How To Do HIIT For Beginners
If you want to get your workouts done as quickly as possible so that you can get back to your busy life, then high-intensity interval training, or HIIT, is a training style you should consider!
HIIT workouts are usually short and effective. You’ll push your body hard for a short time, rest and repeat — and then you’re done!
HIIT can help to alter body composition and increase fitness with short workouts. Learn how you can get started with HIIT training to experience the many benefits of this fast-paced, intense training style.
How to start HIIT training
If you’ve never tried high-intensity interval training, here’s a guide to help you to have a successful first HIIT workout.
Why you should try HIIT
Anyone can benefit from HIIT — you don’t have to be an athlete to do this style of training. If you are new to HIIT, it’s important to seek guidance from a fitness professional to make sure that the program you follow is suitable for your level of fitness.
If you want to build up to HIIT, start with some steady-state cardio and strength work for four to eight weeks first, to build your baseline fitness. Then you’ll be ready to try HIIT!
You can try HIIT if one of your fitness goals is to increase your cardiovascular fitness while decreasing body fat. Another benefit of HIIT is that it doesn’t take as long as other workout styles, so it’s ideal when you are pressed for time.
Be prepared to push yourself, but know that your effort only needs to be short! As you get fitter and stronger you should find that you can sustain a high intensity for longer. You may even be able to increase the intensity of each interval.
How often should you do HIIT?
The number of HIIT workouts you do each week will depend on what other training you are doing.
As a beginner, you can aim to complete two or three HIIT workouts each week if you aren’t doing any other type of exercise. This allows enough time for recovery between workouts — more than this could put you at risk of injury, so always remember to listen to your body, especially when you are trying something new.
As you become more experienced with this style of training, you can aim for three to five workouts each week, as long as you have a good recovery regime.
For those doing strength training or other forms of exercise throughout the week, try switching a low-intensity cardio workout for a HIIT workout. If you’re using one of the programs in the Sweat app, you can select High Intensity for one of your cardio sessions. There’s a timer for your work-rest intervals to help you stay on track.
How long is a HIIT workout?
A HIIT workout can range from as little as four minutes, and up to 30 minutes or more. As a beginner, you can aim for 10-15 minutes of HIIT and increase the number of intervals for a longer workout as your fitness improves.
One way to start HIIT is to slowly build the work to recovery ratio. As a beginner, you may start on 15 seconds of work to 45 seconds of recovery and over a number of weeks work towards 45 seconds of work to 15 seconds of recovery.
For example, a Tabata workout has the following structure. After warming up thoroughly, complete 20 seconds of all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of rest. Repeat this eight times — for a workout round of just four minutes!
During these short bouts of work, you should aim to reach an RPE of 8. This can be quite challenging, but remember that this is how you can get the best results — and as a bonus, you get 10 seconds of rest between rounds.
Should you try HIIT strength or HIIT cardio?
HIIT can incorporate cardio, strength exercises or both. This style of training has significant benefits, and you can vary your training from week to week to accelerate your results.
High-intensity resistance training enables you to build strength while giving you an intense cardio workout. High-intensity interval training helps to increase your fast-twitch muscle fibres, a type of muscle tissue recruited in powerful movements when a greater force is needed rapidly.
HIIT training can complement the other exercise you may do. If you lift weights regularly, you might include one to two HIIT cardio sessions each week. Great options for HIIT cardio include running or cycling. You can do these indoors on a treadmill or exercise bike, or head outdoors for a run or a cycling session — just make sure you're giving maximal effort during the sprint intervals. If you regularly do HIIT cardio, you might choose one or two strength HIIT sessions to round out your training regimen.
If you’re looking for inspiration, there are high-intensity strength Tabata workouts in Low Impact HIIT with Samantha Ortiz-Young, Chontel Duncan’s FIERCE program and in Kelsey Wells’ PWR and PWR at Home Challenges.
Is high-intensity training high-impact?
A HIIT session doesn’t have to be high-impact. We often associate high-intensity training with burpees, skipping and other high-impact exercises, but you can do sprint HIIT using an elliptical or in a swimming pool.
Strength HIIT can also be low-impact when you select exercises that don’t put a strain on your tendons and joints. It’s about how hard you work, not how hard you hit the ground.
However, if you're new to fitness and keen to try a beginner-friendly program that is easy on your joints, Low Impact HIIT with Samantha workouts could be a great option.
What to expect during your first HIIT workout
During your first HIIT workout, you should be able to give maximum effort for your first couple of intervals.
If you can’t keep going at maximum effort after your first few intervals, don’t worry! It can take time to build up your cardiovascular fitness and strength. Keep practising, and over time you’ll be able to complete more intervals at maximal effort.
Be patient with yourself throughout this process, as it does take time to build fitness. This is your unique fitness journey — if you need support or want to share your journey, you can connect with Sweat Community.
Should you eat before a HIIT workout?
To get the most out of a HIIT workout, your pre-workout meal can provide the energy that you need to give your maximum effort!
Eating after the workout is important to replace the energy burned and to support muscle recovery. Follow your workout with a high-energy snack or a balanced meal.
If you want to try fasted cardio, starting with a lower-intensity workout can help you to assess how your body responds to fasted workouts. High-intensity training may make you feel light-headed if you haven’t fueled properly.
For those who prefer to work out straight after you wake up in the morning, make sure to have a balanced meal the night before, and follow your workout with a nutritious breakfast.
How to nail your first HIIT workout
Now that you know what to expect, here are some actionable tips to get the most out of your first HIIT workout.
Plan your workout before you begin
For your HIIT workout to be effective, you need to go in with a plan. This means setting your work and rest intervals according to your current fitness level. For HIIT beginners, try starting with a 1:4 work to rest ratio. For example, you might do 15 seconds of work, then rest for one minute.
As you gain fitness, you can reduce the ratio to 1:2 for a 30 second effort followed by one minute of rest.
Next, decide on the length of your workout. When you are starting out 10-15 minutes is enough to kickstart results!
Finally, choose the exercises that you are going to use. For sprint training, you might cycle, run, row or swim. For strength training, you might use exercises that target a variety of muscle groups, such as burpees, pushups, or crunches.
Practise correct form
Make sure that you know the correct form for every exercise you are doing during a HIIT workout, particularly if you are doing a strength workout. You can practice the exercises during your warm-up to ensure you are feeling confident, and make any modifications that you need to.
Wear the right shoes
The workout shoes that you use for lifting weights might not be ideal for HIIT, depending on what type of session you are doing. If you are including high-impact exercises in your workout, you may be more comfortable wearing running shoes with more cushioning.
Do a proper warm up
Warm up thoroughly before starting the workout. This will reduce any risk of injury and ensure your body is ready for the hard work you are about to do!
Use lighter weights
For a strength HIIT workout, reduce the weight you might normally lift so you can complete more reps with proper form.
Put in maximum effort
You’ll get maximum benefits when you put in maximum effort. By keeping the work intervals short, you can reach a rate of perceived exertion of 8-9 in each interval.
You can use your heart rate zone to determine if you are giving a maximum effort, or focus on your breathing — at max effort, you’ll find it hard to catch your breath!
Allow time for recovery
As with any form of exercise, HIIT may lead to injuries if you don’t take the proper steps before, during and after your workout to ensure you are looking after your body. This is why it’s essential to allow enough time for recovery between your HIIT sessions. As a general rule, you should allow 48 hours between high-intensity workouts.
Use high-intensity training to reach your fitness goals
When you feel like you don’t have time for a full workout, 10 minutes of HIIT can get your heart racing and help you to maintain your fitness momentum!
HIIT is a great option if you are pushed for time or can’t get to the gym. You don’t need much equipment to do it, so it’s also a great option for when you’re travelling or on holiday.
If HIIT doesn’t appeal to you, remember that you can reach your fitness goals with other training styles. The best form of exercise is always one that you can stick with and do over and over again.
Now that you have an idea of how to get started with high-intensity interval training, what are you waiting for? Plan your first HIIT workout now!
* Results may vary. Strict adherence to the nutrition and exercise guide are required for best results.