Beginners Guide To HIIT

You’ve surely heard people discuss it before and maybe even tried a variation of it without knowing, but what is HIIT? How does it work? Why is it becoming so popular? And is it an appropriate workout for beginners to exercise?

Let’s start with the basics. What is HIIT?

HIIT stands for High Intensity Interval Training. And as the name suggests, it is intense. Basically HIIT means any workout that includes bursts of activity followed by fixed periods of active rest. HIIT can be performed using plyometric exercises, standard cardio exercises, running sprints, or simply by doing strength exercises at a quicker pace.

High intensity interval training is a form of anaerobic exercise, meaning you will have a lack of oxygen during a HIIT workout. This form of cardio will leave you feeling out of breath and like you can’t catch your breath. This can be uncomfortable at first, but trust me it is okay to feel this way. Obviously you need to know your limits when it comes to HIIT, but the main idea of this form of training is that you push your self a lot.

There are many benefits to high intensity interval training that you don’t get with other forms of cardio.

HIIT is time efficient. You can get a killer cardio workout done in as little as 4-minutes with using this form of training. This means that the “I don’t have time to workout” excuse is no longer valid. Everyone has 4-minutes to spare.

Working out this way burns fat without causing you to lose much muscle mass. Steady state cardio has a tendency to burn muscle. Endurance athletes may find it hard to build muscle when burning so much off during long runs. HIIT is great for those looking to lose fat because it helps you do that quickly. However, HIIT is also great cardio for those trying to gain muscle and lean down at the same time. Figure competitors that are cutting would benefits from HIIT versus standard cardio because they won’t have to sacrifice any of their muscle gains.

Remember how I said you would not be able to breath easy during a HIIT workout? Well eventually you will have to make up for that oxygen lost, and your body will do that during the rest of the day. For up to 24-hours after a HIIT workout, you will continue consuming extra oxygen and thus burning extra calories. This is great because it means HIIT speeds up your metabolism! And who doesn’t want to burn calories while they are at rest?

Finally, you can do a HIIT workout anywhere. Most of these workouts do not require any equipment, so you can do them at home, outdoors, or in the gym if you choose to.

There are many different ways to perform a HIIT workout.

Tabata style is the most widely used form of HIIT. During a Tabata your timer will be set for 20-seconds of work followed by 10-seconds of active rest. That pattern is then repeated eight times for a 4-minute workout. That sounds unbelievably short right? But if you are working hard enough, you will be exhausted once you finish those 4-minutes!

You can do different styles of HIIT by creating different timed intervals or giving yourself a time limit to perform a circuit of exercises. One HIIT I personally enjoying is an AMRAP, or as many rounds as possible. I create a circuit mixed with standard cardio and strength exercises then set a timer for 8-minutes. Now I will try to get through as many rounds of the circuit that I can before the 8-minutes are up.

Luckily there are not many strict guidelines to HIIT, so you can get creative with your workout structure. However, the one rule of HIIT is that you have to push yourself to your max! If you are truly doing that, you should not be able to perform HIIT for longer than 25-30 minutes. Once a HIIT workout exceeds that length, you’ve more than likely entered into a stead state cardio zone.

And now we have reached the final question, is HIIT good for beginners? And the answer is yes! HIIT is a great workout for everyone. The basis of high intensity interval training is that you push yourself to YOUR max. So as a beginner, you may be moving slower than other people. But, if you are pushing yourself as hard as you can, that is HIIT!

Here are five great exercises you can try as a beginner to HIIT:

Walking burpees

If regular burpees are too much for you at the start, remove the jump and walk out to plank and back up to standing.

Marching or high knee jog

If a high knee jog feels like a lot, perform a quick high knee march instead.

Mountain climbers

These are great for your core and arms. In plank position either slowly pull your knees in towards your chest, alternating between legs, or move quicker and jump the movement.

Jumping Jacks

These are another exercise that can either be performed fast or slow. If jumping these is not happening, quickly step your feet side-to-side with the jumping jack arms.


Squats are great for any kind of workout. Just make sure you are using the proper form by sitting back and squeezing


* Previously published on watchfit.com

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