The Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training

HIIT workouts are easy to do at home and get your heart pumping.

When it comes to calorie burning during exercise, high-intensity interval training (HIIT) can burn more calories than longer, lower-intensity aerobic workouts. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM), high-intensity exercise confers to improved cardiovascular health by taking you in and out of an anaerobic state.

This is the state during which your heart is pushed to 80% of its maximum heart rate (MHR) or sometimes even higher. By contrast, during moderate-intensity exercise, you keep your heart rate between 50% and 70%.

By way of example, a 154-pound adult walking at a pace of 3 miles per hour burns roughly 235 calories in 60 minutes. That same person, running at 8 miles per hour for 20 minutes, will burn 320 calories. The same principles apply to HIIT.

HIIT has gained popularity in recent years due as much for its health benefits as its short duration time. People with busy lifestyles can get in and out a HIIT studio in 30 minutes yet achieve benefits that are equal to or greater than the benefits achieved during intense, longer-duration workouts.

Overview of Interval Training

Interval training combines short, high-intensity bursts of speed or intensity (from 10 seconds to 3 minutes) interspersed with slow recovery phases. The fast and slow intervals are repeated throughout the workout. Interval training can either be casual and unstructured or specific and structured.

An added bonus is that HIIT can be performed practically anywhere. While many HIIT gyms are outfitted with state-of-the-art equipment, you can do a hardcore HIIT routine at home or while traveling with nothing more than a jump rope and some ankle and wrist weights.

Considerations for HIIT

Despite its known benefits, HIIT is not for everyone. It is not recommended for novices due to the extreme physical demands in places on the body. If not properly conditioned, the rapid change in intensity and speed can lead to injuries in those who are not agile, flexible, or strong enough to keep the pace.

Additionally, those with joint issues or participants who are obese should exercise caution when performing plyometric (jumping or explosive) exercises. Plyometrics are often included in HIIT workouts because they require quick bursts of energy. But these movements can be hard on the joints.

While some studies have shown plyometrics to be an effective mode of exercise for some obese participants , the activities are not appropriate for everyone.

In order to achieve the fitness level needed for HIIT training, you should embark on no less than 12 weeks of consistent, moderate-intensity exercise, including strength, cardio, and core/flexibility training.

Moderate intensity is broadly defined as maintaining 50 percent of 70 percent of your MHR during a workout.

Even experienced athletes are placed under extreme physical stress during a HIIT class. Because of this, HIIT should be used sparingly, interspersing HIIT days with slower endurance training and recovery daily. If used daily, HIIT can cause extreme joint and muscle inflammation, increasing rather than decreasing the risk of injury.

Even if your HIIT session is short, you will need to take time to properly warm up, such as with squats, jumping jacks, or lunges.

HIIT Workout Routines

If you exercise regularly at a moderate intensity, now is the time to incorporate high-intensity workouts in your weekly routine. Before doing so, check with your doctor to ensure there are no health conditions that can place you in harm's way, such as a heart problem, asthma, or uncontrolled diabetes.

Generally speaking, if you are older or obese, it is vital that your doctor signs off on any exercise program you plan to engage in.

The type of HIIT program you choose depends on your ultimate goals. If you are training for mountaineering or backpacking, you'd be well served to incorporate HIIT with long steady days of hiking. If training for sports that require upper body strength engage in exercises like push-ups or power slams with a battle rope.

Long story short, HIIT workouts can be customized to achieve your short-term goals while providing you the overall toning and strength to benefit your body inside and out.

This just one example of a good overall HIIT routine you can do at home in less than 25 minutes:

  • Alternating side lunges for 45 seconds
  • Burpees for 45 seconds
  • Butt kicks for 45 second (in which you run in place, lifting your right heel to your right buttock and left foot to your left buttock as fast as you can)
  • Jump rope for 45 seconds
  • Jump squats for 45 seconds
  • Jumping lunges for 45 seconds (in which you jump into a lunge, alternating one leg forward and then the next)

Repeat the cycle twice, resting for a minute between sets. You can then follow with:

  • Forearm plank for 30 seconds
  • Mountain climbers for 45 second (in which you place yourself in a plank position and cycle one near forward at a time in rapid succession)

Repeat this cycle twice, resting for a minute between sets. You can then finish with:

  • Forearm plank for 30 seconds
  • Lateral plank walks for 45 seconds (in which you place yourself in a plank position and walk your arms and legs back and forth, crab-like, across the length of your mat)
  • Plank jacks for 45 second (in which you place yourself in a plank position and open and close your legs like a horizontal jumping jack)

Do this final set of exercises only once. Finish with gentle stretches or walking to cool down.

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