High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) for Beginners

Time to Read: 9 minutes

Before understanding the basics of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT), it is important to know what interval training is.

Interval training is a discontinuous exercise routine that involves a series of low to high-intensity workouts. This type of physical training involves short periods of intense exercise that are immediately followed by periods of rest.

Interval training is very popular among athletes who alternate between two different activities that require a varying degree of effort and speed. 

Interval vs Continuous Training

Exercise can be divided into two basic styles – interval and continuous. The difference between interval and continuous training are:

  • Interval training involves a series of exercises with intermediate rest, meaning in a discontinuous fashion. Continuous training involves working out for a sustained period without any rest.
  • Interval training consists of a work:rest ratio, which is the duration of the workout to the duration of the rest period that follows. Most continuous training methods do not have a work:rest ratio, as they do not involve rest.
  • Interval training is used for anaerobic energy training while continuous training is used for aerobic energy training.

What is High-Intensity Interval Training?

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is based on a very simple concept – following periods of intense workout with low-intensity workout or rest. The periods of workout and rest are short. They may range from seconds to a few minutes and are followed by each other, resulting in alternating bouts of high and low-intensity exercise.

HIIT is a specialized form of training where high and low-intensity moves are mixed to keep it challenging for the body. The person pushes himself to the limit in the high-intensity exercise for a minute or so before taking a short rest to give the body time to recover.

This is a type of cardio exercise regime that was previously reserved for athletes, runners, and semi-professionals, but it has found its way into the mainstream. HIIT is also referred to as Sprint Interval Training (SIT) or High-Intensity Intermittent Exercise due to its discontinuous nature.    

Any person whose goal is to burn fat quickly and effectively should try this workout regime. An average HIIT workout lasts for about 20 minutes, but in general, it can vary between 4 – 30 minutes depending on the endurance and capacity of the person. In general, the recovery interval is twice as long as the high-intensity workout interval, thus making the rest to workout ratio as 2:1.

HIIT Training Progression

Beginner High-Intensity Interval Training

This is designed for beginners. Anyone who is new to HIIT should start at this level.

One of the best beginners’ interval training program is high and low-intensity combination of walk-jog. Start with a one-minute walk, followed by a minute jog session. Keep repeating as long as you can. Whether you do this for 30 seconds or for minutes, make sure you keep the time interval the same. It is the easiest form of HIIT and can be performed anywhere.

Variation – If you wish to increase the level of challenge, find a hill or incline, and perform the same routine there. 

Intermediate High-Intensity Interval Training

Once you have worked at the basic level for a few weeks, or when you find it less strenuous, you can proceed to the intermediate level. At this level, you will jog and run instead of jog and walk. Start with a warm-up that is a 5 minute jog, followed by 1 minute of running. Once you are done, jog again for 5 minutes. This completes 1 round. Do as many rounds as possible.

Variation – Increase the level of challenge by sprinting instead of running. Also, change the interval length, half-minute jogging followed by 1 minute running, then 1 minute jogging by 2 minute running, and so on.

Advanced High-Intensity Interval Training

The toughest and most complex, make sure you are very comfortable with the above routines before moving to this level. Extreme high intensity, this will make you very tired. There are a variety of advanced HIIT routines to follow, and we have covered some below.

For your first time, work for 20 minutes, but make sure you have done a warm-up before that. These advanced HIIT routines include jogging, running, sprinting, and biking.

High-Intensity Interval Training is not a single method or technique. It comprises of several different methods that have been developed over time. These methods have different lengths of high and low-intensity workouts with varying intensities and exercise methods. Some of the most popular HIIT routines include:

Popular HIIT Routines

Tabata HIIT

An advanced HIIT workout, this helps in achieving a higher level of endurance, fitness, and burning more calories. Tabata was developed by Dr. Izumi Tabata in 1996. 

Each set of a Tabata workout involves 2 high-intensity exercises for at least 20 seconds (non-stop), followed by a break of 10 seconds. Repeat this 8 times for a total of 4 minutes, and you have your Tabata workout.

This is suitable for people who have already been doing HIIT workout for some time. The recommended frequency for Tabata workouts is 2 – 4 times per week.

This is best suited for people who have little time to work out and are already quite fit.

Timmons HIIT

This method was invented by Professor Jamie Timmons of the University of Loughborough. It is sometimes referred to as “The Little Method.” 

His regime includes 2 minutes of gentle cycling followed by 20 seconds of sprint cycling at maximum effort. It is recommended to do 3 rounds of these cycles (for a total of 7 minutes), at least 3 times per week. 

Sample HIIT Routines

Part of what makes HIIT so fun is that it does not get monotonous. This is great for people who fall out of working out simply because they lose interest. There are many exercises that you can incorporate in your HIIT regime. You can vary the exercises in the high as well as low-intensity exercise interval. Exercises you choose will mainly depend on your problem area, your goals, and the equipment or resources available to you. It will also depend on how long you have been following HIIT.

Here are a few sample HIIT routines to give you ideas for ideal High-Intensity Interval Training workouts and how you can plan your own routine.

Sample HIIT Routine 1

Total Time: 7 minutes, 30 seconds

High-intensitySquat Jumps20 seconds
BreakRest10 seconds
High-intensityBurpees20 seconds
BreakRest10 seconds
High-intensitySquat Jumps20 seconds
BreakRest10 seconds
High-intensityBurpees20 seconds
Rest for 1 minute and repeat twice

Sample HIIT Routine 2

Total Time: 9 minutes

Low-intensityJog20 seconds
High-intensityMountain climbers20 seconds
Low-intensityJog20 seconds
High-intensitySquats (in and out)20 seconds
Low-intensityJog20 seconds
High-intensityWide stance jump squats20 seconds
Low-intensityJog20 seconds
High-intensityLunges20 seconds
Low-intensityJog20 seconds
High-intensityJumping jacks20 seconds
Low-intensityJog20 seconds
High-intensityBurpees20 seconds
Rest for 1 minute and repeat once

Sample HIIT Routine 3

Total Time: 15 minutes

High-intensityBurpees, Mountain climbers, and jumping jacks3 minutes non-stop
Break1 minute
High-intensityWalking lunges, lunge jumps and pushup3 minutes non-stop
Break1 minute
High-intensitySquats/ kettlebell squats, pull-ups and box jumps3 minutes non-stop
Break1 minute
High-intensitySide lunges, dips, pushups/plank pushups3 minutes non-stop

Benefits of HIIT

benefits of hiit
  • HIIT trains both anaerobic and aerobic energy systems of the body.
  • It boosts and stimulates metabolism as the body makes better utilization of glucose. Glucose is utilized by the body instead of getting stored in the body in the form of fats. This reduces the risk of diabetes.
  • When you perform intense exercise, your body’s oxygen stores are depleted. A short period of rest is used to recover oxygen. After the workout is over, the body continues to burn fat and bring oxygen levels to normal. This results in the continuous burning of fat even after the workout session is over.
  • HIIT burns more calories compared to other exercise methods. 
  • HIIT strengthens the heart and develops the cardiovascular system, giving providing more longevity for other routines.
  • This style of workout stimulates muscle-building hormones like IGF-1 and growth hormone. They help in maintaining a lean body and improving fitness level.
  • It increases the ability of muscles to utilize excess lactic acid that gets built up in the muscles.
  • It increases the aerobic capacity of the body as the amount of oxygen that the body can use is increased vai HIIT.
  • HIIT results in fat loss rather than muscle loss. Continuous or steady pace exercise can result in muscle loss, but interval training results in fat loss.
  • HIIT is best suited for a busy lifestyle, as the entire workout regime can be completed within minutes. Even if you can only get in 15 minutes, you can utilize it for an effective workout session.
  • It does not require any special equipment or machines. The number one rule of a HIIT workout is that it should increase the heart rate, no matter what exercise you do. So, from cycling to sprinting, you can plan your workout with any high-intensity exercise.
  • HIIT can be done anywhere. Whether you are on vacation or have a compact apartment, you can pull off HIIT. You can adapt it according to your space and time constraints.
  • HIIT workouts have almost infinite variety, so you won’t get bored doing the same exercises over and over every day. HIIT exercises are challenging and fun and present a new challenge with each workout.

HIIT Tips

When you start a new HIIT workout, you may feel it is chaotic and confusing. As you settle in, you will find that it is fun and full of variety. Here are a few tips for doing HIIT exercises:

  • Always warm up first. A warm-up prepares your body and heart for exercises. If you skip your warm-up and directly start with intense exercises, you will get tired fast and risk injury.
  • Instead of choosing exercises on the fly, it is better to plan your exercises, sets, time intervals, and their low-intensity combination exercises in advance.
  • Do the exercises with full force and strength. Keeping your body loose or doing exercises with low energy won’t do any good to the body. Remember, it is called ‘high-intensity’ workout, and you should do it as actively as you can. You’re only working out for a few minutes. Make it count!
  • Use the low intensity or rest periods to recharge your energy level and recover. If you take a break, take deep breaths in and out to bring your heart rate to normal. The rest intervals help you in powering up for the next high-intensity exercise.
  • Keep your interval lengths uniform and do not extend them more than 2 minutes.
  • If you are doing very short intervals of intense exercise, then increase the number of sets of that exercise. Allocate fixed time intervals for each exercise and distribute the number of sets in that time range. The number of sets of each exercise can vary.
  • Keep a timer to mark the start and end of your intervals, as this will allow you to concentrate on your workout rather than on the time left.             
  • As the energy level required in HIIT is high, it is better to have some light and healthy food at least 30 minutes before your workout session. If you are doing HIIT on an empty stomach, you may not have enough energy for high-intensity exercises.

HIIT Precautions and Safety Advice

Whether you are new to HIIT or have been doing it for some time, there are some safety tips you need to be aware of:

  • If you have any existing injury or illness, consult your doctor on whether or not high-intensity interval training is for you.
  • If you are a beginner or have not worked out in a long time, start slow. Do not try to do a very intense workout from day one. Give some time for your body to get used to the exertion. Start with a few sets and then increase gradually.
  • Exercises done in high-intensity interval training include jumping or running that can cause jolts and pressure on joints, bones, and muscles. Make sure you stop the exercise immediately if you feel uncomfortable or experience sharp pain.
  • Follow a proper and balanced diet, and make sure you eat healthily. Also, keep your body hydrated. Try to drink 2-3 cups of water at least an hour before you start your workout.
  • HIIT workouts consume a lot of energy. Never do these workouts continuously for two days in a row. It is advised to schedule HIIT routines on alternate days. On your other days, consider strength training, active rest (like yoga), or steady-state cardio.
  • Ensure that you get proper sleep so that you remain fresh, both physically and mentally.

Final Words

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) is not just any form of physical training. It is based on scientific research and experiments. That is one reason why the methods are so accurate and detailed and results so reliable. 

However, make sure you perform the routine at a pace and level that it is meant to be performed at and do all steps correctly. If you maintain the exercises, intervals, and intensity, your risk of injury or overtraining is reduced considerably. 

Don’t get overwhelmed in the intricacies of HIIT and just enjoy your workout. Try switching between methods and routines to maintain your interest.

Even though new fitness methods are developed every day, the importance of these scientifically proven methods is bound to stay. Don’t underestimate the experience of all the people before you.

Fitness is a critical element of a happy life. Don’t ignore fitness and its importance in life, as it may have serious long-term implications. Remember, a healthy body is key to a healthy mind!