Using HIIT for Weight Loss, Endurance & Strength

I frequently mention HIIT – high-intensity interval training – on Facebook and Twitter because it’s my get-it-done cardio method. I get bored doing long bouts on the elliptical and HIIT makes the time go fast. Not only can I burn calories but I feel energetic for hours after HIIT and have seen my aerobic endurance increase.

And just as with weightlifting, you need to vary your cardio workouts to continue seeing results. If you use the same speed, for same amount of time, on the same 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, building more endurance, and gaining more strength.

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 says:

“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. It also increases your cardiorespiratory endurance.

What to Know about HIIT

HIIT is not for everyone and requires an intermediate to advanced level of fitness. You need to have the ability to stay at about 90% of your maximum heart rate for 30 seconds and return to a lower heart rate fairly quickly. You can work up to longer bouts of intense “sprint” intervals and do HIIT at a lower intensity until you get there.

You can use a succession of bodyweight exercises for HIIT, outdoor running/sprinting, or cardio machines such as the elliptical, treadmill, or stationary bike. You also need access to a heart rate monitor (see below).

With HIIT, your sprint 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.

Using a Heart Rate Monitor for HIIT

You can use a heart rate monitor to get an instant, accurate reading of your heart rate (but keep in mind that the formula for knowing your max heart rate number can be very inaccurate). Using the monitors on the cardio machines means you have to grasp the bars and wait for the results. You’ll be doing short blasts (30 to 60 seconds) of work – you want an instant feedback so you can reduce the intensity a bit or amp it up accordingly.

The first step is to find your maximum heart rate. Subtract your age from 220. The three heart rate zones you need to target are:

Zone 1: 65-75%  Used as a warm up and recovery zone

Zone 2: 80-85%  Sprint zone

Zone 3: 86-90% Sprint interval zone for experienced HIIT users

Next, find out your target heart rates for each zone. Multiply your maximum heart rate by the percentage. For example, a 30-year-old’s heart rate max would be 190 (220-30). Her warm-up heart rate is around 133 (190 x .70), her recovery zone is around 161 (190 x .85), and her sprint zone is 171 (190 x .90).

Here’s a sample beginner HIIT routine:

  1. 5 minute warm up – 65-75% of maximum heart rate
  2. 30 seconds – 80-85% max
  3. 1 minute – 70-75% max (recovery)
  4. 30 seconds – 86-90% max (all-out effort)
  5. 90 seconds – 70-75% max (recovery)
  6. Repeat steps 2 through 5 for a total of 20 minutes.
  7. 5 minute cool down – 60% of max rate

Using RPE for HIIT

A simpler method of measuring how hard you’re working and which requires no equipment is rate of perceived exertion (RPE). Click here to learn more.


High Intensity Interval Training and Natural Bodybuilding
Fit with HIIT: Science Is Dropping the Hammer On Endless Bouts of Steady-State Cardio
The Complete Guide to Interval Training [Infographic]
Should you worry about the ‘fat-burning zone’?
The Best Cardio For Weight Loss: A HIIT Workout Routine to Burn Belly Fat Fast
NASM Essentials of Personal Training

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  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.
    Lisa recently posted..Lemon and Garlic ScallopsMy Profile

  2. I agree with Lisa, it’s great for short runs and you can really get a good workout!
    Yolanda recently posted..How to Make Better DecisionsMy Profile

  3. Fabulous article! The benefits of HIIT are so abundant that I wonder why anybody bothers with hourlong cardio sessions anymore . . .
    Mary C. Weaver, CSCS recently posted..Is your diet endangering your muscles?My Profile

    • I’ve heard some say they enjoy the stress relief of long cardio sessions. But I feel just as soothed after HIIT (without feeling pressed for time).

  4. Andrew Smith says:

    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.
    Andrew Smith recently posted..Forex EasyMy Profile

  5. great advice and insight into how to make the most of training and fitness sessions, thank Suzanne
    Christine Miller recently posted..New View of The Dragon in 2012My Profile

  6. 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.
    Cynthia recently posted..Afghanistan The Most Dangerous Country For Women To Give Birth InMy Profile

  7. I looove me some HIIT. And using my interval timer help keeps me accountable to stay strong and keep pushing through every second of it until the beep. I gets it done, baby.
    Yum Yucky recently posted..Who Won the Insanity Fast and Furious DVD?My Profile

    • 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!

  8. AND its good for those of us who have virtually NO attention span… Yep… I’m a clock watcher. And the second hand is even better 🙂
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..Exercise Benefits – More Than Just Burning Calories | The Reluctant ExerciserMy Profile

  9. 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! 🙂

  10. 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.

  11. 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
    Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..My GAWD He Eats a Lot!My Profile

    • 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 🙂
      Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..My GAWD He Eats a Lot!My Profile

    • 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 🙂
        Kris @Krazy_Kris recently posted..My GAWD He Eats a Lot!My Profile

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  1. […] Interesting in doing some high intensity interval training (aka HIIT)? Here’s what you need to know to do it effectively and safely! […]

  2. […] as a sport or activity) and, depending on your fitness level, add high-intensity interval training (HIIT) and strength training (2 to 3 days of each). Your individual training program should be based on […]

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