Maybe you’ve heard someone raving about HIIT. Maybe you’ve tried a class at a gym with a friend once and now you’re curious about how to set up an at-home HIIT workout routine. Or maybe you’re just hoping someone will finally explain what HIIT stands for! Whatever brought you here, welcome. Before we get into the specifics of how to build the best HIIT workout for your personal fitness level and health goals, let’s cover the basics.
HIIT stands for high-intensity interval training. These aggressive, high-energy, full-body workouts involve a lot of sweating, panting, and demanding bodyweight exercises like burpees, jumping jacks, mountain climbers, and jump squats.
If you’re interested in at-home HIIT workouts, chances are you’re looking to burn fat, build muscle, or both. Research proves that this high-intensity training approach leads to more impressive results than other types of exercise do, especially when it comes to fat loss. Compared to study participants who adhere to other exercises programs, those who do HIIT workouts see greater reductions in total body mass, overall fat mass, and belly fat.
Plus, both high-intensity bodyweight workouts, as well as ones that incorporate equipment like kettlebells, can help you build muscle in a way other cardio workouts don’t. You’ll be increasing your aerobic endurance, spiking your heart rate, and seriously working your muscles.
These interval workouts require you to alternate periods of maximum effort with periods of rest. They’re a great option for anyone looking to amplify weight loss by expending a ton calories in a short period of time. As HIIT workouts have become increasingly popular, it seems that some confusion has arisen about what exactly counts as high-intensity interval training.
The term HIIT refers to a very particular training approach. It’s possible to do interval training or high-intensity training without doing a true HIIT workout. It’s also possible to follow along with something billed as the best workout for anyone who wants to try HIIT without really accessing the benefits of HIIT.
If you don’t have the necessary information about why HIIT can produce such impressive results for body composition and overall physical fitness—and the amount of work you’ll need to put in to see those results for yourself—the time you put into your training just won’t pay off.
The secret to maximizing the benefits you see from your HIIT workouts is to commit yourself fully to the two core elements: total exertion and total relaxation.
A HIIT session is, in a sense, a cardio workout that’s been divided into bursts of extremely intense exertion. The reason the benefits of HIIT workouts can be so impressive is that they dial up the intensity of most other approaches to cardio workouts.
During each burst of physical activity, you need to expend maximum effort. That’s why the length of these bursts is kept short and manageable: typically, you’ll do each set of exercises for between 20 and 90 seconds. HIIT workouts are sprints, not marathons. You shouldn’t be pacing yourself or taking it easy, you should be putting 100% into each rep.
One reason beginners can struggle with HIIT workouts is that the level of intensity required may feel unfamiliar. To make sure you’re working hard enough, you can use the rating of perceived exertion (RPE) scale. The scale asks you to rate how hard you’re working on a scale from 1 to 10, with 10 representing complete, total, sweat-dripping, not-sure-I-can-do-this-a-second-longer level exertion. Experts say that during a HIIT workout, you should be right around a 9 throughout each burst of exercise.
If that sounds exhausting, good! The harder you work, the greater your oxygen intake and the more calories you burn—even after you’re finished with your workout. Yes, the afterburn effect is real. Due to a phenomenon called excess post-exercise oxygen consumption, high-intensity workouts that leave you panting raise your metabolic rate so high that you actually continue to burn calories after you’re done exercising. Feeling motivated yet?
This might seem like the opposite of the last piece of advice, and well, that’s kind of the point. High-intensity interval training is all about opposites.
The rest periods between each burst of activity are just as important as the active part of the workout. If you rush these or skip them entirely(!), you’re not doing a HIIT workout at all.
Here’s why those rest periods are so essential. When you move between two very different states, like maximum-effort exertion and complete rest, you dramatically up your body’s cardio conditioning. Moving between anaerobic, high-intensity intervals to the low-intensity rest periods burns a ton of calories, too, which can increase your fat-loss results. Plus, you need the rest periods to recover and prepare yourself to go full out for the next set.
While it can be wonderful to have a trainer taking charge of the timing for you, it’s quite simple to do on your own. You likely have a built-in timer on your phone you can use, or you can pick out one of the many apps designed to track your intervals.
If you’re new to HIIT workouts, a good work to rest ratio for beginners is 1:2. That means however long your bursts of activity are—typically, either 30, 60, or 90 seconds—you’ll rest for twice that length of time before starting the next set. So, if you do a 30-second set of jump rope, for example, then you’d rest for 60 seconds before moving on to the next one.
There are plenty of opinions on what might make an exercise routine the best HIIT workout, or the best HITT cardio workout, or the best 30-minute at-home HIIT workout, or an even more specific categorization you might be able to come up with.
The beauty of HIIT workouts is that within a few simple rules, you have lots of room to define for yourself what the best HIIT workout is. You can find a routine you love, or try out new variations each time, whichever makes you happier. All you need to do is work hard, rest completely, and repeat.
When it comes to HIIT workouts for beginners, we do think there are a few more factors that should be taken into consideration.
First of all, it should be a workout that you can try at home without any fancy equipment. If you don’t know whether you like a certain way of training, it’s best if you can avoid investing money in it right off the bat.
Second, it should involve simple movements, ideally ones you’re already familiar with. That increases the likelihood that you’ll be able to carry them out on your own without assistance and oversight from a fitness pro.
Third, it should be fun. And we think that’s at least as important as the first two factors! If you don’t enjoy your workouts, it’s less likely you’ll stick with them.
To get you started on your HIIT journey, check out this video from trainer Lita Lewis.
In this high-intensity cardio bodyweight workout from trainer Lita Lewis, you’ll spike your heart rate with high knees, fast feet, and star jumps; plus work your core and lower body with jumping lunges and planks… all at home! No equipment needed!
This bodyweight workout features eight exercises guaranteed to make you break a sweat:
Give it a try, and if it’s not your thing, check out the many other online HIIT workout videos available.