High Intensity Interval Training

High Intensity Interval Training is the most efficient cardio regimen that I know.  It gets better results in a shorter time than 20, 30, 45 or 60 minutes of regular continuous state (CT) cardio. 

This may be your secret weapon in the battle of your bulge!

What is HIIT?
Overall, Interval Training means doing higher intensity exercise followed by a recovery period, and then repeating.  “High Intensity” means pushing the levels of your working intervals to your maximum (or near maximum) heart rate.

Fat burning zone…and beyond! 
Continuous state cardio keeps you working in the “fat burning” zone, also known as the aerobic zone.  HIIT lets you “rest” in the fat burning zone, while you push it into the anaerobic zone during your work.

Want Proof?

Christopher Scott, Ph.D, studies strength and metabolism at the University of Southern Maine:

"We used to think that if you wanted to burn fat, you would have to do long, slow, distance activity because that’s going to burn the most fat.
"We’re starting to realize now that in fact it’s the
other way around - that during really brief, intense intermittent bouts of strength, speed and power-related stuff, I’m under the impression you can burn even more fat."

One of the Many Amazing Studies…

In 2011, the University of Western Ontario did a comparison between High Intensity Interval Training and Continuous Training. The HIIT group did 4-6 30 second sprints on a treadmill, with a 4 minute recovery. 

The CT group jogged on a treadmill at around 65% of their max heart rate for 30-60 minutes.  Both groups worked out 3 times/week for 6 weeks. 

The results after 6 weeks?


Time Spent/wk

% Fat Lost

CT Group

1.5-3 hours/wk


HIIT Group

1.5 hours/wk


Why does it work?
If you counted the exact number of calories you burn during a 45 or 60 minute run, and then compared it to the total burned during a 15 minute HIIT session, you would probably burn more calories during the long run. 

BUT…Pushing your body into the upper limits for just a few seconds at a time challenges your body and forces it to adapt…and it adapts in the hours and days AFTER you are done with your workout – this is the after burn effect called EPOC – Excess Post Oxygen Consumption. 

During the after burn, not only is your metabolism still revved up for hours, your body is making adjustments to become more efficient at using fat for energy.

How to do it
“Normal” interval training can be used at any level of fitness because it just means that the working intervals are at least slightly higher than your recovery intervals.

High Intensity interval training means that you are really pushing as hard as you can for short, all out bursts. 

With most protocols, these all out intervals range anywhere from 10-30 seconds.  It must be intense enough that you feel the burn!  You should be huffing and puffing and your heart should be pounding. 

Your heart rate (HR) is the best measure of how hard you are working.  After some practice of taking your HR, you will be able to tell what your HR is by the way you feel. 

Your working intervals should be at or close to your max heart rate (MHR).  The level of intensity can also be measured by a scale of 0-10.  (Zero = nothing; 10 = max effort).

The working intervals during your HIIT should be maximum effort.  When you think you are pushing it, push it more!

Warm up and Cool down
The more intense your exercise, the more important it is that you warm up and cool down properly. 

Do not think you are “too good” for it, or you do not have the time…

By warming up, you will perform better during the exercise, and cooling down will help prevent dizziness and muscle soreness.  You should warm up and cool down for at least 5 minutes each.

Different types of High Intensity Interval Training Exercises
The easiest way to achieve a max heart rate in a short time is to use the most muscles at one time.  This should definitely include the biggest muscles in your body, your butt and legs. 

Whatever exercise you choose, you should be able to start and end the working interval within a few seconds.

Drawback of Treadmills
Motor driven treadmills are poor choices for HIIT because it can take a few seconds for the speed to increase and decrease after you make the adjustments. 

Risky Cardio?
Some people who are confident enough keep the speed at the working speed.  For the rest intervals, they grab the handrails and lift their feet off and to the sides.  Then to return they carefully lift themselves up and run in the air as they lower themselves onto the moving belt.  Do that at your own risk!

Self-propelled treadmills (without a motor) would work, but those are pretty hard to find!

Common HIIT Exercises



MHR can be achieved, especially if walking on an incline and/or with a wt. vest


Exercise Bikes

low impact, especially ones with moving handlebars so you can use your arms

Elliptical Machines

Low Impact; ditto for the handlebars

Rowing Machines

Low Impact

Full Body Exercises
and Circuits

burpees, squat jumps, high knees, box jumps, jumping squats, etc

Full Body Exercises
with weights

Combo Moves like clean/press

Stair Cimbing


Up on box; be sure to alternate legs


Low Impact!


More effective if punching a bag (instead of air) and moving around on your feet

Exercises with weights are not generally recommended because of the speed you need to move, and the likelihood of losing form because of exhaustion – advanced exercisers can get away with it if they are careful and pay attention to their form.

Examples Of HIIT Routines
There are many different ways to construct high intensity routines.  Some people strongly believe one work/recover ratio is better than another.

Studies have shown just about any way you do HIIT – as long as it is “high intensity” – they all get great results!


I believe that as long as you are working at your max during the working intervals, that it is beneficial to do different ratios to maximize the training effect across the spectrum – similar to the tried and true concept of “muscle confusion” with other exercises which states that you constantly change up weights, sets/reps and speed of movement to keep your body constantly adapting. 

…so I just made up a new phrase: Cardio Confusion!

Remember, if you start getting bored with a workout, your body is probably bored as well and you need to change it up!

Some Common Ratios (work:recover) forHigh Intensity Interval Training.  Just remember that if you are doing high intensity, keep the working interval to 30 seconds or less. 







1 min. work, 1 min. recover

15 sec. work, 30 sec. rec.

30 sec. work, 90 sec. recover

20 sec. work, 10 sec. recover (Tabata)

Fartlek Training
Fartlek is Swedish for “speed play”.  It is a little different because it is not rigid like other types of interval training that is based on specific times. 

Fartlek intervals are done according to how you feel.  For example if you are running, you might decide to sprint to that next light pole.  After a slow jog for a minute or so (however long you “feel” like), you might decide to sprint to the second light pole. 

This is a great, flexible method that allows you to change things up during a single workout. It can be used for any level of interval training – even beginners.  Just be sure that if you are aiming for HIIT, to take your working intervals to the max!

Duration and Frequency of the session
Because of the intensity, exercise sessions only need to last 30 minutes. The more intense and closer together the working intervals are, the shorter the workout can be! 

As far as frequency of high intensity interval training, 3x/week is plenty.  Any more than that and your body will not have time to recover.

My experiences
What I do…
I really like doing running sprints.  Besides the fact that it is easy to get my heart rate up, I personally think it’s important for me be able to run fast. 

Just like anything else, if you do not use it, you lose it! And this applies to the skill of sprinting, especially as you get older.

But...I have flat feet.  I do not want to make them worse, so I do not run as much as I would like. 

The next best thing I like is an elliptical machine.  I do not like generally like cardio machines (ok, I hate them).  But in order to save wear and tear on my poor arches, I suck it up and use them anyway.

I bought a good used one for $200.  It has the handlebars so I can use upper and lower body, and also a built in heart rate monitor. It is very handy having one of these at home- I do not have to drive to a gym, and if the weather is bad, there is no excuse…it is right there!  And I can squeeze in a workout in 15 minutes. 

And that is two of the key features of a successful weight loss plan: Time Saving and Convenience!

How I do it…
Like I mentioned above, I believe in doing different routines.  I do Fartlek training quite a bit so I can vary the working intervals whenever I want.  I also do one called Tabata, and I also do 1:3 sometimes.

The Tabata method is a popular workout developed by a Japanese doctor, Dr. Izumi Tabata in 1996. 

It calls for: 20 seconds work, 10 sec. rest.  This is advanced (and painful). You only do 8 intervals, which is just 4 minutes!

It’s recommended to do at least 4 minutes warm up and 4 minutes cool down…that makes this a 12 minute, killer workout.  I do this one usually once a week or so.

I dread it, but I keep telling myself, “It’s only 4 minutes…it’s only 4 minutes….”

Other times I prefer to do 30 second work intervals and 90 second slow intervals (1:3). 

Both are difficult, just in a different way.  With Tabata, it is very tough during the 4 minutes. By the last two minutes, you can barely tell the difference between my “sprint” and my recovery.

With the 1:3 ratio, the 90 seconds gives me enough time to mostly recover and I can really hit the next 30 second sprint hard. 

To Sum it Up
High intensity interval training is as intense you make it.  It is amazing to me that weight loss can occur with as little as three 12 minute workouts a week! Just remember: the greater the intensity, the greater – and longer – is the after burn! 

If you want to do maximize fat loss with the least amount of time investment, HIIT is what you should be using for your cardio!

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