Over the last few years, few forms of exercise have received as much attention as high-intensity interval training (HIIT). In fact, the American College of Sports Medicine ranked HIIT as the number one fitness trend in the world in 2018.
In simple terms, an HIIT workout cycles between exercises performed at or near maximal intensity and short periods of rest. Typically, most HIIT routines are done within 20 minutes, compared to regular cardio workouts which can take an hour or more.
What Is HIIT?
To be more specific, HIIT workouts are oriented around exercises that bring your heart rate to 80-95% of your max, usually for as little as 5 - 10 seconds at a time. Each bout of activity is followed by a brief rest period.
Workouts can easily be made more or less difficult depending on the duration of the intervals -- the shorter the intervals are, the more difficult the workout becomes.
Advanced HIIT workouts even exchange the rest period for active recovery. These workouts never allow you to completely rest, which further increases the difficulty, as well as the number of calories burned.
Simply put, you can think of HIIT as a sprint, while the traditional steady-state cardio is more like a marathon. In the moment, HIIT is more intense, more demanding, and takes more out of you. After a while though, you'll become more adapted to the demands of the exercises.
Since HIIT workouts are relatively quick, and can easily be scaled to any difficulty level, they’re perfect for just about anyone. Workouts can be done with just your bodyweight (like pushups), or with a rowing machine, treadmill, stationary bikes, or even CrossFit equipment -- the options are just about endless.
12 of the Best HIIT Exercises
Start by lying on your back with your arms over your head. Then, bring your legs into your chest and lift your back up off the floor. Grab your legs, using your glutes to balance yourself. Return to the beginning position and repeat for as many reps as you like.
2. Supermans with Lateral Raises
Similar to the Superman flying pose, you begin by lying on your stomach and lift both your arms and legs off the floor. To perform the lateral raise part of the exercise, pull your elbows to your waist. Return to the starting position, and repeat.
3. Plyo Push-Ups
This is a slightly more advanced exercise. Start in a normal push-up position but when you are pushing yourself back up, lift your hands slightly off the ground. Imagine you are exploding upwards with each push-up and elegantly landing back down in the normal push-up position.
4. Hand-Release Push-Ups
Start in the standard push-up position -- your hands should be on the floor, with your body in a straight line. After your body returns to the floor, lift your hands off the ground, and then push yourself back up.
5. Jumping Jacks
Yes, this classic exercise straight out of middle school gym class is actually a perfect HIIT exercise. Start with both hands down by your sides, move them up to your head, while simultaneously sliding your feet out to the side. Return to the starting position and repeat.
6. Air Squats
With feet hip-width apart, bring your butt down and back while keeping your knees behind your toes. You may want to bring your arms out to maintain balance. Come back up, and repeat.
7. Russian Twists
With your butt on the floor and knees bent in front of you, twist from side to side. To increase the difficulty, try holding a weight, a medicine ball, or kettlebell.
8. Mountain Climbers
Start in a sprinter’s position and move one knee up at a time, exactly as if you were climbing a mountain.
9. Plank Jacks
Start off in the traditional plank position and then shoot your legs out wider. Bring them back to the starting position and repeat.
10. Squat Thrusts
From the standing position, drop into a push-up then scoot your feet back under you and stand back up. Repeat as many times as desired.
11. Traditional Push-Ups
This classic exercise works perfectly for HIIT. Perform each push-up as fast as possible. For extra difficulty, try a one-handed version.
12. Crab Walks
With your hands on the ground behind you, boost yourself up, so your torso is in a straight line. Using just your hands and feet, walk as fast as possible, ending after a set duration or distance.
There you have it, 12 of the very best HIIT exercises. While some many require equipment, many exercises can be done in the comfort of your own home -- or anywhere else for that matter.
These exercises can also be adapted to individuals of all experience levels. For the less seasoned practitioners, choosing an exercise or 2 to focus on while getting plenty of recovery time in between bouts of activity may be all you need to see the effects you're after.
For the more advanced HIIT enthusiasts, a handful of exercises can be combined into a circuit split up by brief periods of active recovery, further increasing the difficulty of your workout and upping your overall calorie expenditure even further.