Using HIIT for Weight Loss, Endurance & Strength

I get bored with long bouts of cardio on the elliptical, but high-intensity interval training (HIIT) makes the time go fast. Not only can I burn calories, but I feel energetic for hours after HIIT. When I’m consistent, I’ve also seen my aerobic endurance increase.

Plenty of studies have reported that HIIT raises your resting metabolism and burns 10% more calories over a 24-hour period than steady state. Other studies have shown that more body fat is dropped when using a HIIT program over a period of weeks than with steady state.

A researcher from a March 2010 study said:

“Doing 10 one-minute sprints on a standard stationary bike with about one minute of rest in between, three times a week, works as well in improving muscle as many hours of conventional long-term biking less strenuously.”

Keep in mind that low-intensity endurance cardio still has a place in your workouts. Endurance cardio also increases your mitochondria and thus you’re body’s ability to burn fat more efficiently. “Steady-state” cardio also increases your cardiorespiratory endurance.

What to Know about HIIT

  • You need to start where you are with HIIT. If you’re not already doing some sort of cardio, you may find yourself winded very quickly. Sure, you’re resting between “sprints,” but you’ll still be tired out before finishing. Even if you already do cardio, HIIT might kick your ass. So it’s perfectly fine to work up using longer rest periods and lower intensities.
  • As with strength training, you need to vary your HIIT workouts to continue seeing results. If you use the same speed, rest to work ratio, and machine day after day, your body will soon adapt and stop working as hard. You’ll be in a replay loop instead of losing more weight and building more endurance.

However, HIIT is made for variety: You can use bodyweight exercises, outdoor running/sprinting, or cardio machines such as the elliptical, treadmill, or stationary bike. You can use a heart rate monitor to gauge your workout intensity, but it’s easier to estimate using your rate of perceived exertion (RPE).

  • With HIIT, your work periods need to be at a high intensity to get the benefits of the calorie burn and after-burn effect (EPOC). That’s not a level we can maintain for very long, thus the short intense periods of HIIT. The active recovery intervals can be longer and are just that – a chance for your heart rate to come back down to a moderate level. And that’s also why you need a heart rate monitor.
  • Do not do HIIT more than two to three times per week and allow time to recover between workouts.

Methods for Monitoring Intensity

Since heart rate max formulas based on age are nebulous, I’m a proponent of listening to your body. If you’re using a heart rate monitor, you can figure out what your max is just by working hard as hell for a 30-second blasts and get instant feedback about what you can tolerate. I would not rely on the heart rate mechanisms in cardio machines.

A simpler method of measuring how hard you’re working and which requires no equipment is rate of perceived exertion (RPE), which lets you rate your level of exertion using a simple scale.

Here’s a sample beginner HIIT routine. Keep in mind that you may need a longer warm up, depending on your fitness level and age. It may also take longer than these rest periods to lower your heart rate. Take it at your own pace and work up to more intensity and shorter rests.

  1. 5-10 minute warm up – RPE of 2-3 or 65-75% of max HR
  2. 30 seconds work – RPE of 8-9 or 80-85% max HR
  3. 1 minute recovery – RPE of 6-7 or 70-75% max HR
  4. 30 seconds work – RPE of 8-9 or 85-90% max HR (all-out effort)
  5. 90 seconds recovery – RPE of 6-7 or 70-75% max HR
  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 for a total of 20 minutes
  7. 5-10 minute cool down – RPE of 2-3 or 60% of max HR
This article originally appeared on

25 thoughts on “Using HIIT for Weight Loss, Endurance & Strength

  1. I like HIIT and sprints with running. It’s an awesome way to get in a workout when you don’t have a ton of time. Sometimes I just don’t have an hour and a half to spend in the gym.


  2. What a great article this is the best resource. I like HIIT and sprints with running. It’s an awesome way to get in a workout when you don’t have a ton of time. Thanks for the sharing.


  3. Like most people I do not get as much exercise in the winter. So I usually have some extra fat I want to get rid of for summer. For me the easiest way to lose the fat is to focus on my exercise performance and find a hobby I enjoy. I start exercising regularly and keep a log of my progress. Every time I exercise I try to do better than the last time.


    • Oh I’m sure you do, my beastly sister. Believe it or not, my HR monitor was broken for awhile so I had to estimate if I was pushing myself enough. Now that I have it again I can see (quite sadly) that I wasn’t pushing myself as hard without it!


  4. Love HIIT…surprised no one has taken it to the next level, sHIIT (Super High Intensity Interval Training, of course!) Also what I say after Im done! 🙂


  5. I personally love doing HIIT training. I like that you do not need to workout very long to get great results. It is actually my preferred way of workout out. If you want to lose weight and gain muscle do HIIT.


  6. So I read this a bit differently now, but after last night’s attempt at “widening the gap” between the sprint/recovery. I did 160 sprint & 130 recovery – so that was different than what your suggesting here. For me, that equated to going between 75% and 90+%. It was interesting because it really took about 90 seconds to get to the 90% and then I stayed there for 30 seconds. And it took me about 90 seconds to get back down to the 75%. Your guides suggest recovering to 80-85% which would take less time for sure. But in hindsight, that’s not much different than what I was doing before going between 150 & 160/165. Hmmmmm – I will keep at it. And yes, if you’re really working hard, 20 minutes is PLENTY! xoxo


    • OK – reviewing my spreadsheet…. I will make one more adjustment – varying between 160+ and 140 – (90+% & 80%) – it will be interesting to see how “long” it takes me to “reach” the high & low point 🙂


    • Thanks for pointing that out Kris! I have edited this to make it a simpler example and one that is less advanced. I see now that it should apply to people who are new to HIIT more :).


      • Interesting changes – it allows for the time to “raise” which was interesting to me how long it took me (90 sec) to raise my HR by 30 beats. But that’s just me – I’m not a sprinter – I have always been cautious and eased into higher HR. This actually allows for that more. This has been an interesting conversation. I always that I was doing HIIT cuz I was always intervalling between different heart rates. I’m resisting the temptation to try it again today 🙂


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s