High intensity interval training (HIIT) is a form of interval training defined by training at 90% or more of a person’s maximal oxygen consumption (VO2max). Interval training in general is the strategy of interspersing hard periods of work with equal or longer rest periods. HIIT workouts take this concept to the next level by ensuring the work periods are longer than the rest periods, for example, 40 seconds of work with 20 seconds of rest. You can do HIIT workouts on a cardio machine such as a treadmill or spin bike, using dumbbells and kettlebells or in your home gym.
Benefits of HIIT
HIIT workouts are beneficial in burning body fat, lowering blood glucose in those at risk or with type II diabetes, increasing VO2max, and helping reduce blood pressure in hypertensive people. Perhaps most importantly, HIIT saves time as it results in similar fat loss compared to moderate-intensity continuous aerobic exercise performed at 60–75% of maximum heart rate (or 50–65% VO2max) with fewer weekly workout minutes.
Try these four HIIT workouts to sneak in effective workouts between jobs, on vacation, first thing in the morning or after a long commute home.
Read More: HIIT Workout Gear Essentials
Workout 1: Dumbbell and Barbell Gym Workout
Do each exercise for 10 reps, resting 20 seconds between exercises. Perform 3 rounds. Rest 1 minute between rounds.
DB Squat and Press
Rack the weights over your shoulders so your elbows are pointed straight out front and your triceps, shoulders and trap muscles are engaged. Squat down until your thighs are parallel to the ground, with the weights still on your shoulders so your shoulder, tricep and trap muscles are engaged. As you rise use the power in your legs to press the dumbbells overhead, keeping your elbows in line with your shoulders and pointed forward. As you squat down again, make sure your knees are tracking over your toes and not widening or contracting.
Barbell Row and Hang Clean
For this move, you’ll alternate between a row using an overhand grip of the barbell and a slight tilt forward of the torso, and an upright clean where you rack the barbell across your shoulders and point your elbows forward. For the row, you pull the barbell towards the middle of your torso, engaging your arm and back muscles and pinching your shoulder blades together, as if you’re holding a piece of paper between them.
For the hang clean, you use the momentum of your legs to thrust the barbell up and on top of your shoulders, bracing your core to protect your back and maintaining stiff integrity throughout your upper body to support the weight.
DB Ab Slam
Many HIIT workouts don’t include weights, but some can include lightweight dumbbells for added resistance. Sit on the floor with your knees raised and feet together, with a slight C-curve in your spine to engage your core muscles. Grip two dumbbells together in front of you and as you sit up, you tap the dumbbells in front of you between your legs, then slowly lower your torso down as you lift and lower the dumbbells to tap the ground behind your head. This exercise is meant to work your core and upper body, go slow and feel the burn.
This HIIT workout is essentially a kettlebell swing with a dumbbell, with a larger range of motion as you bring the dumbbell all the way over your head and engage your lower body by doing a calf raise at the end. You start by swinging the kettlebell between your legs, making sure to engage your core to keep a straight back and keep your shoulders back as well. Use the power of your legs to straighten your legs, align your upper and lower body as you raise and dumbbell in front of you and over your head, ending with a calf lift as you support the dumbbell. Then you lower, tilt your body forward and swing the dumbbell between your legs, setting up to repeat the movement.
Workout 2: Timed Dumbbell Only Workout
Perform each exercise for 40 seconds, resting 30 seconds between exercises. Do three total rounds. Rest one minute between rounds.
DB Human Maker
Stand by holding a dumbbell in each hand. Squat down with the back straight and place the dumbbells on the floor. Hop (or step if you can’t hop) back until you’re in the top of a push-up position. Row each dumbbell once (or not, if you can’t) then hop or step back so you’re in the bottom of a squat position. In this low, crouched position, grab the dumbbell with one hand on each side and stand. As you stand, drag the weight up your body until it is at the top of your chest. Press the weight over your head by extending your arms towards the ceiling. Bring the weight back down to your hips. That’s one rep.
DB Cannonball Sit-Ups
Lie on your back with one dumbbell in each hand and your arms straight out to the sides in a “T” shape. This is the starting position. Raise your torso off the ground as you bend both knees into your chest, and bring the weights to touch each other in front of your knees. You can also do this without the weights, which will look like you’re doing a cannonball into a pool except you’re starting the motion from your back and not a diving board. If using weights, return the weight to each side and against the floor as you straighten your legs back out in front of you and on the ground as in the starting position. That’s one rep.
You’ll only need one dumbbell for this HIIT workout. Lie on your back with arms and legs spread out like an “X” shape or like the widest part of a “snow angel.” Grab a dumbbell with both hands and straighten your arms over your right side while still lying on your back. This is the starting position. Bring the weight from above the right shoulder to the outside of your left knee. Your torso will be all the way off the floor, but your legs stay flat on the floor. Return the back down with straight arms and resume the starting position. That’s one rep. Do all the reps on this side for Round 1, then during Round 2, go from the left shoulder side to the outside of the right knee with the dumbbell.
While standing, grab one dumbbell with both hands and place it outside of the right foot. Both knees should be bent, and you’ll essentially be coiled into a ball on your right side. This is the starting position. Create a chopping motion by bringing the dumbbell across your body, straightening both arms above the left shoulder. Reach as high as you can over the left shoulder. Both feet should pivot as you rotate the body from low and right to high and left.
Next, return the weight to the outside of the right foot by pivoting the feet towards the right. That’s one rep. Do five reps from right to left. Then switch sides, doing five reps from the outside of the left foot to as high as possible on the right side.
DB Renegade Row
Get in the top of a push-up position with feet shoulder-width apart and each hand on top of a dumbbell. Row one dumbbell to your rib cage, pause, then return the dumbbell to the ground. Row the second dumbbell and bring it back down to the ground. This HIIT workout move works your upper body, lower body and core all in sync.
Workout 3: Running HIIT Workout
Do 20 100-meter runs (0.12 miles) on a treadmill or outdoors, resting 30 seconds between each. On a track, that’s half a lap repeated 20 times. Rather than doing five 400-meter runs, the shorter distance allows for a faster peak time and a faster clearance of blood lactate, a biomarker for fatigue.
Workout 4: No-equipment Home Tabata Workout
Directions: Perform the following exercises for 30 seconds, resting 15 seconds between exercises. Traditional tabata is a 2-to-1, effort-to-recovery ratio, so you’re working twice as long as you’re recovering.
You’re probably familiar with a push-up, but just in case you aren’t, start in a plank with your shoulders stacked over your wrists, hips level and feet together. Your body should be a straight, firm board with all your muscles engaged. If a regular plank is too tough, you can also scale it down to the knees as a modification.
Starting from a plank position, bend your elbows and lower your shoulders, making sure they don’t splay too wide or hold too narrow to your torso. Lower your torso down until your elbows reach below 90 degrees and then push your body up again, until your arms are straight and your torso is as high as possible. Repeat.
Starting from standing, jump upwards and widen your feet to slightly wider than shoulder width, while pointing your toes slightly outwards. Squat down using the power of your glutes and quads, keeping your knees in line with your toes. Keep your chest upright, shoulders wide and relaxed and head looking forward. Use your core to support your lower back, and as you push up with your legs jump your feet back together to start the movement over again.
Wide Mountain Climbers
This movement is a slight variation of a regular mountain climber, in that you’re starting in a plank but rather than bring your knee forward to your nose, you’re stepping your feet wide outside your hand, and jumping to alternate between the two sides. As you move one foot back to your plank position, the other one comes forward to frame the outside hand, and you jump between the two. This movement engages muscles in your upper and lower body, as well as your core, and serves as a fantastic cardiovascular exercise to get your heart pumping too.
Plank With Elbow Raise
Starting from a plank on your elbows, alternate raising one elbow and the other, stretching each hand out in front of you. As you switch between sides, make sure your hips stay level and aren’t rocking back and forth. Also make sure your shoulders stay in line with one another.
Arguably one of the most difficult HIIT workout exercises, the burpee is hard for a reason — it works your entire body in one swift movement. Starting from standing, jump up and raise your hands overhead, and then squat down and place your hands on the ground in front of your feet. Jump your feet back into a plank position and complete a push-up. After the push-up, jump your feet back towards your hands, jump up with your hands above your head yet again and start over.
Make sure your shoulders don’t roll too far forward during the plank and push-up section, and be sure to engage your core as you move your feet forward and back, to and from the plank.
Split Squat Jack
Also known as alternating jump lunges, this move mainly works your lower body. Starting from standing, jump one foot behind you and bend both knees as you lower the back knee towards the ground. Then jump up and switch your legs, alternative which one is in front. Make sure your feet are on train tracks, rather than stacked one behind the other, and that you’re engaging your core to keep your upper body upright the whole time. Use your arms to swing momentum and help propel your legs forward and back.
These are jumps, with an added core element to expand the number of muscles you’re engaging. Starting from standing, jump up using your arms to help propel you, and as you reach the height of your jump tuck both legs up as if you’re trying to create a cannon ball and jump into a pool. Lower your legs to the ground while straightening them, and repeat.
The Best Equipment For HIIT Workouts
The best part about HIIT workouts is unlike cycling, boxing, rowing or strength training, they don’t require a lot of equipment. Many HIIT workouts can be done with little to no equipment at all, just a pair of athletic sneakers and a yoga mat. We’ve included a few essential and nice-to-have pieces of equipment for the HIIT workouts above, as well as a comprehensive home gym setup if you’re looking to expand your collection.
A mat is one of the only essential pieces of equipment for HIIT workouts, as many of them involve floor work or at least touching your hand to the ground, and you’ll want some protection from gravel or rough cement floors. This one is very affordable, and comes with 1/4″ thickness for comfortable protection without a ton of padding. Many HIIT workouts involve jumping, squatting and other exercises that require balance, so you don’t want something too cushy.
This one is made resilient, so rough movements like mountain climbers or thrusters shouldn’t rip it up, and it has a strap for easy portability.
Lightweight Dumbbells Set
HIIT workouts are more about the cardiovascular benefits than strength training, but having a lightweight set of dumbbells can help with toning areas of the body and added resistance to high-intensity movements. This set from Amazon is made of durable neoprene and comes with 3-pound, 5-pound and 8-pound options. The weight is clearly labeled on each one, and they come with a handy stand for easy storage.
HIIT workouts are intense, so you’re probably going to get sweaty no matter how long you’re doing one for. A towel is essential for keeping yourself comfortable and safe during a workout, as slippery hands can make doing burpees more difficult and potentially dangerous, if you slip and fall mid-exercise. Having a towel handy can keep you and your workout area dry, as you can work as effectively as possible.