You’ve streamlined your morning meetings to a three-minute walk-and-talk. You can get the kids washed and fed and out the door in 15 minutes flat. You have achieved Inbox Zero. We’re saying you’re ruthlessly efficient — except, for some reason, when it comes to exercise. Carving out the time on your calendar to get to the gym is one thing. But then what? You don’t always have two hours for a decent sweat session, and that casual 20-minute jog around the weight machines isn’t really cutting it anymore. The answer is high-intensity interval training.
HIIT, as the pros call it, is a workout of short, high-octane bursts of effort alternated with low- to moderate-intensity work. This pattern places a high metabolic demand on the body and burns lots of calories in a short amount of time, while also helping to improve your fitness level and increase the workout’s EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption). In other words, interval training amps up not only your actual workout but also your post-workout calorie burn.
As a result, HIIT workouts are extremely efficient. They’re also more interesting than traditional workouts (and we all know boredom is the kiss of workout death). The versatility means you never have an excuse to skip training; almost anything — from running to swimming to squats to jumping jacks — can be turned into a HIIT workout.
Here’s how to get started.
First, a Note of Caution
Intervals are hard on the body. They require slight “overreaching,” which is a good thing only if you give your body the time and tools it needs to recover. On days you do HIIT, prioritize nutrition, sleep and self-massage with a foam roller or stretching. Cap your HIIT workouts at 30 or 40 minutes and never do intervals two days in a row. Also, be mindful of your own fitness level and know your limits. Puking sucks.
What You’ll Need
HIIT is extremely malleable to your location and equipment — you can truly do these workouts anywhere. At the gym, do intervals on a cardio machine or do time-based strength sets. At home, do body-weight exercises such as plyometric squats, jumping jacks or burpees. At the cottage? Use the lake, go for a run or jump rope on the dock.
A. 30/20/10 cardio intervals
Warm up for five minutes. Do five minutes at your regular speed, then cycle through the following pattern for 10 minutes: 30 seconds at easy to regular speed, 20 seconds at a faster speed, and 10 seconds even faster. Cool down for five minutes.
B. Tabata intervals
One cycle of Tabata is comprised of eight sets alternating 20 seconds of work with 10 seconds of rest. Break for one minute after each cycle, then move on to your next exercise. A workout should include four to six exercises (pull-ups, burpees, and squats are a few ideas), plus a warm-up and cool-down.
C. Time-based strength sets
Instead of working towards a rep goal, fit as many reps as possible into a set time frame. After a warm-up, spend 45 seconds doing squat jumps. Take 15 seconds rest. Repeat that same 45-to-15-second ratio with four other exercises. After a one-minute break, repeat the cycle twice more.