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5 Science-Backed HIIT Workout Plans

The HIIT list.

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They’re tough, but satisfying. While nothing leaves you quite as sweat-drenched as an HIIT workout, by the time you’re done your mood is up, your stress levels down, and you’re feeling a little invincible and most definitely empowered.

Whatever you’re into – be it running, Cross-Fit, or spin class – there’s an HIIT workout for you. Remember to tweak any workout to suit your needs and fitness level. Always warm-up before exercising and cool-down after exercise.

Without further ado, whether your goal is to improve fitness, lose weight, get stronger, or lower your risk for cardiovascular disease, here are 5 incredible, science-backed HIIT workouts.

HIIT #1

THE 10×1 Workout

Duration: 20 minutes

Intensity: 90% MHR (RPE 5-9)*

* Rating of Perceived Exertion = RPE (scale of 1 – 10 of how hard exercise feels)

The Science: Developed by exercise scientists at McMasters University, this is a well studied protocol that has been shown to decrease body fat while increasing muscle mass, boost fitness, and improve mitochondrial function, blood sugar control and insulin sensitivity. 1234

Good for: Delivers similar results to more intense sprint interval training, but designed as a more practical and attainable form of HIIT and an alternative to all-out sprints.56


The Workout

This simple workout essentially consists of 1 minute on, 1 minute off. 
Complete cycle 10 times
Work1 min at RPE 5-9*
Recovery1 min at RPE 3-4
*Start the first interval at RPE 5. Slightly increase the intensity with each successive interval. The last interval should be at RPE 9.

Intensity: The goal of this workout is to maintain a roughly consistent absolute workload (e.g. pace, RPM). Therefore, the intensity (RPE) increases over the course of the workout, because keeping up the same pace becomes harder and requires more effort.

HIIT #2

The Norwegian (4×4)

Duration: 25 minutes

Intensity: 85-95% MHR (approx. RPE 7-8)

The Science: Another popular HIIT plan amongst the exercise scientists, it has a pile of research to back it up. Developed by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology, this HIIT workout has been studied on diverse populations including on athletes, seniors in their seventies, inactive people, and those with cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome. Studies show that it reversed metabolic syndrome, boosted athletic performance and increased longevity.789101112

Good for: Huge improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness.13 However, longer work intervals also makes it more challenging.14


The Workout

After the last interval you should feel like you had more left in the tank and could have completed another one.
Complete cycle 4 times
Work4 min at 85-95% MHR* (about RPE 7-8)
Recovery3 min at 60-70% MHR (about RPE 4-5)
*It should take about 1-2 minutes during each interval to reach the target heart rate.15

Intensity: The work intervals should feel hard, but not so challenging you can’t complete it. If you were unable to maintain the intensity throughout the workout, the intensity is too high.

Adapt it: If 4 minutes is too challenging start with shorter work intervals (e.g. 5×3 minutes). You can increase the length as your fitness levels grow.

HIIT #3

The 10-20-30

Duration: 25 minutes

The Science: Created by exercise scientists at the University of Copenhagen, this protocol has been studied on a variety of different groups. A study on moderately trained runners showed that after just 7 weeks this workout increased athletic performance (improved 5K by 48 seconds), boosted cardiorespiratory fitness, reduced blood pressure, and lowered bad (LDL) cholesterol.16171819

Good for: HIIT is tough, and it’s not always easy to reach the high intensities needed.20 This workout is designed to make sure everyone hits the high notes and reaps the gains. Keeping the punishing, high-intensity bouts to a mere 10 seconds avoids high lactate levels, which means you don’t feel the dreaded burn and makes it more manageable.


The Workout

A fun, slightly different workout, comprising a 1 minute sequence of progressively more challenging exercise. 
Work
30 sec at RPE 4
20 sec at RPE 6
10 sec at RPE 9
Perform sequence 5 times without a break.
(Total time 5 min)
Then do a recovery interval.
Rest2 min light movement or complete rest

Complete above cycle 2-4 times

Adapt it: Each work interval is 5 minutes long in total. Depending on your level of fitness, start with 1 or 2 and slowly build up to 4, as you get more fit.

Make it more challenging by performing the 10-second intervals at RPE 10.21

It takes time for the treadmill to slow down and speed up. The constant change of pace and short intervals means this workout isn’t suitable for the treadmill.

HIIT #4

The 1-minute workout

Duration: 5 minutes

Intensity: RPE 10

The Science: Developed by the folks at McMasters University and studied on healthy, sedentary people, this workout comprises just 1 minute of high-intensity exercise in total. According to their research, three workouts per week was just as effective as long stints of moderate-intensity exercise for improving cardiorespiratory fitness, insulin sensitivity, blood pressure, and mitochondrial content.2223

Good for: A more manageable, but seriously effective SIT workout.


The Workout

Complete cycle 3 times
Work20 sec at RPE 10
Recovery2 min at RPE 3

Make it easier: 

  • Do just 2 work intervals with a recovery interval of 3 1/2 minutes. According to research this still results in positive effects on health and boosts cardio-respiratory fitness.24252627
  • Or, start with 10-second work intervals for your first few workouts, then increase the duration to 15 as you get fitter, and finally to 20 seconds.

HIIT #5

Tabata

Duration:  4 minutes

Intensity: RPE 9

The Science: A spin on Tabata training that uses body weight exercises. A 4-week study showed this workout was as effective at increasing cardiorespiratory fitness as endurance training. Moreover, the Tabata workout had the added benefit of increasing muscular endurance. Participants were able to perform significantly more chest presses, sit-ups, push-ups, and leg and back extensions after just 16 minutes of total workout time.28

Good for: A full body workout that you can do anywhere, which will increase both strength and cardiorespiratory fitness. And, it’s more enjoyable than regular (cardio) Tabata!29 However, Tabata is tough and generally not a good idea for HIIT newbies.


The Workout

Each workout perform only one type of exercise. There are 4 workouts per week, with a different exercise completed on each workout day.
Complete cycle 8 times
Work20 sec of AMRAP*
Rest10 sec of complete rest
*Perform as many repetitions per interval as possible while maintaining correct form.
Workout 1: Burpees
Workout 2: Mountain climbers
Workout 3: Jumping jacks
Workout 4: Squat and thrusts (using a 5lb dumbbell)

Switch it up: Instead of repeating the same exercise throughout the workout, turn it into a circuit. Perform the 4 exercises (in the same order as above) twice, to complete 8 intervals in total.30

To keep making progress and maintain the challenge as you get more fit, include some new moves. The hallmark of these exercises is that they are relatively simple, full-body moves. They target all the major muscle groups, work multiple joints, are straightforward to execute with good form, and require no or minimal exercise equipment. 

How to Make HIIT Harder or Easier

Harder HIIT: The shorter the recovery time, the more intense the workout. Longer work intervals are also harder. And of course you can change exercise intensity. Only change one thing at a time and do so gradually.

Easier HIIT: You can make the workouts easier by reducing the length of the intervals. For example, instead of a 1 minute work interval and 2 minute recovery interval, you can reduce it to 30 seconds of work and 1 minute of recovery.

Alternatively, make the recovery intervals longer. For example a workouts may have recovery intervals that are twice as long as the work intervals (this is called a 2:1 recovery-to-work ratio). To make the workout easier you can make the recovery intervals 3 times longer (3:1).

Read more: The Ultimate Guide To HIIT

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