If you want to get fit, you’ve got to try HIIT. Short for high-intensity interval training, HIIT workouts alternate bouts of challenging (high intensity) exercise with periods of rest.

The workouts are short but effective, producing similar cardiovascular benefits as you’d get with much longer sessions. Women in a 2016 study, for instance, got the same results from 20-minute high-intensity interval training workouts as others did with slower, 40-minute sessions.

Don’t let the word “intensity” scare you off, though: HIIT workouts can be scaled up or down to any level, because your “high intensity” isn’t the same as anyone else’s. The key is that when you’re working, you’re working as hard as you can while staying safe. Follow these seven tips to accomplish both, and then try one of the four HIIT workouts for beginners to get started.

7 HIIT Tips for Beginners

1. Talk to a doctor before you begin.

This is true for any type of exercise program, but it’s the kind of advice that exercisers often ignore. It’s especially important for HIIT training, though—you’ll be working at high, intense heart rates. Ask a doctor if performing these types of efforts is safe for you right now.

2. Choose a rest/work interval, and exercises to do.

Almost any type of exercise can be used in a HIIT session: walking, running, swimming, boxing, weightlifting, calisthenics, biking. What turns a workout into HIIT is alternating a high-intensity work period with a lower-intensity period of rest. According to the American College of Sports Medicine, those periods can be as short as five seconds, or as long as eight minutes.

If you choose to walk for your HIIT workout and choose a 20-second work interval and a 40-second rest interval, here’s how it would work: You’d walk as hard as you can for 20 seconds, then rest for 40. Repeat for the number of intervals you plan for your workout.

3. Download an interval timer.

Keeping track of those work/rest periods can get confusing, especially when you’re working hard. There are many free interval timer apps available for smartphones. These will let you preset your work and rest periods and can even be used while still listening to your favorite music.

4. Start with longer rest intervals.

While some of the more famous and popular HIIT workouts feature work periods that are longer than the rest periods, beginners should start with more rest than work. Consider having a rest period that’s three times as long as your work period.

So, if you’re doing your high intensity effort for 10 seconds, you’d rest for 30 seconds. This will allow you to make each work interval truly high intensity, which is the key to getting results.

5. Keep HIIT workouts short.

Because you’re working so hard during the work intervals, HIIT workouts shouldn’t last as long as normal workouts. Getting similar results in a shorter amount of time is the whole point!

Start with HIIT sessions that only last five or 10 minutes. This will let you work really hard during your work intervals instead of “leaving something in the tank” for later intervals.

6. Push yourself during the work interval.

The last few tips refer to this, too, but it’s worth repeating: When you’re performing a work interval, you should be working hard. For a workout to be HIIT, the work intervals should be an eight or none on a one to 10 scale of perceived effort. That’s an effort that equates to 80 to 95 percent of your maximum possible heart rate.

That level of intensity—the “high intensity” of “high intensity interval training”—is what provides results fast. So, if you’re performing a walking interval, don’t just walk a little faster. Try to walk as fast as you can while staying safe.

7. Don’t do HIIT every day.

HIIT efforts are intense, and your body needs time to recover. Do HIIT workouts only once or twice per week to start, with at least two days of rest in between sessions. On other days, you can do traditional, consistent speed exercise.

4 HIIT Workouts for Beginners to Try

Each of these four HIIT workouts is designed for beginners, with longer rest periods and shorter work periods. As you get stronger and fitter, you can start to shift this balance, chipping five seconds off the rest periods or extending the work periods by five seconds to get closer to a one-to-one ratio of work to rest. Just make sure that your work intervals stay at a high intensity, so you’re still doing HIIT!

These HIIT workouts for beginners can also be remixed to use other exercises. If you’ve been doing the “Walk Hard” workout for a while and want to switch to a stationary bike, go for it! Don’t like pushups? Skip that exercise in the “Bodyweight Circuit.” Do your HIIT your way.

Before starting any of these HIIT Workouts for beginners, warm up. Get your heart pumping a little with some brisk walking and move your joints through a wide range of motion: swing your arms, swing your legs, swivel your hips and bend your knees. A warmup should literally warm you up, so make sure you’re not stretching, but moving. After your warmup, try one of these four HIIT workouts.

HIIT Workout 1: Walk Hard

This workout couldn’t be simpler. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy! In each work interval, walk as fast as you safely can.

  • Work interval: Walk as fast as you can for 15 seconds.
  • Rest interval: Rest for 45 seconds. You can either walk very slowly or stand still.
  • Repeat: 10 times, for a 10-minute workout.
  • How to Progress: Over time, you can reduce the rest intervals by five seconds at a time, as long as you can still work hard. Or perform your “Walk Hard” on a hill: Walk up the hill during the work interval and walk slowly back down during the rest interval.

HIIT Workout 2: Reverse Tabata

exercise bike class

One of the best-known HIIT workouts is often called “Tabata training,” named for the lead scientist on a 1996 study on HIIT. In this type of HIIT, exercisers work hard for 20 seconds, then rest for 10 seconds. They repeat this for four minutes.

That’s a little intense for beginners, so reverse it! Choose any type of exercise you want: Jumping jacks, high knees, jogging in place or a cardio machine. If you have access to it, one of the best options are the types of stationary bikes equipped with fans that do arm and leg action simultaneously. These make it easy to work really hard, so they’re great for HIIT. Once you’ve chosen your exercise, here’s the protocol:

  • Work interval: 10 seconds as fast or hard as you can safely go.
  • Rest interval: 20 seconds of complete rest.
  • Repeat: Eight times, for a total of four minutes.
  • How to Progress: Over time, try to add another four-minute round after resting for at least four minutes after your first round. You can then begin to shave time off the rest interval, working for 10 seconds with a 15-second rest, for example, and progressing towards the original Tabata ratio of 20 seconds on, 10 seconds off.

HIIT Workout 3: Bodyweight HIIT Circuit

A man doing squats

Calisthenics and strength exercises can also be used for HIIT. This short circuit workout uses four exercises to keep your heart pumping. In each work interval, do one exercise for the prescribed amount of time. After your rest interval, do the next exercise in the next work interval. So, in work interval one, you’ll do squats. After you rest, you’ll do a bout of incline pushups. Keep cycling through the four exercises for the length of your workout.

Do each move for 15 seconds, then rest for 45 seconds. Try to do four rounds of the circuit, for a 15-minute workout. If that’s too hard, start with two or three rounds and build up to it. Adjust the workout as needed!

Exercise 1: Squat

  • Step 1: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, toes pointed slightly out from parallel.
  • Step 2: Push your hips back to initiate the squat.
  • Step 3: Bend your knees to descend until your thighs are at least parallel to the floor, keeping your chest up and your weight on your heels.
  • Step 4: Keep the weight of your body in your heels and press back to standing.
  • Make it easier: Squat to a chair. Place a sturdy chair or bench against a wall so it won’t tip over. Stand in front of it and slowly bend your knees until you sit down. Try to get back up without using your hands, but if you can’t, push yourself back up and slowly sit down again.

Exercise 2: Incline Pushup

  • Step 1: Assume the classic pushup position, but with your hands on a bench, the third or fourth step on a staircase, or on the arm at the side of your couch. Your hands should be directly beneath your shoulders, your body forming a straight line from head to heels.
  • Step 2: Maintaining this straight body line, bend your elbows to lower your chest until it touches the bench—don’t reach with your head!
  • Step 3: Then push back up.
  • Make it easier: Increase the incline. Place your hands on a higher step or use the back of the couch instead of the arm rest. As you progress, try moving to a lower incline.

Exercise 3: Step Up

  • Step 1: Stand with a bench or sturdy chair in front of you, or in front of a staircase.
  • Step 2: Keep your torso upright as you place your right foot on the step and press through your heel to bring your left foot up so you’re standing on the bench.
  • Step 3: Return to the ground and repeat with the other leg.
  • Make it easier: Do foot taps. Instead of standing up on the step, just raise your right foot up to the step or chair and tap it on the chair. Bring it back down and repeat with your left foot. Keep alternating in this way.

Exercise 4: Superheroes

  • Step 1: Lie face down on the floor with arms and legs extended.
  • Step 2: Lift your arms, legs and head up off the floor. Hold for a beat.
  • Step 3: Return to the floor. Repeat.
  • Make it easier: Instead of extending your whole body, start with just your arms—lift them up straight up by your ears, then back down, keeping your legs on the ground. In the next round, do just your legs, keeping your arms on the ground.

HIIT Workout 4: Row, Row, Row Your HIIT

woman doing row machine

If you want to make sure your work intervals are really high intensity, try the rowing machine at a gym. The diabolical machine makes you use your whole body at once. If you haven’t rowed before, ask a trainer at the gym to give you a quick demonstration on proper form so you stay safe, and give yourself lots of rest between intervals.

  • Work interval: 10 seconds.
  • Rest interval: 40 seconds.
  • Repeat: Five times to start.
  • How to Progress: Try to do a few more intervals first, then begin to chip away at the rest period. To avoid injury, don’t let your form start to slip as you get tired!

*Always speak to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

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