What is HIIT?

High-intensity interval training, or HIIT, has been growing in popularity over the last decade or so as people try to cram their workouts into ever-decreasing amounts of free time. 

The concept of being able to benefit as much, or even more, by pushing yourself harder and faster over shorter periods has undeniable appeal. 

But does it work?

A 2019 Brazilian study is one of many that has proven some benefits. Researchers had 10 runners run for 20 minutes at 75% of their capacity, then for intervals of 8 seconds at their highest possible speed, with 10 seconds of rest in between. The runners did burn more unhealthy fat from the high-intensity workouts than from the 20-minute run.

HIIT for Beginners
If you’ve never attempted a HIIT workout, the idea can be daunting. When done correctly, though, it can give you a good idea of how they’re structured and how you can push through them. 

Most are structured as circuits during which you do as many repetitions of each exercise as you can, followed by “active rest” periods filled with lower-intensity cardio movements. They can last up to an hour — or more for more experienced athletes — but here’s a 15-minute, easily adaptable option:

Set your timer for 50 seconds for each exercise, followed by 10 seconds of rest (such as light jogging or marching in place). You can switch up the exercises to incorporate variety and modify as needed for your comfort. Do as many reps as you can, but don’t push to the point of possible injury. 

  1. Kick off with some cardio in the form of jumping jacks, jumps or high-intensity running in place.
  2. Work your arms through pushups, triceps bench dips or other weight-bearing exercise.
  3. Come back to cardio through jumping rope, kickboxing, burpees or one of your other favorites. 
  4. Work your legs with squats, lunges or speed skater moves.
  5. End with some core-building movements: planks, crunches, bridges and the like. 

Repeat two more times.

If you have equipment available to you at home or the gym you can add more heft to your strength-training efforts. Here are some dumbbell exercises that can work well within a HIIT circuit. 

Goblet squat
Stand with feet shoulder-width apart and hold one dumbbell in front of your chest with both hands, arms bent. Bend knees into a squat, then straighten them and repeat as many times as you can during the interval. 

Single arm row
Rest your right knee and hand on a bench or bed and put your left leg out to the side. Hold dumbbell in left hand and lift slowly toward your shoulder five times before switching to the other side and repeating with right arm.

Hold one dumbbell in each hand, step forward with your right leg and lower your left knee to the ground, then return to starting pose and repeat with left leg. 

Cheyanne Copeland  |  Photo: Blushing Cactus Photography