Whether you’re looking for a workout that burns a lot of calories or you’re simply trying to get into fitness, HIIT training can be a great introduction to your fitness routine.
Like any new workout, it can be tough to know where to start — which is why our expert personal trainers at Fitness First have answered the most important questions about HIIT training to help your fitness goals reach new heights.
- What is a HIIT workout?
- What are the benefits of HIIT workouts?
- Frequently asked questions
- HIIT workouts for beginners
What is a HIIT workout?
A HIIT — also known as High-Intensity Interval Training — workout consists of short, high-intensity exercise followed by a short period of rest or an exercise of lower intensity. This is then repeated in small, manageable sets. For example, you might alternate 30-second sprints with 30 seconds of brisk walking or resting, repeated eight times.
Don’t be put off by the challenge: HIIT is adaptable to you! If your heart is racing, you’ve found the intensity that’s right for your fitness level. And remember, you only have to work hard for a short time – a typical HIIT workout is completed in around 20-30 minutes, so it's over quickly, and the rewards are worth the sweat.
If you’re interested in taking on HIIT — or any other activity — book a visit and come and experience it for free.
What are the benefits of HIIT workouts?
HIIT training is more popular than ever, and with all the benefits, like promoting fat loss and improving your overall health, it’s not difficult to see why.
Some of the benefits include:
1. Your major muscle groups can be worked simultaneously
Unlike traditional workouts that may target specific areas of the body, HIIT exercises incorporate dynamic, full-body movements that engage multiple muscle groups at once.
Whether you're doing exercises like squat jumps or sit-ups, you'll find yourself activating and strengthening your legs, core, and upper body all in a single workout. This holistic approach ensures that no muscle group is left behind, providing you with a well-rounded and efficient training session.
2. You can burn a large number of calories in a short amount of time
Tim Andrews (Head of Fitness Product) at Fitness First, says short HIIT sessions are a game-changer for those who are under time restraints: "Finding time for exercise can be a challenge, but HIIT offers a solution. You don't need to spend hours at the gym to reap the benefits. In fact, you can complete a highly effective session in as little as 20 minutes.”
A study found HIIT burns 25-30% more calories than any other form of exercise. And this is attributed to the intense bursts of exercise that push your body to its limits, causing a metabolic spike. Not only does this spike result in a significant calorie burn during the workout itself, but it also triggers a prolonged calorie-burning effect that extends well beyond your gym session. So, even after you've finished your workout and returned to your daily routine, your body can continue to torch calories at an accelerated rate.
3. You’re less likely to get bored
One of the great advantages of HIIT is the wide range of exercises you can incorporate, allowing you to easily change up your routine. This exercise variation is key to keeping your workouts interesting and avoiding boredom.
Whether it's bodyweight movements like burpees and mountain climbers or incorporating equipment such as kettlebells or resistance bands, the possibilities are endless. And the beauty of HIIT lies in its fast-paced nature, so if you don't enjoy an exercise, you'll be onto the next one before you know it!
And with our HIIT classes at Fitness First, we develop new routines for you, ensuring your HIIT experience is never boring!
4. Enhanced Cardiovascular fitness
The intense intervals of high-intensity exercise followed by short recovery periods challenge your heart and lungs, increasing oxygen uptake and allowing the heart to pump blood more effectively with fewer beats.
And this can result in improved endurance and better overall cardiovascular health. So whether you're training for a marathon or simply wanting to enhance your day-to-day stamina, HIIT can be a valuable tool for boosting your cardiovascular fitness.
Frequently asked questions
How long should a HIIT workout be?
When it comes to the length of your HIIT workout, it all depends on your level of fitness and experience.
Our expert personal trainers recommend: “Short sessions of around 20 to 45 minutes due to the demanding nature of the exercise — this includes the period of time needed for the warm-up and cool-down”. Any longer than this, and you won’t be able to hold the intensity required to make it through the workout!"
How long should you rest between HIIT intervals?
According to Tim: "Rests between intervals in HIIT workouts should typically be short. The 1:1 work-to-rest ratio, meaning equal time spent working and resting, is often considered optimal for longer rest periods. However, a more commonly used ratio is 1:30, indicating that the rest period is 30 seconds for every minute of exercise. For example, a popular HIIT workout like Tabata is 20 seconds of work followed by a 10-second rest for four-minute rounds."
Essentially, you want to rest for just long enough for the muscles to recover slightly but not long enough for your heart rate to drop too much.
And remember - resting between intervals in your workout is crucial, and its significance should not be underestimated. In fact, it is just as vital as the intense exercise itself! Rest periods play a key role in allowing your muscles and energy systems to recover, preparing you to perform at your best during the workout.
How often should you do a HIIT workout?
How often you should do a HIIT workout depends on your fitness level, current training programme and end goal.
Tim explains: "In a peak training week, two to three HIIT sessions may be scheduled, but in a recovery week, one or possibly none is usually the norm.
HIIT is intense and can put a lot of stress on your body. So, make sure to space out your sessions throughout the week and allow for at least one day of rest or low-intensity exercise between workouts. This recovery time is important for preventing overtraining and reducing the risk of injury."
What equipment should I use for HIIT workouts?
When it comes to equipment for HIIT workouts, it's all about what suits your fitness level and personal comfort. And the beauty of HIIT training is that you don't actually need equipment at all if you prefer bodyweight exercises like squats and press-ups.
Tim says: "If you're a beginner, you can start with minimal equipment and focus on non-complex exercises like kettlebell swings or goblet squats.
For more advanced athletes who have mastered proper technique and form, incorporating more complex movements is an option. This may involve using equipment like barbells for exercises like barbell snatches, which require a higher level of skill and coordination."
Is HIIT good for burning fat?
Tim says: "If HIIT is exercised correctly, it should predominantly be carbohydrate (sugar) burning as this is the body's preferred fuel source for such high intensity, not fat.
However, after these sessions, your body can experience Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC). This means your body will switch to an aerobic state, burning fat as a fuel source even after you've finished exercising."
So, while HIIT itself may not burn a significant amount of fat during the session, the increased metabolic rate afterwards can lead to fat burning as your body recovers.
However, it's important to keep in mind that no matter what exercise you do, fat loss ultimately comes with weight loss. And this occurs when you consume fewer calories than you burn.
What sports are benefited by HIIT training?
Incorporating HIIT training into your exercise routine can significantly improve cardiovascular fitness and endurance, benefiting a wide range of sports.
Tim says: "HIIT training is particularly well-suited to sports that involve stop-and-start movements with sudden bursts of high-intensity effort followed by periods of lower intensity. Think Rugby League, Football, Hockey, and Boxing, to name a few."
Can I do HIIT workouts with an injury?
If you're injured, it can be hard to figure out what types of exercises you can do to avoid making it worse.
Tim says: "Depending on the level of injury, HIIT workouts can be adapted. For instance, if you've injured your upper body, like pulling an arm ligament, you can modify your HIIT routine by avoiding exercises like press-ups and focusing on lower-body movements like lunges instead.
And if you're injured but still able to exercise, just take the intensity down. Keep it low impact and swap squat jumps, for example, with bodyweight squats, instead."
While modifying exercises can be helpful, there are instances when it's best to refrain from exercising until you have fully recovered to prevent making the injury worse. Rest and recovery are essential for the healing process, allowing your muscles to rebuild.
Can you do HIIT training if you’re pregnant?
As with all exercises when you're pregnant, it's best to consult with your doctor about how active you can be.
However, Tim says, "Whether you can exercise when pregnant really does depend on how active the mother was pre-pregnancy, whether there have been any complications so far and at what stage the pregnancy is at.
Often, if the individual has not done HIIT before, this wouldn't be the best time to start, as it could increase the risk of injury or discomfort. But if they're more experienced, then it could be a great workout to take on.
Just remember that lower-intensity activities are often recommended during pregnancy, so try not to put too much strain on your body. For example, you may need to switch out your burpees with lower-impact exercises like bodyweight squats."
Pregnant women are capable of amazing things, so if you've been active before your pregnancy, you can adopt a similar approach to internal training. Just remove the high impact and adjust your positions to what feels comfortable.
And remember to always keep a bottle of water nearby to sip throughout your workout. Although hydration is essential for everyone during exercise, it’s especially crucial for pregnant women, as it supports the transportation of oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and the baby.
Are HIIT workouts suitable for beginners?
Tim says, "HIIT is indeed a great form of exercise for most people, from beginners to professionals. You just need to choose the right exercises for your fitness level and abilities.
When creating a HIIT workout, focus on the intensity of the workout rather than on the complexity of the exercises. It is all about working as hard as possible for the required period, so ditch any complicated movements and start with simple, traditional bodyweight exercises like squats, press-ups and burpees. Keep the workout simple and train hard."
HIIT workouts for beginners
We’ve created an intense 15-minute HIIT workout, as well as a longer 30-minute workout for those who want to push themselves even further.
15-minute bodyweight HIIT workout
This bodyweight circuit packs a lot of exercise into just 15 minutes! And without the need for any equipment, you can do it at home to get you started.
Perform each move of this HIIT workout plan in order, working for 30 seconds each and moving on to the next exercise without resting. Once you've reached the final move, rest for up to 2 minutes and start again from the beginning. Complete the circuit 4 times, lasting around 15 minutes.
Before your workout begins, Tim recommends: "Always remember to warm up for at least five minutes to prepare your body for the high intensity ahead." You can do this by focusing on stretches and light aerobic exercises like walking and swimming that get the muscles moving.
And don't forget to do this again to cool down once you've finished your workout! It helps your heart rate, breathing, and body temperature return to normal gradually, reducing the risk of dizziness or post-workout lightheadedness.
1. Jump squats
A jump squat is a bodyweight exercise that adds a jumping motion to the traditional squat. To do one, follow these steps:
- Stand tall, keeping your chest up and your core braced
- Squat down as far as you can
- Drive back up through your heels explosively so you lift your feet off the ground
- Jump as high as you can, then land and go straight back down into the squat position
Squats involve slowly lowering your body like you’re sitting in a chair before driving back up to a standing position, really working the muscles in the legs, core, and lower back.
- Stand tall with your feet slightly wider than your hips
- Keep your chest up and your core braced
- Squat down as far as you can
- Drive back up through your heels to return to your starting position
- Make sure each rep is smooth and controlled (don’t bounce back up)
3. Jumping jacks
Jumping jacks — also known as star jumps — are a versatile exercise that combines cardiovascular conditioning with full-body movement. To perform this exercise, you need to:
- Stand tall with your chest up and your feet together
- As you jump, move your feet to the sides as far as you can
- Raise your hands as high as you can to the sides as you jump
- Bring your arms down and your feet together as you jump back to the starting position
- Keep your reps fast and minimise the time your feet are in contact with the ground
Press-ups, also known as push-ups, are bodyweight exercises that target multiple muscle groups, primarily the chest, shoulders, and triceps. They are a staple in fitness routines due to their effectiveness in building upper body strength and improving core stability.
- Get into the press-up position on the floor on all fours, with your feet together and your hands underneath your shoulders
- Engage your core and keep your body straight from head to heels
- Bend your elbows to lower your chest to the floor
- Using your chest and arms, push back up powerfully into the starting position
5. Bicycle crunches
Bicycle crunches are like mimicking riding a bicycle while lying on your back, and they're great for working those abs, helping to give you a strong and toned core.
- Lie flat on the floor with your knees bent
- Contract your abs to raise your torso off the ground
- Rotate your right elbow inwards while drawing up your left knee towards your elbow
- Pause, then return to the starting position
- Repeat with your left elbow and your right knee
30-minute HIIT workout
This 30-minute HIIT workout is twice as long, but you get to rest between exercises, so it’s not too intense.
There are seven moves in total which are a combination of bodyweight exercises with minimum functional equipment. Complete as many reps as you can within 35 seconds for each exercise before resting for 25 seconds. Finish the entire circuit 3 times for a 30-minute full-body HIIT workout.
1. Kettlebell swings
Kettlebell swings involve swinging a kettlebell between your legs and up to shoulder level, using the momentum generated by your hips and core. They're great for targeting your glutes, hamstrings, and core while also improving your overall strength.
- Start with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent
- Grasp the kettlebell firmly with both hands and pull it back between your legs to create momentum
- Drive your hips forward and straighten your back to send the kettlebell up until it’s slightly above shoulder-height
- Let the kettlebell return back between your legs and use the momentum to raise it up for your next rep
Burpees are a challenging full-body exercise that combines a squat, plank and jump. They're fantastic for improving cardiovascular endurance! To do a burpee, follow these steps:
- From a standing position, drop into a crouch with your hands flat on the floor
- Jumps your feet so that your legs are straight and you’re in a press-up position
- Jump your feet forwards again so that your knees are tucked under your chest
- Plant your feet into the ground and jump as high as possible
- Go straight into the next rep as you land
3. Bear crawls
Bear crawls are a fun and effective exercise where you crawl on your hands and feet, imitating a bear's movement. They engage your core, shoulders, and legs, providing a full-body workout that improves strength, stability, and coordination.
- Crouch down and balance on your hands and toes
- Crawl forward by moving your right hand and leg simultaneously, then your left hand and leg
- Keep your back straight, and your core engaged as you crawl and make sure your knees don’t touch the floor
- Crawl forward as far as you can, then crawl backwards until you’re back to your starting position and repeat
4. High knees
High knees involve rapidly lifting your knees towards your chest while jogging in place. And incorporating these into your HIIT workout can help strengthen your lower body muscles and core.
- Stand tall and brace your chest and core
- Keep on your toes, raising one knee at a time as high as you can
- Keep your reps fast and minimise how long your feet touch the ground for maximum effect
5. Jumping jacks
To perform jumping jacks, simply follow the instructions from the 15-minute bodyweight workout.
6. Dumbbell overhead press
Dumbbell overhead press — sometimes called hammer shoulder press — is a compound exercise where you lift dumbbells over your head from shoulder level. It targets the shoulders, triceps, and upper chest, helping to build upper body strength and improve shoulder stability.
- Select a pair of dumbbells that are an appropriate weight
- Hold the dumbbells by your shoulders with your palms facing forwards
- Keeping your back straight and stable, extend through your elbows to press the weights above your head
- Slowly lower your arms back to the starting position
7. Kettlebell goblin squats
Kettlebell goblin squats are a squat variation where you hold a kettlebell close to your chest while performing squats. This exercise primarily targets your quadriceps, glutes, and core to strengthen and tone your lower body.
- With your feet shoulder-width apart, hold the kettlebell tightly to your chest
- Squat down until your hips are in line with your knees, holding your back straight and keeping your core muscles tight
Get into HIIT with Fitness First