Try High Intensity Interval Training for Results

Fitness, HIIT Workouts

By: // April 24, 2012

Every Saturday morning, 100 people pack the gym or parking lot at Life Time Fitness in Plymouth, Minn. and we sweat it out in a class I teach called High Intensity Interval Training or HIIT. HIIT is a way to improve your cardiovascular fitness level and burn more calories while spending less time in the gym. Sounds good right?  Well, the key words to focus on are high intensity. Don’t be fooled by thinking that shorter workouts mean easier. HIIT training is not for the faint of heart. It’s intense, sweaty and doesn’t last long—but it works. In fact, I have an entire program devoted to HIIT style workouts.

The key to HIIT training that makes it different from basic intervals is that high intensity intervals involve maximum effort not just a higher heart rate. So to differentiate from plain old intervals you have to push yourself to the max during the work portion followed by a period of recovery. This type of athletic challenge has been proven to enhance cardiovascular fitness and athletic capacity, increase lean muscle mass, boost metabolism and help you shed pounds. There are many ways to create high intensity intervals by changing the timing of the work vs. rest.  However, my absolute favorite type of HIIT is Tabata Training.

Related: Why You Should Workout Harder, Not Longer

Tabata intervals can be incorporated into riding a bike, running, exercises using your body weight, plyometrics and strength training, but there is one variable that doesn’t change—the formula. A Tabata interval consists of eight cycles of 20 second all-out effort, followed by 10 seconds of recovery totaling 4 minutes.  You can do as many Tabata intervals in a row as you’d like but for most fitness enthusiasts, if you are going full out effort, 20-30 minutes is max.

Tabata is named after Dr. Izumi Tabata who discovered that he could shorten the training time and vastly improve fitness levels with a specific HIIT regimen. He worked with the Japanese speed skating team and developed a timed interval program as described above.  His research challenged the notion that you need a lot of time and miles under your feet to see results.

Get Started
My HIIT Class (Tabata style) consists of body weight exercises, strength exercises, calisthenics and plyometrics. I recommend starting with light weights the first few sessions to figure out your limits.  During the 20-second work portion, you have to go all out so you should try for as many reps as you can without compromising form or range of motion. In my class, I verbally coach my members to figure that out. The funny thing is often newbies will keep working through the 10 second rest segments in the first Tabata interval due to their adrenaline kicking in … but quickly realize they are gasping for air and will be flat on the floor if they don’t use their 10 second rest segments wisely.

Sample of a 45 minute HIIT Class using Tabata Intervals

Basic athletic warmup up = 7 minutes

8 Tabata intervals = each interval is 4 minutes.  Total time = 32 minutes

Cool down and stretch = 6 minutes

Sample Tabata interval:

  • Work Cycle 1: 20 sec-Squat w/ overhead press
  • Rest Cycle  1: 10 sec
  • Work Cycle 2: 20 sec-high knees
  • Rest Cycle  2: 10 sec
  • Work Cycle 3: 20 sec-pushups
  • Rest Cycle  3: 10 sec
  • Work Cycle 4: 20 sec-burpees
  • Rest Cycle  4: 10 sec
  • *REPEAT Cycle 1-4 again for Cycle 5-8


Tabata Timer

As a fitness instructor,  it helps to have a timer to be accurate with the intervals.  When verbally coaching my class, it’s hard to keep track of time which is why I use the Tabata Pro App on my iPhone or iPad. For $2.99, it’s been worth the money.  Many of my members have downloaded it onto their phones so they can take HIIT class on the road.   The only thing you need to do a HIIT workout is your body and a way to time your intervals.  Check it out on itunes.

I’ve given you all the tools, now to try a Tabata workout on your own.  So as they say … HIIT it HARD!

READ THIS NEXT: The Beginner’s Guide to HIIT

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on May 23, 2014 at 2:54 PM Reply

Hello ! I am wondering how many calories I can expect to burn doing each of your ACE Hiit Series dvd's? I just got them online and am trying to keep track of calories and calories burned it would be great to know. I just did the upper body work out and I do your extreme workouts but this was intense and I am drenched in sweat. What a great feeling! Thanks for your workouts and your wonderful way in which you encourage those of us working out with you. I am a 53 year old woman weighing in at around 144 pounds. I am not sure that helps with determining the burn but I did make it all the way through the workout and pushed giving my all. Thanks. Liz

on May 23, 2014 at 6:56 AM Reply

I was very intrigued by this article. I'm 43 and quite out of shape. I'm 5'6" and ~156lbs. About 3 months ago I started walking 4-5km daily. After about 8 weeks in I began running a bit. Very gentle running/shuffling on flat areas listening carefully to my knees. I was surprised at how quickly my stamina improved. I would run until I felt like I *had* to stop or I would keel over. Then I would walk until I felt I could run again. I didn't time the intervals and still don't. I try to do the same walk every day and every other day I do it twice but I throw the running bits in on the first walk. I can now run down hill without my knees bothering me (it's a gentle incline and I couldn't do it at first) for almost a full km and for much longer stretches on flat surfaces than I first could. My question is, as a beginner is it really important to time things or is it ok to just do what you can? I'm still running until I really have to stop. I just don't feel like I'm going to keel over. I have tried to make better food choices and to cut out mindless evening eating but I still haven't lost a single pound! My muscles in my thighs, butt, calves and upper back are mildly sore in the good muscle kind of way almost all the time so I know I am pushing my body. Should I keep slogging away until I can run my whole route or should I start timing things? It's a super hilly trail I use.

    on May 23, 2014 at 10:18 AM Reply

    Wow! Awesome job! Really, you are doing everything right! If you do timed intervals with a set rest period it may push you farther but it's important to listen to your body and do what's comfortable for you. Take baby steps. Whenever you can mix steady state cardio with intervals of intensity that's the best way to boost your metabolism, torch those calories and see results. But you are dedicated to exercise, yeah you!!!

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