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Everything You Need to Know About HIIT Cardio

Have you ever wondered what this whole High Intensity Interval Training cardio was about? Here is everything you need to know about HIIT cardio.

It’s crazy how so few people are unaware of HIIT despite its proven superiority over traditional cardio. If your mind is dead set on losing as much body fat as possible, then this is a workout that you will benefit immensely from.

If you’re completely new to this type of training and don’t even know what HIIT stands for (high-intensity interval training), then read on.

By the time you finish, not only will you know everything there is to know about HIIT, but you will be able to implement your first workout and get started as soon as today.

History of HIIT

Athletes have been adhering to training similar to HIIT for years; it just wasn’t called that.

As such, HIIT really has no specific origin, though there are many guesses. Some claim the concept was invented by the Scandinavians in the 1930s. Others claim that it was started much later by famed athletic coach Peter Coe, who used the method to train his son in the 1970s.

Still, others claim that HIIT as we know it today didn’t really get off the ground until the mid-1990s with the rollout of Tabata HIIT, a variation of the training created by sport and health science professor Izumi Tabata.

Ultimately, asking who invented HIIT is like asking who invented running or weight lifting. It has been around for as long as it has because of its immense fat loss and cardiovascular benefits.

Even celebrities like David Beckham, Queen Latifah, and Giuliana Rancic have been known to do HIIT.

 High Intensity Interval Training 101

Sprinter leaving starting blocks on the running track. Explosive start.

The name kind of says it all. High intensity implies that you will be going at a high pace, meaning that you will be panting heavily and gasping desperately for breath within a few minutes or seconds.

This is where HIIT differs from your ordinary cardio done for 30 minutes. With HIIT, if done the right way, you will be absolutely spent by the time you complete the 15-20 minute workout.

With HIIT, you typically exercise at around 80% to 90% VO2 max, compared to about 50% to 60% VO2 max with regular aerobics, hence why you’re able to maintain the exercise at a steady pace for half an hour or more.

What does it mean by VO2 max?

The term refers to the measurement of oxygen your body is able to use during exercise.You will likely hear the term used a lot when HIIT is being discussed, especially when it involves scientific studies.

For the most part, this is all you need to know: the more intense the exercise the higher your VO2 max.

Training at a higher VO2 max is absolutely necessary if you hope to see improvement in your body composition. This goes for both losing fat and gaining muscle.

It goes without saying that if you’re training near your VO2 max that you won’t be able to maintain the same intensity for long, which is precisely why a HIIT workout comprises of separate exercises completed in intervals with short rests in between.

Why Training at a High VO2 Max Matters

tired woman runner taking a rest after running hard on sunshine seaside

So why should you opt for HIIT over traditional cardio?

For one, it’s a time saver. When it comes to exercise, quality is always more important than quantity. With that in mind, 15-20 minutes of HIIT beats out 30-45 minutes of steady-state aerobics on a treadmill or stationary bike.

Even more importantly, you will see better results. By better, this means more fat loss while preserving muscle.

Traditional cardio has long been criticized for its muscle catabolic effects. The fact is, when you train at only moderate intensity, the body will turn to two sources for fuel once its glycogen stores are used up: triglycerides from your fat cells, and protein from muscle tissue.

The higher you train near your VO2 max, the greater ratio of body fat to muscle tissue is burned.

Interestingly, training towards the low end of your VO2 max also burns a greater ratio of fat to muscle. For this reason, a brisk walk is also effective for burning fat, though you’ll have to do A LOT of walking to see any real results. By a lot, this means around one hour five to six times a week!

It’s when you train at the moderate VO2 max level, such as in a brisk jog, that the body tends to burn nearly just as much muscle as it does fat.

This is why HIIT is so beneficial...

It burns more fat, preserves muscle, and is a massive time saver if your schedule is consumed with work and family priorities.

Aside from toning you up, HIIT has also been shown to contain a number of side benefits that makes the workout worthwhile even if you’re not particularly interested in achieving a better body definition.

This has been shown in this study where subjects improved aerobic endurance, muscle oxidative capacity, exercise tolerance, and decreased risk for disease after just a few weeks of a HIIT regimen.

How to do HIIT

One of the other benefits of HIIT is the near endless ways the workout can be done. There are multiple exercises that can be performed in any combination that you see fit.

As such, you’ll have more ways you’ll be able to change up the workout, thus preventing your body from adapting to any one style of training.

The typical HIIT lasts for 15-20 minutes and consists of short exercises done for 20-30 seconds followed by a 20-30 second rest.

Some ways to do HIIT include aerobic movements (such as plyometrics), ab circuits, running in place, or doing jumping jacks at a high speed.

A sample HIIT routine may look something like this:

Bodyweight squats 30 seconds
30 second rest
Clapping pushups 30 seconds
30 second rest
Box jumps 30 seconds
30 second rest
Isometric wall sit 30 seconds
30 second rest
Burpees 30 seconds
30 second rest
Repeat cycle x2

Of course, there are millions of ways to mix it up with respects to exercise selection, exercise duration, and rest period.

If you have access to a track, a HIIT workout can also consist completely of short bursts of quick sprints or running over a set of bleachers.

If you’re feeling unstoppable and can take on the mountain, then try HIIT using a high altitude mask or speed resistance training parachute.

I have a multitude of free HIIT workouts on my youtube channel you can follow as well.

Do You Need any Equipment?

Sports equipment for bodybuilding collected in a heap

The sample workout above requires zero equipment, though feel free to add free weights, kettle bells, or resistance bands if you feel the exercises are getting too easy.

Remember, just as you need to progressively add more weights or increase more reps in weight lifting, you need to do the same with HIIT.

For the box jumps or bodyweight squats, for example, you can add resistance by donning a weight vest or carrying a light barbell on your back.

Training Frequency

Since HIIT is more taxing on the body, you will need to make sure you're recovering in between workouts. This is especially the case if you’re also incorporating resistance training, which you should be doing as well.

As far as timing goes, HIIT is best right when you get out of bed and before consuming your first meal of the day. Alternatively, you can also perform HIIT right after your strength training workout when the body has just used up its glycogen stores.

Basically, you want to be training when your stomach is empty. This forces your body to expend body fat as fuel.

Be Forewarned; HIIT Is no Walk in the Park


Even people who are normally in good shape struggle when doing HIIT for the first time. If you are out of shape, then it’s possible that you won't be able to complete a full workout, or at least not without cheating by not doing the exercises at full intensity.

In any case, you need to ease into the workout to get your body accustomed to the high pace movement.

Start slow and do what you can. In the beginning, you may only be able to go for five minutes, and that’s fine. You can always work your way up by adding extra exercises until you’re able to get in a full 15-20 minutes.

Another way to make HIIT easier is by shortening the exercise duration while lengthening the rest time. This may be something like a 20 second exercise and 40 second rest as opposed to an even 30/30.

You can also perform an easier variation of most exercises, which is demonstrated in this video below that takes you through an entire HIIT session.

Give It a Try

HIIT is a training regimen that you will likely develop a love-hate relationship with. You’ll love it for how it whips you into shape but hate it for how agonizing the workout gets.

If you stick with it, though, you will see amazing results that surpass what you would have obtained from traditional cardio.