HIIT Cardio: Optimize Results with Fast, Effective Workouts

by Will Grumke April 26, 2021 8 min read

Are you getting the most out of your workouts, or simply "punching the clock" when you show up at the gym?

It's true that any movement is better than no movement, but why not minimize your time investment while maximizing the results that can be achieved?

If you are tired of grinding out hours of cardio with subpar results from your workouts, then it might be time to change things up.

High-Intensity Interval Training (HIIT) Cardio is a great solution to consider if you don't want to spend hours in the gym, running on a treadmill, or pounding the pavement each day.

What is HIIT Cardio?

The defining point of HIIT Cardio is the combination of maximum-effort movements mixed with short rest periods – all while keeping your heart rate at cardio levels. The name says it all:

High Intensity

The goal ... well, it's not really a goal, because it HAS to be there, is to hit a very high intensity!

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These short bursts can help preserve more muscle tissue or even build muscle and burn a lot of calories, in comparison to long-duration low-intensity cardio. 

Interval Training

If your goal is fat loss or wanting to improve your cardiovascular conditioning and health ... you don't have to pound out an hour on the treadmill unless you want to!

Interval training is a powerful way to improve your results and optimize overall performance.

Training sessions are designed with intense, short bursts of movement, followed by rest or lower intensity time so you can recover before moving into the next exercise.

Keep in mind that there is a little difference between HIIT Training and HIIT Cardio. Typically, HIIT Training is associated with bodyweight exercises such as burpees, tuck jumps, jumping lunges, etc.

On the other hand, HIIT Cardio will have intervals based around cardio such as sprints, rowing, assault bike, etc.

This varies from what most people think of when they talk about or hear the word "cardio" ... most people think of steady-state cardio with the goal of getting your heart rate up, settling into that steady pace, and keeping your heart rate there for an extended period of time.


For example, if you go for a run or spend time cycling, then the speed and movement are often consistent from start to finish.

HIIT Cardio involves high effort, with built-in breaks with low effort. This pattern brings up the heart rate quickly, and the continuous movement prevents the heart rate from going too low before the next interval starts.

What are "Typical" HIIT Routines

The design of your HIIT routine varies depending on your endurance and fitness level.

Let's use running for example ... if you are just getting started, then you might need to completely rest or slowly walk during the rest periods, so you have enough energy to put into the next interval.

As your fitness level and endurance improves you might be able to maintain a light jog during your "rest" period. 

A good ratio for beginners is to aim for 1-part work to 2-parts rest, then adjust that ratio over time.

For example, push through a high-intensity interval for 10 seconds, then give yourself 20 seconds to rest ... or 20 seconds high intensity ... and 40 seconds low intensity.

As your endurance increases, then you might transition to doing a combination of bodyweight exercises and cardio exercises. 

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A solid HIIT Cardio session lasts between 4 to 8 rounds ...if you're doing it right, you should be pretty smoked by the end of it.

A solid HIIT workout could last between 10 and 30 minutes depending on your rest intervals.

This workout time is shorter compared to other forms of exercise ... but remember, you have to make sure your intensity is high! 

Intensity is key, which means that you need to be ready to give it your best effort in short bursts.

The goal should be to push yourself harder than you normally would during steady-state cardio or a normal workout ... because remember, you will have built-in rest.

The intervals can range but the goal is to work as hard as you can throughout the entire interval ... then rest ... then jump back in to give it your all again.

Measuring Your Levels of Intensity

The real benefits of HIIT come when you reach an optimal level of intensity. The truth is that it takes time to build strength and endurance.

Make sure you are proactive about gauging your effort based on your personal capabilities.

Don't worry about how hard someone to your left or right is going ... this is about you pushing YOUR limits. 

So give it your all, then notch it up and see if you can add in any more effort in the interval. If you're like me ... the competitive spirit comes out as I try to see if I can give just a little more!

Advantages: Why HIIT is a Preferred Type of Exercise

As you learn about the benefits of HIIT, it's easy to see why many people choose interval training as their preferred workout program. Here are a few of the advantages you can expect from HIIT cardio:

Burn More Calories

HIIT can boost fat and calorie burning over the course of a day if it’s hard enough.

This happens because of E.P.O.C. (excess post oxygen consumption) and revolves around the body working to get itself back to a resting state after exercise by repairing muscle tissue, breaking down lactic acid, and restoration of hormones.

These processes can take hours and require fuel to be carried out! Meaning you can continue to burn calories and fat hours after the interval training.

But keep in mind ... we aren't talking about an additional 1,000 calories here. HIIT and EPOC is not magic and doing this does not negate following a good nutrition plan.

Higher Metabolic Rate

Not only do you enjoy these calorie-burning benefits during your workout, but your body will continue burning more calories throughout the day.

Even when you are finished with your workout, your metabolism will keep burning at a higher rate for hours after your exercise session.

Change Body Composition

Not only does HIIT cardio help with fat loss, but bodyweight exercises are also helpful for building and preserving muscle.

If you want to see a change in your overall physique, doing a combination of both calorie burning and muscle building/preserving is key.

HIIT is a great way to go about it!

Post-Workout Stack

Less Time

Why spend hours at the gym, in the garage, basement, or wherever you workout when you can fit in a quick workout and then spend the rest of the time with your friends and family?

One of the biggest advantages of HIIT is that this exercise routine can produce great results in a short amount of time.

It's time to kick your excuses to the curb: even the busiest person can squeeze in a solid HIIT session!

Exercise Anywhere

Whether you are traveling or you don't want to pay for a gym membership, it's easy to maintain your fitness with HIIT workouts that can be done from any location.

Bodyweight exercises and cardio don't require fancy equipment or a personal trainer.

You can write down your personal HIIT routines to follow, or download the 1st Phorm App on your phone with structured HIIT sessions you can take anywhere you go.

Enjoy Your Exercise

It's no surprise that people have a hard time maintaining consistency with an exercise routine when they are pounding the hours away on a cardio machine.

If you are bored while working out, then it decreases the likelihood that you will stick with the activity for any length of time ... or even try your best while doing it.

On the other hand, many people find that HIIT is more enjoyable than traditional cardio because of the variety of activities.

You can be flexible with different HIIT routines each day so you don't tire of the same old routine day after day.

How HIIT Fat Loss Compares to Steady State Cardio

HIIT can be an effective way to spend your workout time.

Post-Workout Shakes & Better Fat Loss Results

If you want to lose fat, then it is essential that you are burning more calories than what you are consuming.

HIIT is an effective way to burn calories in a shorter amount of time, which can help with improving fat-loss results.

But don't forget, you can't outwork a bad diet. The key is to pair your exercise routine with a healthy eating plan.

Should You Do HIIT If You Want to Build Muscle?

HIIT is a great option if your goal is to build muscle. Many HIIT routines use both bodyweight exercise and added weights. If you want to tone and build muscle, then make sure your routine includes the use of medicine balls, kettlebells, free weights, and/or dumbbells.

As you work your muscles, you also have the benefit of spiking your heart rate – which helps with endurance. At the same time, HIIT Training signals muscular adaptations similar to weight training, meaning it can promote muscle growth.

The body responds with a repair function that includes testosterone, human growth hormone, and other growth factors.

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Overall, weight training is one of the most effective methods if your goal is to increase muscle mass.

But HIIT training can be a great complementary exercise to your weight room sessions, or to even finish off your weight training workout!

Getting Started with HIIT

First, never forget that it's always a good idea to make sure to warm up before starting into your interval training. Remember, you are going to ask a lot of your body ... you are going to push hard ... so by warming up you can help prime your body for the workload and help prevent injury as well. 

Here are a few simple HIIT routines to help you get started:

Treadmill Running

If you want to transform your jogging routine to focus on HIIT cardio instead, you can use short bursts of running at a higher than normal speed (or high incline) to pump up the heart rate fast.

A great place to start is to look at the clock on your treadmill and at the turn of every minute change the speed in a 1:2 fashion or a 1:2 work: rest ratio.

So you could go up to 8 or 9 mph for 20 seconds and down to 4.0 mph for 40 seconds and then back up to 8 or 9 mph for a 20 seconds and back and forth in this manner every minute. 

You can change your work: rest ratio from 1:2 to 1:1, 2:1, 3:1, 4:1. If it’s 1:1 the work and rest proportions are intended to be the same amount of time (1 min and 1 min or 1:1). If it’s 2:1, it’s 2 min of work and 1 min of rest and so forth.

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Interval Sprinting

On a track, sprint as fast as you can for 10 yards. Turn around and walk back to give yourself a rest. Next, sprint 20 yards, and walk back to the starting line again.

On each interval, increase the sprint by an additional 10 yards until you reach a sprint of 50 yards of sprinting in one interval. Build up your endurance to complete five rounds.

Bodyweight Reps

A great HIIT training style is EMOM or Every Minute On the Minute.

Each of these bodyweight exercises should include 10-15 reps. At the start of each minute, perform the movement for 10-15 reps, then rest the remainder of the minutes.

Then at the start of the next minute, do the next movement on the list in the same fashion... then the next movement the minute after.

Work through the complete list 3-5 times!

squat jumps
mountain climbers
floor crunches
walking lunges

You can also download the 1st Phorm App and select the EMOM programming for daily HIIT Training workouts! 

Is HIIT Right for You?

As with any new exercise routine, it's smart to talk to your healthcare provider if you have any medical concerns that could be affected by exercise.

The benefit of HIIT is that you adjust the intensity and repetition based on your current fitness. You can start slow, then build intensity over time.

Or, if you are already actively engaged in a strong workout routine, then HIIT can be a great solution to help you keep improving your results.

If you need support with your new exercise routine, then don't underestimate the benefit of tapping into a community of like-minded fitness experts and/or downloading the 1st Phorm App!

At 1st Phorm, we are focused on providing the resources you need to reach your fitness goals, including a strong social media community and easy-to-follow systems on the 1st Phorm App.

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Will Grumke
Will Grumke

NASM Certified Personal Trainer, NASM Certified Nutrition Coach, NASM Certified Fitness Nutrition Specialist, NASM Certified Weight Loss Specialist, NASM Certified Behavioral Change Specialist, NASM VCS Virtual Coaching Specialist, CrossFit Level 1 Trainer