High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT): What is it and how it works?

Most people understand that it is important to exercise and engage in some type of physical activity. Still, it is estimated that about 30 percent of people worldwide do not get enough physical exercise. The nature of modern work and our modern lifestyles is sedentary, and we need to make a point of being physical. 

Many of us also lack time. Just setting aside the time to exercise can be difficult. Perhaps these conditions are what led to the popularity of High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). High-Intensity Interval Training involves short bursts of intense exercise followed by periods of rest. 

Part of the reason High-Intensity Interval Training has become so popular among workout enthusiasts is that you can get tremendous benefits from short time commitments. This works great for the modern lifestyle. 

High-Intensity Interval Training comes in many forms. Because the workout itself is built from a specific way of the workout rather than any one type of exercise, you can tailor your version of High-Intensity Interval Training to your preference. 

What is involved in High-Intensity Interval Training? How do we go about doing High-Intensity Interval Training? What are the benefits of High-Intensity Interval Training? This guide will give you the information you need to get started with High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT). 

What is HIIT?

HIIT involves short bursts of intense workouts combined with low-intensity recovery periods. By combining these quick bursts of intense training with periods of rest, HIIT offers one of the most efficient and effective workouts. 

A typical HIIT session lasts from about 10 to 30 minutes. Despite the short time investment, HIIT delivers amazing results. HIIT has shown to be twice as effective than longer, traditional, moderate-intensity workouts.  

The exact nature of HIIT workouts can vary. They may involve working out on a stationary exercise bike with 30-second intervals of all-out cycling alternated with easy and slow pedaling. A HIIT workout could just as easily combine intense weight training with periods of easy stretching. The point is to utilize intense bursts of exertion alternated with periods of easy recovery.  

In a common HIIT session, you would go through 6-8 repetitions of these high/low bursts of exercise. The specific time spent working out and the number of repetitions will depend on the type of exercises you choose. Some things are simply more intense than others, and you will need to alter your HIIT sessions accordingly 

In any case, the goal is to determine high-intensity intervals so that you speed up your heart rate. With the low-intensity intervals, you speed up the process of nursing calories and building lean muscle. 

The benefits of HIIT are many. It is believed that HIIT can provide the same benefits of traditional workouts in a fraction of the time. What is more, there is evidence to suggest that HIIT provides unique benefits you cannot achieve from a traditional workout. 

Benefits of HIIT

There are great benefits of HIIT. The reason it has gained traction in the physical fitness communities is that it delivers results. Here are some of the benefits of HIIT.

Burns massive calories in a short time

You burn calories fast with HIIT. This has been documented. In a study that compared HIIT to weight training, running, and biking for 30 minutes researchers discovered that HIIT burned 25-30 percent more calories than any of the traditional exercises. We should note that the forms of exercise used for comparison are all high-intensity forms of exercise. HIIT was more efficient. 

In this study, participants were only exerting themselves for 20-second bursts that were alternated with periods of low-intensity activity. This means, not only was the workout capped at 30 minutes, the actual time spent working out was about one-third of the time spent weight training, running, or biking. 

Sustains high metabolic rate

In many ways, the benefits of HIIT continue long after you work out. The metabolic changes that come with HIIT remain active long after the workout. 

Studies show that HIIT can increase your metabolic rate in ways that persist throughout your day. This increase in metabolism is significantly higher than what researchers have seen in things like running and weight training. Again, this is particularly striking since running and weight training are high-intensity workouts. 

The boost to metabolism that comes with HIIT and lasts for hours after the workout means you continue to burn calories and carbs long after your exercise. This is a tremendous boost for weight loss. 

Help shed fat

HIIT can help you burn and eliminate fat efficiently. In preliminary studies in which HIIT was compared to traditional moderate-intensity exercise for obese people, HIIT gave the same results for weight loss as the traditional moderate-intensity exercise. However, HIIT was able to help obese people achieve these results in a fraction of the time and with less actual physical effort than traditional exercise. 

What is more, in another study, researchers found that people who perform HIIT for 20 minutes a day three times a week lost an average of 4.4 pounds in 12 weeks with no real dietary changes. 

Researchers have concluded that HIIT is especially good for losing weight, and it has been extremely efficient in helping obese people lose weight with a low time commitment. Even more than just losing weight, HIIT is effective in burning what is called visceral fat. This is the type of fat that is associated with obesity-related diseases. 

Builds muscle

In addition to burning fat and losing weight, HIIT can help you build muscle mass. Muscle increases appear to be most pronounced in people who did not work out regularly in the first place. This is good news for people who are new to physical fitness programs.

One thing we should note is that the muscle mass increases are largely exclusive to the muscle systems used for specific workouts. For example, if your HIIT session focuses on biking, your muscle increases will only be in the legs and buttocks. 

And while the results for muscle gains and HIIT training are good, weight training remains the gold standard for building muscle. This is refreshing news for those who prefer to hit the weights. 

Increase oxygen consumption

Oxygen consumption refers to your muscles’ ability to use oxygen efficiently. Improved oxygen consumption is generally associated with things like boking and long-distance running. 

Now it appears that HIIT training can provide many of the same benefits in less time. One study that tracked people who did HIIT training for four weeks, 20 minutes a day found that participants showed increases of 9 percent in oxygen consumption. This compares with people who cycled 40 minutes a day for the same time. 

Another study compared people on HIIT exercises for 20 minutes a day with people who worked out on a stationary bike for 40 minutes a day. Those who did HIIT training increased oxygen consumption by as much as 25 percent and they saw this increase in a fraction of the time it took people who used the stationary bike. 

Can reduce heart rate and blood pressure

The benefits of HIIT are not exclusive to people who workout for general fitness. The health benefits of HIIT are just as impressive. 

People who live with obesity, increased heart rate, and high blood pressure can benefit from HIIT. People who use a stationary bike for HIIT training can reduce blood pressure and heart rate significantly. They can get these results by doing HIIT workouts for no more than 30 minutes a day, 3 days a week. 

The benefits of HIIT for blood pressure and heart rate are so impressive that doctors now recommend HIIT over traditional exercise. 

While it is clear that HIIT lowers heart rate and blood pressure in people who already live with increased heart rate and blood pressure, researchers have found that HIIT has no adverse effects on those with normal heart rates and blood pressure. 

Can reduce blood sugar levels

Research shows that HIIT can lower blood sugar levels in less than 12 weeks. The results of multiple studies demonstrated that HIIT workouts reduced blood sugar levels and improved insulin resistance in multiple participants much more effectively than traditional moderate-intensity exercise.   

Types of HIIT workouts

While HIIT workouts can be extremely varied, HIIT workouts break down into two main categories.

  • Aerobic HIIT includes things like spinning, track-based workouts like running, and cycling. 
  • Bodyweight HIIT includes things like Crossfit and Bootcamp training.  

The differences between the two categories do not matter as much as making sure you balance the intense periods of working out with the low-intensity rest periods. The key to HIIT training is alternating between elevated and intense exercise and restful movement. 

  • HIIT workouts should go for about 20-45 minutes of intense training with intermittent rest periods. The rate should be 20 seconds on to 10 seconds off. 
  • Maintain your HIIT schedule 3-4 times a week. 
  • An example of an aerobic HIIT workout would include a 10-minute jog for a warm-up, 4 minutes of fast running, and 4 minutes of slow jogging. Repeat 4 times. 

Popular HIIT workouts

There are almost endless combinations of exercises that will fit the HIIT program. It mainly comes down to balancing the high-intensity exercise with appropriate periods of low-intensity movement. If you already have workout routines that work for you, simply alter your mode of attack to fit the HIIT workout program. Here are a few combinations that illustrate the HIIT workout method. 

Combo 1

  1. High Knees (20 seconds work- 40 seconds rest) x 5 sets
  2. Plank Jacks (20 seconds work- 40 seconds rest) x 5 sets
  3. Burpees ( 30 seconds work- 60 seconds rest) x 4 sets

Combo 2

  1. Side Plank Walks (30 seconds work- 60 seconds rest)x 5 sets
  2. Jumping Lunges (20 seconds work- 40 seconds rest)x 5 sets
  3. Mountain Climbers (20 seconds work- 40 seconds rest)x 5 sets

Combo 3

  1. Jump Squats (20 seconds work- 40 seconds rest)x 5 sets
  2. Plank Jacks (20 seconds work- 40 seconds rest) x 5 sets
  3. High Knees (30 seconds work- 60 seconds rest) x 5 sets

Combo 4

  1. Side Lunges (30 seconds work- 60 seconds rest)x 5 sets
  2. Saw Plank (30 seconds work- 60 seconds rest) x 5 sets
  3. Butt Kick (30 seconds work- 60 seconds rest) x 5 sets

As you can see, almost anything works. Just make sure you follow the repetitions and rests, and you will start seeing the benefits of HIIT workouts. 

Risks of HIIT workouts

There are no or fewer risks involved with HIIT workouts than there are with any other regular exercise program. As with any workout, make sure you warm-up and stretch properly before exercising. Be aware of your physical condition and health issues, and do not over-do it until you get a sense of how you will fare under a HIIT workout. 

A Rutgers University study showed that some people are at a greater risk of injury to the knees and shoulders from HIIT training due to the intense exertion in these areas.


What is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)? 

HIIT involves short bursts of intense workouts combined with low-intensity recovery periods. By combining these quick bursts of intense training with periods of rest, HIIT offers one of the most efficient and effective workouts. 

Is HIIT effective? 

Studies show that HIIT is incredibly effective in helping you lose weight and build muscle. 

What is the advantage of HIIT? 

You can achieve many of your fitness goals in a fraction of the time. 

Are there other health benefits of HIIT? 

HIIT can help you burn excess fat, reduce your heart rate and blood pressure, and help regulate blood sugar levels. 


Fitness and exercise are constantly being reshaped. Part of the fun of being involved in workouts and fitness programs is working with new ideas and seeing how well they work toward your fitness goals. Certainly, one of the most popular things to come along recently is High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT).

HIIT combines bursts of high-intensity exercise with a balance of low-intensity rest periods. The combination of high-end and rest manages to achieve some of the best results. Perhaps one of the best things about HIIT is you can pack in an intense workout in a fraction of the time of a regular traditional workout. 

The real advantages of HIIT are the results. It is a fact that HIIT can help you seriously shed pounds and fat. And the changes to your metabolic rate from HIIT persist hours after your workout. This means that you lose weight while doing a HIIT workout and you continue to lose weight well into your day. 

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) may well be one of the most exciting trends in exercise in quite some time. 


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