HIIT Cardio: The Basics of High Intensity Interval Training

hiit cardioMention cardio exercise and most people will think of jogging, swimming or other low-intensity workouts. While cardio has a reputation as a low-intensity training method, it can easily be adapted into a challenging high-intensity workout.

High intensity interval training – better known as HIIT cardio – is a form of cardio that’s all about working out close to your maximum intensity level for short bursts of activity, typically followed by a rest or period of low-intensity exercise.

From increasing your aerobic abilities to improving your running speed, HIIT has a wide variety of benefits. In this guide, we’ll look at the health and body composition benefits of HIIT cardio and share a few popular HIIT cardio training programs.

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How does HIIT cardio work?

hiit cardioWho says you need to run for a long time to burn calories? HIIT cardio trades slow, low-intensity cardio training for short bursts of high-intensity exercise, giving you the same calorie-burning effect in a significantly shorter amount of time.

Because your body is forced to work at such an extreme intensity level, a couple of minutes of high-intensity cardio like sprinting or fast swimming can burn as many calories as 10 minutes or more of jogging would.

Let’s apply our HIIT cardio principles to running. While low-intensity training would involve a half-hour of jogging on a treadmill, high-intensity training would involve a one-minute sprint followed by a four-minute job, repeated for half an hour.

HIIT cardio can be used for weight loss, reducing your risk of heart disease, boosting your athletic performance and more. It’s a versatile training method that can also be used by any type of athlete, from kickboxers to long distance runners.

Unique advantages of HIIT cardio

hiit cardioHigh intensity interval training isn’t just a more intense form of normal cardio – it’s a completely different way to train. Because of this, it has different athletic benefits and health effects, particularly when it comes to your body composition.

Have you ever wondered why a sprinter has such a drastically different body type from a long distance runner? Although both athletes do lots of cardio training, one trains for intensity and power while the other trains for distance and endurance.

Old treadmills often have a ‘fat burning’ zone listed on their heart rate monitor. It’s typically a rate that’s between 50 and 70 percent of your target heart rate – a figure that scientists used to believe was the optimum heart rate for burning fat.

This is roughly the heart rate that you’ll achieve from low-intensity cardio such as jogging or uphill walking. Despite popular belief, this ‘fat burning zone’ isn’t real – it’s a common fitness myth based on outdated science and illogical research.

At a low intensity level, you might burn more calories during your hour of jogging or powerwalking. However, you won’t burn more fat, because low-intensity cardio like jogging or slow swimming tends to burn sugar in your bloodstream instead of fat.

The mechanics of fat burning and exercise are complicated, especially when you’re comparing fat loss methods. If you’d like to learn more about how your body burns away fat when you exercise, check out our Nutrition for Beginners course.

HIIT cardio’s biggest unique advantage is that instead of merely burning calories in general, it specifically targets your body’s fat cells. This means you can burn fat with high-intensity training while retaining almost all of your body’s muscle mass.

Other health advantages of HIIT cardio

hiit cardioAs well as specifically targeting your body’s fat cells, HIIT cardio has several other unique benefits. One of the biggest is its effect on your body’s ability to take in and use oxygen, which is massively increased with long-term HIIT cardio training.

When you engage in low-intensity cardio like walking or jogging, your body is only using a small amount of its aerobic capacity. Since HIIT cardio involves short bursts of rapid exercise, it forces your body to increase its oxygen uptake as you work out.

This means that your aerobic abilities – your ability to run or do any other form of exercise for a long period of time without feeling tired – increases faster using HIIT cardio than it would through any other form of exercise.

Another unique benefit of HIIT cardio is excess-post exercise oxygen consumption, which is more easily remembered as EPOC. Because HIIT cardio leaves you feeling so fatigued and tired, your body continues burning calories for hours afterwards.

Combined with a healthy diet, HIIT cardio is one of the most efficient and safe ways to lose weight and keep it off. Discover a great nutritional plan to use with your HIIT program in our Healthy Eating: Beyond the Diet Hype course.

Starting your HIIT cardio workout

Group of people running on treadmillsHigh-intensity cardio isn’t for everyone, and beginners may need to ease themselves into a high-intensity workout routine if they’re just getting started. During your first week, use the running program below every day to get started with HIIT training:

  • Before you start, warm up using some basic stretching exercises
  • Walk for five minutes at a slow pace to warm up your muscles
  • Sprint for one minute (keep your heart rate below 80% of your maximum)
  • Walk for two minutes at a moderate pace (below 60% max heart rate)
  • Sprint for one minute (keep your heart rate below 85% of your maximum)
  • Walk for two minutes at a moderate pace (below 60% max heart rate)
  • Sprint for one minute (keep your heart rate below 85% of your maximum)
  • Walk for five minutes at a moderate pace to cool down

The above workout takes about 17 minutes, including the time required to warm up and cool down after your three HIIT cardio cycles. If you find it too simple, add extra cycles of walking for two minutes and sprinting for one minute until you’re tired.

Your workout shouldn’t extend beyond 30 minutes, excluding the time you spend at the beginning and end warming up. Once your HIIT cardio training becomes less of a challenge, try increasing your pace instead of extending your workout.

Don’t like to run? You can apply the same workout template to cycling, swimming or any other form of cardio exercise. Just make sure you warm up properly before your workout begins to avoid injuring yourself.

If you’re not used to sprinting on a treadmill or hard surface like concrete, it’s easy to injure your ankles or shins. Learn the correct technique for jogging and sprinting with Right Form Running.

Keeping your HIIT cardio training fun

Most people complete their HIIT training workout on a treadmill, which can quickly get boring. Spice up your high-intensity cardio routine by running in the park, in the gym or around a local track.

Another great way to keep your high-intensity training routine fun is by switching up your exercises for extra variety. Learn other great calorie-burning exercises in our blog post on the cardiovascular exercises that burn the most calories.