helpful!
Bodybuilding.com: High-Intensity Interval Training: The Ultimate Guide
MyProtein.com: How Does HIIT Boost Metabolism?
ExperienceLife.com: Guide to HIIT
WellnessForce.com: High-Intensity Interval Training & Skin Health
MobieFit.com: High-intensity workouts for fat burning
9 – A practical model of low-volume high-intensity interval training induces mitochondrial biogenesis in human skeletal muscle: potential mechanisms
10 – Low-Volume Interval Training Improves Muscle Oxidative Capacity in Sedentary Adults