HIIT - What is it and why do it?

Unless you’ve been living on a deserted island or have absolutely no interest in fitness, you’ve probably heard of HIIT workouts. However, you might not know exactly what that means, or you might wonder if it’s the right type of exercise for you.

HIIT stands for High-Intensity Interval Training. It’s a workout that consists of short bursts of high-intensity activities followed by longer periods of active recovery, generally speaking. So, how does that translate into a workout, and is it something YOU can do?

The nice thing about a HIIT workout is the flexibility and modifications that can make it suitable for all levels of fitness. For example:

Beginner: 1 minute running: 2 minutes walking. Repeat 5 times for 15 minutes. Include a little extra walking at the beginning and end, then a short stretch. Before you know it, you’ve done a 30-minute HIIT workout!

As the level of ability increases, the running time and/or intensity can increase too. For example, 4 minutes of running hard and 4-8 minutes of jogging or walking fast. Or, 1 minute sprint and 2 minutes jogging or walking fast.

The above outline can be done with a bike, using hills and/or resistance level changes too.

Another HIIT workout is based off the Tabata class technique that uses the opposite ratio, but for shorter periods of time and even higher intensity (depending on your level). Examples include:

20 seconds of jumping jacks, regular, modified or cross jacks (push to limit): 10 seconds rest by walking in place

20 seconds of squat jumps: 10 seconds simple squats

or for the beginner-

20 seconds of squats: 10 seconds rest and walk in place

20 seconds simple burpees (squat, jump into plank, feet jump back in and leap up (push to limit): 10 seconds rest

or for the beginner-

20 seconds holding a plank; 10 seconds rest

These 30-second intervals are usually repeated 8 times for a total of 4 minutes, then a longer active recovery is done before going to the next set of 30-second intervals.

There are even modifications for the elderly and those in wheelchairs believe it or not! Remember, it’s all relative. The idea is to push yourself almost to the limit (whatever that means) for a short period of time, then rest and repeat.

As you can see, these workouts are short and easy to do at home, as long as you’re good at motivating yourself. You should be just barely able to finish the last one of the last set, although you need to monitor your breathing and make sure you’re still able to talk if someone asks you a question, like “How are you feeling now?”

If you want to see more examples, check out the video series I did on YouTube called The Twelve Days of Christmas Workouts. You don’t have to wait until Christmas to do them! 

So, that’s how you do a workout, but what are the benefits?

Studies show that HIIT workouts improve your cardiovascular fitness by increasing your ability to obtain and use oxygen during a workout (with measurements like stroke volume and VO2max). As you increase your level of intensity, you also increase the heart’s ability to pump blood throughout the body and the lungs’ ability to intake oxygen. This is all good for your heart! Just don’t overdo it. Small, steady improvements are best.

It also appears that these high-intensity intervals can help the muscles take up glucose from the blood for use as energy, and thereby improve insulin sensitivity. 

There are some indications that HIIT can positively affect cholesterol levels, reduce blood pressure, and increase the hormones responsible for lipolysis (fat breakdown). However, many of these benefits do require consistent participation for at least 12-weeks. Still, isn’t that better than spending the money on medications?

So, go out and get started even if you’re just planning to walk/run. 

Bobbi Mullins

June 1, 2015


Kravitz, L. Metabolic Effects of HIIT. IDEA Fitness Journal.  Apr 14, 2014.

Vogel, A. Tabata Versus HIIT: What’s The Difference? IDEA Fitness Journal. Feb 10, 2014.

Vlach, S. How to Make HIIT a Hit for Everyone. IDEA Fitness Journal. Feb 20, 2015.

Vlach, S. How To Teach Fitness to Anyone. IDEA Fitness Journal. May 26, 2015.

Burn 360 Calories In 20 Minutes. Prevention. Oct 23, 2013. http://www.prevention.com/fitness/fitness-tips/tabata-workouts-burn-major-calories

8 Benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). Aug 29, 2013. http://www.shape.com/fitness/workouts/8-benefits-high-intensity-interval-training-hiit

© Bobbi Mullins 2011, All rights reserved. FOOD FITNESS FAITH™