HIIT It and Quit It: Practical Ways to Include High Intensity Training

Week in Review: October 18, 2019
October 18, 2019
Week in Review: October 25, 2019
October 25, 2019
Week in Review: October 18, 2019
October 18, 2019
Week in Review: October 25, 2019
October 25, 2019

Sometimes we need to get in, get out and get on with our day – marathon gym sessions are not in the cards. Toward that end, High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) has become a popular methodology for improving cardiovascular capacity.

When someone goes to the gym to perform traditional "cardio" they might spend 30-45 minutes on the treadmill or elliptical, working at a low to moderate intensity. However, once you move beyond "beginner" status, this type of training doesn't really move the needle in terms of our capacity. And it’s boring.

With HIIT, the idea is to perform high intensity bouts of exercise (near max effort), recover and repeat. You'll alternate the work/recovery process off and on for the duration of the workout. Perhaps most importantly, you won't be reading a book or checking Facebook while you toil away on the elliptical.

Important HIIT Principles

The key with HIIT is to ensure that each interval is performed with close to a MAX effort! That means we're going to perform intervals of around 20 seconds at most. Suffice it to say, you should feel very uncomfortable during your work interval – like "why in the blue hell did I just do that to myself" followed by "WTF…I have do that again??" uncomfortable.

We must also pay close attention to our recovery periods. Ideally, we should recover for whatever amount of time is necessary to complete the next interval with max effort. We can structure a set time to these rest periods, but it really just depends upon your ability to recover, and that varies by person. If we don't allow for enough recovery to continue with a near max effort, we're moving away from HIIT and closer to general aerobic conditioning. There's nothing wrong with that – just make sure you're optimizing your training toward your objective.

Because we're working at such high intensities, the total time needed to complete a workout should be significantly less. In fact, the majority of my HIIT workouts are completed in under 20 minutes. HIIT becomes a fantastic way to get in a challenging workout, especially when my available time is short.

Sample Workouts

We have a variety of options for structuring our workout, provided we adhere to the intensity principle discussed above. Here are some easy to execute workouts based on commonly available gym equipment or no equipment at all. Some of these are true HIIT, while others might be more general conditioning. How you manage the work/rest periods helps to determine which end of the spectrum you're on.

Sprints (outside or treadmill):
  • Distance: Sprint a given distance (e.g. 40-100 meters), walk back to the start and repeat. Perform 10-15 rounds, depending upon your recovery. For an added challenge make these hill sprints.
  • Time: Sprint for 15 seconds and recover for 45 seconds. Repeat for 10 rounds. Works well on a treadmill.
Airdyne Bike Sprints:
  • With the timer running, burn 15 calories as fast as possible. Recover until the 2 minute mark and go again. Repeat for 8-10 rounds. Note: This is one of the most brutal HIIT workouts I've done. Like fetal position brutal. The bike is a game changer.

Row Machine:
  • Sprint 100 meters, every minute on the minute. Repeat 5-8 rounds. Rest 3 minutes and perform another block. Note: Pay attention to your output. If you're slowing down, either lengthen the rest period or trim the number of rounds.
Free Weights:
  • Barbell Complex: Hang clean, Front Squat and Shoulder press. Perform 5 reps of each and rest until you can perform the next set. Weight will be light enough to complete the clean/press portions of the complex. AMRAP for 15 minutes.

    Note: I love complexes like this provided they can be done safely. In this case, I'd cut out the hang clean if you're unsure. In terms of intensity, the 5th rep should be pretty challenging. If not, it may skew more toward general conditioning. Still a great workout.

  • Kettlebell Swings/Push-up Countdown: 15 swings/15 push-ups; recover. 14/14; recover. Continue counting down to 1. Note: This is a great conditioning workout. Keep it oriented toward HIIT by having a longer rest period the beginning and shorter toward the end. Quickly, but safely execute each work period.

Given the popularity of Tabata, it warrants mentioning here. Tabata intervals follow a 20 second work/10 second recovery format that repeats for 8 rounds, 4 total minutes. They're a great conditioning tool, but the short rest period makes it difficult to maintain a true max intensity. Relatively speaking though, you're still working at a high rate during each round – and they make for a soul-crushing workout.

You can apply Tabata to a variety of exercise modalities, but my favorite choices would be sprint, row and bike work. To reiterate, Tabata is less of a true HIIT workout and more of an aerobic conditioning workout.


I once had someone tell me that you couldn't get a good workout in under 30 minutes. Were this person to give any of these a try they'd quickly receive an education to the contrary. With that said, if you incorporate HIIT smartly and strategically into your weekly routine you'll reap the benefits. Consider HIIT workouts whenever you want to challenge your cardiovascular capacity, give yourself a new challenge or when you've got a tight schedule and yearn for some quality work.

At Vitalifit we program with your needs in mind. We also work hard to provide you with the direction you need to execute consistently. If you're bored with long, plodding cardio sessions on the treadmill or elliptical and are in search of new challenge, contact us today to join the Vitalifit Coaching Program that is right for you.