The Best Guide to High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Cardio Routine

hiit cardio workoutDo you want to be in shape? Of course you do!

A great way to burn fat and build muscle without spending hours at the gym is with high-intensity interval training (HIIT). Many people — including fit celebrities — swear by this exercise regime.

This article gives you everything you need for a HIIT cardio workout that produces results.

Ready? Let’s go!

What Is HIIT?

HIIT is a style of training. In a short a block of time, you alternate between low- and high-intensity exercise. It’s designed to get your heart rate up and keep it high for intervals that range from 30 seconds to 2 minutes. The low-intensity intervals are sometimes called active recovery.

During the high-intensity intervals, you push your muscles and cardiovascular system to their limit. This forces your body into an anaerobic state. Which means your body burns carbohydrates because it’s the fastest way to get fuel. Anaerobic means “without oxygen”. It’s the kind of exercise that generates lactic acid in your muscles.

The low-intensity intervals are aerobic. This means your body uses oxygen to carry fuel to your muscles, including heart muscles. When the need for fuel is less urgent, your body has time to turn fat into glucose. Glucose can then be turned into glycogen, the fuel your muscles need.

The Benefits a HIIT Cardio Workout

You can use the HIIT style for any kind of workout. A HIIT cardio workout is good for people new to the experience of giving it all you have for up to five minutes. Once you’ve learned what high-intensity feels like, you can switch it up with HIIT workouts that put a focus on arms or legs.

Quick Results

HIIT workouts are popular because they yield results sooner than less intense routines.

HIIT training keeps your post-workout metabolism (the rate your body burns fuel) higher for longer. The higher your metabolism, the faster you burn carbohydrates for fuel. Remember, if carbohydrates are burned, they can’t be turned into stored fat. Plus, with a high metabolism, your body will turn stored fat into fuel.

Cardio Exercises

Small Time Investment

If you don’t have a lot of time for exercising, a HIIT cardio workout is a good solution for getting into shape. A 20-minute HIIT workout can help improve cardiovascular health, increase muscle and reduce body fat.

The short bursts of energy consumption used in HIIT are time-efficient. To achieve the same level of muscle exertion through endurance training, you need more time.

Equipment Optional

It’s true that if you add adjustable dumbell weights to your HIIT cardio workout you’ll build muscle at a faster rate. But if you’re starting out, you can do the workout without equipment. Even the running portions of the workout can be without a treadmill. Many people take their HIIT cardio workout outdoors!

HIIT Cardio Workout Guide

Another appealing aspect to HIIT workouts is the variety. Mixing it up does more than keep you from getting bored. It stops your muscles from “learning” what comes next. Our bodies seek efficiency. Varying your HIIT workouts keeps your body on its toes!

Here’s what you need to know and do for a great HIIT cardio workout:

Know Your Paces

To get the most from your workout, establish your base, push and extreme paces.

Your base pace is the speed you can run with low or moderate effort. A common base pace would be in the range of 4-5 mph.

Your push pace should be challenging but possible. For most people, it’s 1-3 mph faster than their base pace.

You won’t be running at your extreme pace often or for long because, well, it’s extreme. Try for 1-2 mph faster than your push pace.

The easiest way to figure out your pace is to use a gps running watch to capture time and heart rate. You can also use average heart rates to guide you.

Choose Your Activities

You can choose one cardio exercise and perform it at different intensities. Examples of cardio exercises: running, cycling, swimming, spinning, jumping rope.

You can also try incorporating 1-3 other exercises. Some of the best secondary exercises are:


For low-intensity intervals, do the squats slowly. Do more squats per minute for the high-intensity intervals or try squat jumps.


Push-ups are a good choice for active recovery. But if you want to take them up a notch for a high-intensity interval, do more per minute. You could also clap at the “top” of each push-up.


sit upsThis is another good exercise for active recovery. Your heart doesn’t have to work as hard when you lie on your back. But the motion of sit-ups will keep it active.


Burpees are an excellent addition to any HIIT cardio workout. It almost doesn’t matter how many you can do. It’s the rapid shift between vertical and horizontal positions that works your heart.

Mountain Climbers

This floor exercise provides good cardio for people at all levels of fitness. Slow, steady motions will give you active recovery. For high-intensity, increase the number of motions per minute or place the front foot between your hands.

Select Your Intervals

There are many HIIT programs with prescribed intervals available. But if you want to create your own, here are two patterns you can follow:

HIIT Workout Pattern #1

This pattern creates a 24-minute workout.

  • 3-minute warm-up at a pace a little slower than your base pace
  • 60 seconds at push pace (or equivalent heartbeats per minute if doing other exercises)
  • 45 seconds at base pace (or equivalent heartbeats per minute)

Repeat the high-low pattern 12 times. During the 12th set, go at your extreme pace during the high-intensity interval. You can do this workout 3-4 times a week.

HIIT Workout Pattern #2

This pattern creates a 22-minute workout.

  • 2-minute warm-up at a pace a little slower than your base pace
  • 90 seconds at push pace (or equivalent heartbeats per minute if doing other exercises)
  • 60 seconds at base pace (or equivalent heartbeats per minute)

Repeat the high-low pattern 8 times. During the 8th set, go at your extreme pace during the high-intensity interval. You can do this workout 3-4 times a week.

A Final Thought

The most important thing to remember about HIIT workouts is the balance between pushing your body and resting. If you keep that in mind, you can turn almost any set of exercises into a HIIT.

Stay motivated by incorporating the exercises you enjoy. Challenge yourself and stay safe by using the right equipment for each exercise.

Do you have a favorite HIIT workout? Tell us about it in the comments section below.

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