HIIT. High-Intensity Interval Training. If you’ve never entered a gym in your life at this point you’ve probably at least heard the phrase HIIT, and for those of you that are regularly training, you more likely than not have participated in it yourself a handful of times. This may very well be your go-to training style. But despite the overwhelming popularity of the phrase “HIIT” a lot of individuals still don’t understand what HIIT exactly is or how to do it.

What Constitutes HIIT?

Let’s look at what constitutes HIIT, what the potential benefits of adding it to your training are, and even look at some example workouts that you can try.

HIIT stands for “High-Intensity Interval Training” and knowing this helps us understand what a HIIT workout is.

These workouts are done at a high intensity, in an interval-style workout format. In terms of determining the proper intensity of a HIIT style workout, we can look to the RPE scale (RPE=Rating of Perceived Exertion).

This is a 1-10 scale that subjectively ranks your exertion level for a given workout/exercise/or just overall daily movement. The lowest exertion level starts at 1 where you are relaxed and at resting stating and progressively rises to a 10 which would be maximal effort/this is the hardest workout you’ve ever done. HIIT workouts should land right in about the RPE 9 mark, very challenging, but not quite your maximal effort.

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HIIT workouts are always done in bursts where you hit that high exertion level for a short period and then you get a rest period. In many cases, the rest periods can end up being longer than the actual work period itself. Compare that to a LISS workout (Low-Intensity Steady State) such as going for a jog where yes, you may be at a lower RPE level like 6 or 7, but you are constantly exerting that effort the entire time with no rest.

Another benefit of training at that higher intensity level is these workouts can be kept relatively short in comparison to a LISS workout. HIIT workouts tend to fall in the 10-20-minute time range, and some particularly intense workouts can be even shorter than that (consider Tabata style training where the workout is only 4-minute-long, but at maximum intensity).

Compare this to your LISS style training which can range to a much broader period of anywhere from 25 minutes up to an hour or even more depending on the style of training. This makes HIIT style training a lot more appealing to those on a time crunch, which if we are being honest, is all of us.

When it comes down to it, HIIT style training for 10-20 minutes will allow you to get those great cardiovascular benefits that a normal LISS workout like running would provide.

HIIT Can Be Fun

HIIT workouts tend to be more fun than their LISS counterparts because these sessions tend to work in a ton of different movements.  LISS workouts limit you to one movement like running, rowing, biking, swimming, for an extended period, and individuals often must turn to things like music to keep themselves entertained.

What is the downside? 3 Things To Consider

  • Due to their higher intensity level, it can beat you up a bit more than a LISS workout and may require a bit more recovery time between workouts.
  • HIIT has to be attacked at a higher intensity. If you attempt to roll through them at a lower intensity level like a LISS workout you’re not getting those same benefits.
  • And lastly, a good thing to keep in mind for your long-distance endurance types is that while you are going to get good cardiovascular benefits out of a HIIT workout it’s not going to be using quite the same energy pathway as you would be for say something like a half marathon.

So, while these could be a good workout to supplement your endurance training, you probably won’t want it to be the only thing you are doing in prep for an endurance event.

HIIT Rowing SzatStrength

4 HIIT Variations To Consider

EMOTM (Every Minute on The Minute):

Every minute on the minute workouts is straight to the point and fun. You have a minute to get a set number of reps done of a certain exercise and the time you have left in that minute is your rest period. Once that minute ends you are either going back into that same movement or if you have chosen multiple movements, moving onto the next exercise in the cycle.

This is very simple and allows you to set up an almost endless amount of workout combinations.

Example:  (12 min total) EMOTM 4 rounds Min 1: 8/10 Burpees Min 2: 8/10 Box Jumps Min 3: 12/15 Toes to Bar or Knees to Chest

EMOTM 30 seconds on 30 seconds off:

This is a very similar idea to the above EMOTM workout only now instead of worrying about reps you are always on for 30 seconds and always resting for 30 seconds. This lets you forget about rep schemes and go all out for those 30 seconds that you are on. The setup can be the same as you would set up a normal EMOTM workout

Example: (12 min total) EMOTM 30 secs on/ 30 secs off 4 rounds Min 1: Mountain Climbers Min 2: Goblet Squats Min 3: Battle Ropes


Tabata workouts are a mere 4 minutes long, but it’s an intense 4 minutes. The workout setups are you will be on for 20 seconds for a given exercise at maximum intensity and then you will rest for only 10 seconds and repeat that pattern for 8 rounds total. The original Tabata was done on a cycle ergometer but has stretched to being used for all sorts of exercises nowadays.

Sometimes individuals will even choose to pick 2 exercises and alternate back and forth between them each round, for purists this might not be “true” Tabata, but the choice is yours and it’s a great way to get in a quick training session!

Example: Tabata’s are easy to setup choose something you can perform sprints on like a bike, rower, running, or swimming and have something setup up for timing and you are good to go!

2min on 1 min off or 3min on 2min off:

This style of HIIT workout pushes into the grey area between HIIT training and LISS training. The time you spend “on” is extended, and the rest periods are as well. You may not be able to perform at quite as high of an intensity level as the shorter interval workouts, but this style of training allows you to get a bit more workout in and is a great way to set up a quick 20 minute or so session.

Pick 3 to 4 exercises and work your way through as many rounds of the exercises possible in the given time and then rest for the time allotted. Run through about 3-5 rounds and you’ve got yourself a workout!

Example: (20min total) 3 min on 2 min off 4 rounds: -10 calories Row -12 Goblet Squats – 5 DB Snatch Each Arm -8 Box Jumps

Matt Molloy

Matt Molloy

I'm a graduate the University of Pittsburgh with a major in Exercise Science. I’m a local guy (North Penn) and athletics has dominated my life. I've led teams in basketball, baseball, soccer, golf and my passion, long distance running. I've been strength training for 6 years with a focus in power-lifting but have recently stretched to strongman since joining the pride here at the Den. When I’m not in the gym I enjoy, spending time with my friends, music, and relaxing and playing some video games.