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what is high intensity interval training

Here’s why you should be doing HIIT to improve gains and/or weight loss.

If you take a look at the bodies of marathon runners and sprinters, you’ll be able to quickly identify each one, despite both using the same basic muscle groups.  The reason why both body types are so dramatically different in body mass is because not all cardio activity works the same way.  Most weight loss plans focus on that classic, continuous cardio for 30min every other day.  High intensity interval training, however, is a new breed of cardio that focuses on muscle mass, as well as weight loss.

Why HIIT is hot right now.

People making the switch from aerobic exercise to interval training are doing it for various reasons.  Too much aerobic work actually lowers testosterone and lowers overall strength gains.  Unless stamina is your focus, the idea that the treadmill is how you burn the most fat is not an idea based in science.

The truth is, high intensity interval training (aka HIIT) workouts that engage and challenge your muscles will do more than just bulk you up, it will speed up your metabolism to the point where you will continue burning fat for up to 48 hours after you’ve finished your workout.

HIIT Perks

A big reason why people slack off or outright abandon those New Years Resolutions of hitting the gym is that it requires setting aside and planning your day around their workouts.  High intensity training doesn’t need a gym membership or more than 30 minutes of spare time to be able to get reap the full benefits from the workouts.  You will break a sweat within the first few exercises, which is sometimes all you need to get that boost in metabolism and endorphins.

HIIT is unique to your traditional weight loss methods in that you are using your own body weight to engage your muscles and promote muscle building, all the while benefiting from the fat-burning inherent to cardio workouts.

HIIT Words of Caution

No exercise is without risk or unintended consequences.  HIIT isn’t for everyone, it can potentially negatively impact one’s already established daily workout routine.  If you were to abruptly stop what you’ve been doing for years and started replacing it with HIIT, then you might run into some trouble. 

It isn’t labeled “high-intensity” just to earn coolness points, it will stress the entire body, including your nervous system, which means you could suffer potentially serious conditions that are associated with overexertion and depletion of essential vitamins and minerals.  This is a bigger problem with extreme workouts like Crossfit training, but the same premise applies here: start slow, recovery time is paramount, and feed the body with raw foods.

How high-intensity interval training works.

What separates HIIT from the rest of your typical weight-lifting or at-home exercises is the format of bursts of intense movements, followed by a 30 second rest, then right into the next exercise on rotation.  This continues for your targeted duration, which will of course vary at first as you get the hang of things.

The key to the effectiveness of these exercises is giving it your all and maintaining perfect form.  If you do this, you will continue to see gains, whether you have weights to assist you or not. 

Try some of these classic exercises with the added intensity of the interval training format.

Sit ups

Lay on your back, knees bowed, with your feet on the floor. Fix your center and utilizing your abs, pull your head up and back off the ground until you are sitting upright, with your back totally opposite to the floor . Pulling your abs in once more, gradually lie down into position. Do this for 50 reps or spent.

Jump Squats

Stand with feet separated at shoulder width, arms at your sides. Twist your knees, keeping them in accordance with your feet, and sit once again into a quarter squat. Perform a little hop, and land back in your squat position. Repeat for 40 reps or spent.

Incline Push Ups

Get into laying position, hands on the ground, just wider than your shoulders, legs about as wide as your hips. Prop your feet up on a chair or couch so that your body is slightly inclined from feet to head. Keeping your head in a neutral position, looking down at the ground and your body in a straight line and lower your whole body until your nose touches the ground, if possible. Come back up to begin again. Repeat for 15 reps or spent.

Chief Lunges

Begin standing relaxed, arms at your sides. Perform a little hop while advancing your right leg and left leg in reverse, arriving in a jump with right knee bowed, but not past your toes, left knee twisted forward in accordance with your hip. Each hop switch legs. Do this for 20 reps, at least.

Tricep Dips

Get onto all fours, knees twisted 90 degrees over your toes, hands on the ground under your shoulders, making sure your back is straight so your center is parallel to the ground. Keeping your elbows tucked in, curve them to bring down your butt as near the ground as you can get. Push back up. Do this for at least 20 reps.


Begin standing. Place your hands on the ground and bounce your legs in reverse until they are completely out, so you wind up in a press-up position. Rapidly bounce your legs back towards your hands. Stand up rapidly and bounce with hands raised up to the roof. Start again instantly when you arrive at the hop.  Do this for 30 second intervals.

BONUS – Equipment needed!

Barbell Complexes

If you have access to basic gym equipment, you can incorporate this simple exercise into your HIIT routine, too.  You can save this one for one last obstacle at the end of your training.  This can be done with an empty barbell or with added weight, if you feel there are not challenging enough. 

A good example of a barbell complex for HIIT is the classic deadlift.  Stand inches behind the bar, with feet shoulder-wide apart, squat down, pick up with an overhand grip.  Maintain parallel elbows with your back straight, lift up with hips, and stand up. Do as many reps as possible and continue to build upon it as your HIIT finisher.

Remember: Don’t replace entire routines with HIIT

Doing more than 30 minutes of HIIT every 48 hours can be counter-productive for both weight loss and gains.  It’s very easy to take a good thing and over train your body. A good weekly workout planner should include some low-impact exercises, such as Yoga, resistance bands, or just a 30 minute speed-walk at night.  This is to keep both your short and long muscle cells engaged.  Just because you adopt high-intensity workouts, doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice endurance or agility.

Never feel obligated to do exactly 30 minutes of HIIT in order to accomplish your gains.  The beauty of this style of training is that each individual workout hits your muscle groups the same way that weight lifting does.  You can start seeing results in a few weeks, even if you only have the time to commit to 10-15 minute bursts in the mornings, for example.

High-intensity training can help anyone gain the confidence and motivation needed to see real weight loss results, and not just initial water weight from a couple rounds of cardio.  There’s no reason you shouldn’t at least try a few intervals and see how you feel afterwards.  Do it.  We dare you to not fall in love after just a few minutes.

Doug was raised as a farm boy on meat, potatoes and vegetables. He began martial arts at an early age and it lead to a life long pursuit of health in body, mind and spirit. He ate a lot of 2-for-1 pizzas in university though. And hotdogs. While watching Tim "The Toolman" Taylor.