High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): Benefits and How-Tos

Medically Reviewed By Daniel Bubnis, M.S., NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS
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High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a workout model involving periods of high intensity physical activity with periods of low intensity activity in between. HIIT may be more efficient than longer, moderate intensity exercises. HIIT can have many benefits for people, including heart health improvement, blood sugar reduction, and better oxygen consumption. Other benefits include reducing blood pressure, increasing muscle density, and improving overall health.

This article will discuss HIIT, who might be right for it, the benefits HIIT can provide, and how to perform HIIT.

Overview

A woman jumping rope outside
Ivan Gener/Stocksy United

HIIT is a workout model involving brief, intermittent periods of vigorous activity separated by periods of lower intensity activity. It can help you reach your target heart rate within a short period.

There is no specific way to perform HIIT, and you can choose any activity as long as it involves high intensity intervals. 

Some activities that you can perform with HIIT include:

Many people may not require any special tools to perform the exercise. However, some people may choose to work with weights, a pair of sliders, a treadmill, or exercise equipment pieces.

Benefits of HIIT

Research suggests that HIIT can be helpful and safe for many different people, including:

  • people with sedentary lifestyles
  • people with high body mass indexes
  • people who are older adults
  • people with cardiac diseases

HIIT uses a shorter training duration to obtain the same benefits as moderate intensity exercises. In other words, you get maximum benefits in less time.

Other benefits of HIIT can include:

  • High calorie burn: A small 2015 study involving nine men between 18–35 years old showed that high intensity training might burn calories faster than standard exercise.
  • Weight management: A 2017 research review involving people with overweight between 18–45 years old shared that HIIT may be an efficient component of weight management.
  • Heart health improvement: HIIT can be a time-efficient way to improve your heart and respiratory health, according to a small 2016 study.
  • Muscle gain: Another small 2015 study with 24 hockey players revealed that HIIT might help increase muscle thickness.
  • Better oxygen consumption: A different small 2016 study showed that HIIT exercises could increase your oxygen consumption and reduce your blood pressure.
  • Lower blood sugar: HIIT can improve aerobic fitness and‌ reduce blood sugar levels in some people, according to a third 2016 study.

HIIT workouts

The duration of HIIT workouts can vary from a few seconds to several minutes. However, many trainers consider 10–30 minutes the ideal time frame.

Each workout includes a:

  • warm-up phase
  • work phase 
  • recovery phase

Here are some sample workout routines to try:

Jumping rope

  1. Perform lunges or squats for 5 minutes to warm up. 
  2. Next, perform as many skips as you can in a space of 30 seconds. 
  3. Do slower skips for 1 or 2 minutes.
  4. Repeat this pattern for 10–30 minutes.

Push-ups

  1. Start with 5–10 minutes of torso rotations and 90-degree arm rotations.
  2. Get into a push-up position and lower your body to the floor.
  3. Perform quick push-ups for 30 seconds. 
  4. Stand for 30–90 seconds. 
  5. Repeat this pattern for 10–20 minutes.

Sprinting

  1. Jog for 10 minutes to warm up.
  2. Sprint as fast as you can for 15 seconds. 
  3. Slow down your pace for 1–2 minutes. 
  4. Repeat this pattern for 10–20 minutes.

Precautions

Always check with your doctor before starting any type of new activity. Some types of exercises may not be appropriate for certain people, including people with heart conditions or difficulties with mobility.

HIIT can raise your heart rate quickly in a short amount of time and introduce fast-paced moves, so the biggest risks of HIIT could be a high heart rate and injuries from an activity you are not familiar with.

It can also be helpful to understand your heart rate when exercising. Your target heart rate is the optimal zone to keep your heart rate in during hard exercise. In this zone, you also burn the most fat and calories.

The American Heart Association gives the target and maximum heart rate ranges for adults as follows:

Age (years)Target heart rate zone 50–85% beats per minute (bpm)Average maximum heart rate, 100% bpm
20 0–170200
3095–162190
35 93–157185
4090–153180
4588–149175
50 85–145170
5583–140165
6080–136160
65 78–132155
7075–128150

While exercising, try to monitor your heart rate to make sure you are within the target range. You can use a wearable activity tracker to do this. Try to avoid overheating or exceeding your maximum heart rate.

Click here to learn more about target heart rate zones.

If your heart rate is too high, try to slow down. Transition into a lower intensity exercise or enter the recovery phase.

Other things to note with HIIT include:

  • HIIT can put a lot of strain on your body. So, try to get your doctor’s advice before adopting the routine.
  • It is a good idea to pick an activity you are already familiar with.
  • Always start at a lower intensity interval before gradually transitioning into a higher intensity one. 
  • Avoid performing HIIT for longer than 45 minutes to 1 hour. Lengthy workouts could be overly strenuous.
  • Get sufficient rest after each workout period to prevent injuries.
  • Drink plenty of water.

HIIT may be safe for pregnant people in their first trimester. However, it may not be a good idea during the second and third trimesters for some pregnant people, including anyone with a high risk pregnancy or high blood pressure

Always check with your doctor for any special circumstances, such as pregnancy or chronic conditions you may have.

Frequently asked questions

Here are other questions people asked about HIIT. Daniel Bubnis, MS, NASM-CPT, reviewed the answers.

Is HIIT good for weight loss?

Yes. Research suggests that HIIT training can be an efficient way to lose weight.

How does HIIT compare to cardio training?

HIIT workouts are more intense than standard cardio training. Also, HIIT provides the maximum benefits of standard cardio training in minimal time. HIIT may also help you lose weight more effectively than long-form cardio alone.

Is 20 minutes of HIIT enough?

Yes. A good time frame for HIIT workouts is 10–30 minutes.

Summary

HIIT is a workout model involving periods of high intensity physical activity with periods of low intensity activity in between. It can be a more efficient routine than moderate intensity exercises for benefits such as improving heart health and building muscle.

You can perform HIIT with many types of activities. Examples of HIIT workouts include high intensity sprinting, rowing, and push-ups. Others include mountain climbing, weightlifting, and biking.

There are many benefits to practicing HIIT. They include weight management, increasing muscle density, and lowering blood sugar levels. Others include lowering blood pressure and improving oxygen consumption.

If you are interested in incorporating HIIT into your exercise routine, speak with your doctor before you begin. It may also be helpful to work with a certified athletic trainer who can help you start and ensure you perform HIIT safely and correctly.

To get good results with HIIT, also try to follow a healthy lifestyle, including eating a nutritious diet, managing stress, and getting enough sleep.

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Medical Reviewer: Daniel Bubnis, M.S., NASM-CPT, NASE Level II-CSS
Last Review Date: 2022 Sep 25
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THIS TOOL DOES NOT PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Never ignore professional medical advice in seeking treatment because of something you have read on the site. If you think you may have a medical emergency, immediately call your doctor or dial 911.
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