Introduction to High Intensity Interval Training

If a workout routine that lasts for 30 minutes can be as effective as a 50-minute workout, wouldn’t it be considered the holy grail of exercise? High intensity interval training (HIIT) delivers a time-saving dream workout routine—as long as it is done correctly.

Traditional aerobic exercise vs. high-intensity interval training

Traditional aerobic exercise is usually performed at a continuous moderate-intensity of about 50 to 70 percent of your maximum capacity. It usually lasts from 20 to 30 minutes and up to 45 minutes to an hour. Because you’re not exerting yourself to your maximum capacity, you should be able to have a conversation with the person next to you without struggling.

High intensity interval training (HIIT) means that you insert high-intensity intervals into your exercise routine; these intervals usually last about 30 seconds and require 80 to 90 percent of your maximum capacity.

This exercise is usually followed by an active rest period, which lasts for about three times the amount of time that it took you to perform the high-intensity interval.

For example, if you have just performed intensive sprints that took 30 seconds, you will need about 60 to 90 seconds of recovery. A standard HIIT exercise routine typically lasts between 1 and 5 minutes and should increase a person’s heart rate by up to 80 percent of its limit.

Interval training has been practiced by athletes worldwide for over a century now, but it is only in more recent years that it has become popular, as proven by its rise as a workout trend.

Calculating your maximum heart rate

You can calculate your maximum heart rate by subtracting your age from 220. The number that is left equals your maximum heart rate.

For example, if you are 30 years old, your maximum heart rate is 190 beats per minute. You should not reach this heart rate during your workout.

However, with HIIT you should be exerting yourself at 80 to 90 percent of your maximum capacity.

To calculate your heart rate for HIIT, you should take 190 beats per minute and multiply it by 0.8. That gives you one hundred and fifty-two beats per minute (190*0.8 = 152 bpm.)

This would be the maximum number of beats (or the maximum heart rate) that you want to reach while you are doing the high-intensity exercise.

The drawbacks of HIIT

Of course, not everyone can exercise at this high exertion level. HIIT will only be beneficial if you’re doing it correctly. Your safety should be your number one priority.

The first step that you should take is to ensure that you are in good physical health. Although this does not necessarily mean that you have to be “fit” or “in shape” to try HIIT, those who have injuries or medical conditions should proceed with caution.

Those who have a heart condition or respiratory problems should be extra careful.

Who should avoid this exercise? 

  • It’s not suitable for people who have cardiovascular disease, or related risks.
  • People who already suffer from health issues: high blood pressure, migraines, back hernia, etc.

Who should try HIIT?

HIIT helps to increase the overall fitness level within a short period. People who try it are usually athletes who want to improve their lung capacity or gain strength. A high-intensity exercise is an excellent tool for those who know how to use it and can apply it effectively in their training.

One of the ways to know if your body can handle HIIT is to check your heart rate a day or two after performing the exercise.

An average healthy resting heart rate should be from 60 to 70 beats per minute up to 100 beats per minute. If you see that your heart rate has been elevated for a day or two after performing the high-intensity exercise, it means that your body is struggling to recover from it. Therefore, I would recommend you to either scale down or eliminate it from your training.

One of the main differences between these two types of exercises is also the fuel source that your body uses while performing aerobic exercise compared with high-intensity exercise. During HIIT, your body prefers to use mainly carbohydrates in the form of stored glycogen in the muscle or to burn up glucose in the blood.

However, if you perform an aerobic exercise or steady-state cardio, your body mainly burns fat or body fat.

If your main goal is to burn as much body fat as possible, you would instead choose the traditional aerobic exercise, which lasts from twenty minutes up to 45 minutes.

If your main goal is to improve your fitness level (maybe you are training for a particular type of sport, such as CrossFit), then you can try high-intensity interval exercise because it is not going to burn the maximum amount of fat yet will still maximize your fitness level.

Typical HIIT Routines

HIIT is considerably advanced training, and warm-ups and conditioning are nothing less than necessary. People who are new to exercise are advised to develop their aerobic and strength fitness before attempting any form of HIIT.

Beginners are advised to gradually incorporate high-intensity exercises into a routine of low- and moderate-intensity exercises.

A simple example would be to do some jogging before sprint training. Slowly perform sprints in 30-second to 1-minute intervals, and then return to jogging for 3 to 5 minutes. Over time, as your fitness level improves, your ability to handle the intensity of the sprint will increase, and your body will be able to recover faster after the high exertion.

Please take note that a standard HIIT routine is not done continuously. At most, people should only do it three times a week, with days of rest in between.

Okay, having covered all the precautions one should take, you’re now ready to learn how to perform a typical HIIT routine. Let’s discuss the two most common methods: 4×4 and 10×1.


The Norway-based 4×4 routine is one of the most popular forms of HIIT. It’s a 4-minute high-intensity exercise window done in four intervals, with 3-minute periods of recovery between each interval. This is the most recommended version as it has received plenty of research attention, and its benefits have been established.

The total amount of time it will take for you to complete the routine may vary a bit because warm-up and cooldown times may change. But, for many, a 10-minute warm-up followed by a 5-minute cooldown is a rule of thumb. Add to this the actual high-intensity exercises and the recovery period, and you get a 40-minute routine.


This is the variation that is recommended for beginners because it involves short bursts of high-intensity exercises. There are ten cycles in total, which include 1 minute of high-intensity activities and 1 minute of low-intensity recovery. The entire routine takes 25 minutes. It consists of a 20-minute workout, a 2-minute low-intensity warm-up, plus a 3-minute low-intensity cooldown.

The Benefits of HIIT

A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine shows that HIIT is a great workout option for fat reduction, but that’s not the only benefit that HIIT provides.

What are the benefits of HIIT?

February 1, 2020

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