HIIT Workout

High intensity interval training, interval training, HIIT, all of these are terms used to describe a specific type of training for our cardiovascular health. It involves very high intensity exercises done in a short time period with a small amount of rest in between sets. This is definitely not something that’s new to the fitness community. It has been practiced before and has been phasing in and out throughout the years.

With something as popular as HIIT, there are bound to be questions as to it’s effectiveness. Does it really work as well as its proponents propose? How does it compared to cardio? Are there additional benefits besides the obvious? How come some fitness gurus suggests that running is the only type of HIIT that’s effective? Can we use other exercises for HIIT? Read on to find out the answers to these questions and more.

What Is HIIT?

HIIT comes in as many forms as people can think of. The central theme to HIIT is to maintain a high heart rate throughout the entire session. In order to do this, we need to engage in very intense activities with short amount of rest in between sets. This way, our heart rate never drops below a certain threshold.

What is this threshold? Well, it all depends on what percentage range of our maximum heart rate we choose to work within. A common method of estimating max heart rate is subtracting our age from 220. I personally no longer estimate my max heart rate. I simply go by feel.

Starting Out

If we’re just starting out and have never been exposed to HIIT or only done it a few times, I suggest going by a percentage of our max heart rate and see how the different ranges feel. Once we get the hang of it, it should be easy to tell approximately what range we’re in just by how it feels.athlete-640335_640

Keep in mind that as we get more fit over time, our max heart rate will increase. So 190 beats per minute now may not feel as lung busting as they were before. And this is the primary reason I go by feel. The other reason being that I’m not a fan of tracking my heart rate during every workout, it just gets annoying.

Variations On A Theme

One of the protocols that made HIIT popular is the Tabata Method. This is a form of HIIT that involves 20 seconds of all-out work, followed by 10 seconds of rest. This goes on for 4 minutes, which results in 8 rounds of the 2:1 work:rest sets. This is the shortest version of HIIT and it’s obvious appeal is short period of time involved compared to slow and steady cardio.

So only 4 minutes, should be easy right? I mean, even with 20 seconds of all-out effort, I still get a 10 second rest. And it’s ONLY 20 seconds, how bad can it be? If that’s what you’re thinking, you mostly have never tried it before or not going as hard as you could be. This protocol is promised to make those 4 minutes the longest of your life, give 100% effort is put into each 20 seconds interval.

As mentioned before, there are as many protocols out there as people can imagine. But they all differ in the work to rest ratio. Tabata is strictly a 20 seconds work and 10 seconds rest protocol, which works out to be a 2:1 work to rest ratio. We can have everything from 1:5 work to rest for the beginner to 4:1 work to rest for the masochist.

Comparison to Steady State (SS) Cardio

We see this in all commercial gyms globally. People running on the treadmills, working on the ellipticals, stairmasters, and other cardio equipment that packs in popular gyms everywhere. Like a hamster in their wheel, the pace is kept steady. Breathing pattern is kept at a specific rhythm, work is being done continuously, and heart rate is at a specific runner-802912_640range with very little variance. This can go on for 15 minutes or for 2+ hours.

The above description is not meant to demean steady cardio in any way. Although I find it extremely boring, it does have its place it endurance training. If it wasn’t effective, it wouldn’t have stood the test of time. But where does HIIT fit in? What benefits is HIIT bringing to the table?

Physical Benefits

When discussing the benefits of HIIT, we’ll be discussing it in reference to steady state cardio since most people are familiar with that already. We know steady cardio builds endurance, burns fat, increases blood flow, etc. So how does HIIT compare?

Go Harder For Longer Periods Of Time

In a study conducted that compared HIIT to traditional steady pace cardio training, subjects that performed the HIIT had significantly higher mitochondria oxidative enzymes compared to the steady pace cardio group¹. Mitochondria oxidative enzymes are responsible for the metabolic function of our muscles by helping break down carbohydrates and fat as fuel. ATP synthesis is also supported by these enzymes.

So with more of these enzymes, we’re able to break down more carbs and fats for fuel and synthesize more ATP. All of this leads to us sustaining a harder pace for longer a duration.

Burn More Fat AND For Longer Periods Of Time

Some of us that have research HIIT may have read that it helps us burn fat up to 48 hours after the workout. Although the exact time period varies from individuals, there is indeed an increased level of fat burning after a belly-2354_640session of HIIT compared to steady state cardio.

A review article stated that our Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption (EPOC) is significantly higher after a session of HIIT compared to steady state cardio². Higher EPOC translates into more calorie burned for longer periods of time.

Increase in VO2 Max

What is VO2 Max and why should we care? VO2 Max is simply the most oxygen we can consume during exercise. On to the part why we should care, oxygen is required for proper energy production and body function. This is important for every human being. For endurance athletes, the higher our VO2 Max, the more oxygen we consume, and the more oxygen is delivered to our muscles.

A study conducted on subjects that trained using HIIT or steady state cardio for eight weeks showed an increase in VO2 Max for both groups. However, the HIIT group increased their VO2 Max by 15% while the steady state cardio group increased it by 9%. The HIIT group also spent less time training compared to the steady state cardio group³.

HIIT-Be All And End All?

It’s obvious that HIIT holds many physical advantages over traditional steady pace cardio. The time savings that comes with HIIT is also a huge bonus for those of us with time constraints. Not to mention other benefits such as improved lactate threshold and lowering risk of heart disease. With all this in consideration, why would anyone even consider doing steady state cardio ever again?

There is at least one advantage that steady state cardio has that HIIT does not.human-body-311864_640

A study was performed by researchers at the University of Western Ontario on 20 volunteers. All the volunteers trained 3x per week for 6 weeks, half doing steady state cardio while the other half trained using HIIT. At the end of the 6 weeks, the steady state cardio group increased their max cardiac output by almost 10% while the HIIT group did not show any improvement in this aspect.

Max cardiac output is the amount of maximum amount of blood that our heart can pump within a given amount of time. So an increase in this attribute allows for more blood to be pumped to our muscles, lungs, and other areas of our body.

Best Of Both Worlds

This goes back to the old saying that everything should be done in moderation.

There is no need to cut steady state cardio out of our training. As matter of fact, we’ll be missing out on an important part of endurance training if we do. However, if we implement both HIIT and steady state cardio, we’ll reap the benefits of both.

More To Come

We’ve covered quite a bit of information in this article, but we’re only about half way done! Are there any other benefits to HIIT than just that for our physical bodies? Some argue that if we’re not strictly using running as the exercise for HIIT, we’re not doing HIIT properly. Is that really true? And how do we incorporate HIIT into our training?

Stick around to find out the answers to these questions and more on Part 2 of this 2-part series!

Stay healthy,


UPDATE: Part 2 has been published. So what are you waiting for? Check it out here!



  1. Burgomaster, K.A., et al. 2008. Similar metabolic adaptations during exercise after low volume sprint interval and traditional endurance training in humans. Journal of Physiology, 586 (1), 151-60.
  2. LaForgia, J., Withers, R.T., & Gore, C.J. 2006. Effects of exercise intensity and duration on the excess post-exercise oxygen consumption. Journal of Sports Science, 24 (12), 1247-64.
  3. Daussin, F.N., et al. 2008. Effect of interval versus continuous training on cardiorespiratory and mitochondrial functions: relationship to aerobic performance improvements in sedentary subjects.American Journal of Physiology: Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 295, R264-72.
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I've just started getting serious about health and fitness around 2014. Since then I've learned the insider info on how to optimize athletic performance and healthy living through both nutrition and proper training. The most important thing I've discovered however, is the connection between the mindset of those that excel in athletics, and those that succeed in their life pursuits. I've spent the last couple years observing and drawing these connections and similarities, finally created a platform to share with you all what I've found, and how to apply them in your own life to get similar results.

16 thoughts on “High Intensity Interval Training (HIIT)- Does It Live Up To The Hype? (Part 1)

  1. There is a lot of information on here that have never crossed my mind. I have always done high intensity workouts with very short rest times. But I never knew it was called the “Tabata method”‘.

    I always choose a combination of tebata method and steady state cardio. I think that this works best for me. Doing the same thing everyday kinda wears me out. Hence, I choose to alternate between both methods on a daily basis. What do you think of this?

    Awesome post!

    1. Farhan,

      The name doesn’t matter nearly as much as the fact that you’re doing HIIT. Glad that you’ve been doing this type of cardio as the benefits really are awesome.

      I think you’re on the right track. Doing HIIT everyday is easy to wear yourself out. If alternating works for you, go with it! If you’re interested in improving, simply do more than a single session of HIIT on your HIIT days and see how it feels the day after. Progress slowly and safely.

      I personally never have consecutive intense cardio days. I fit strength and skill work days in between to keep things interesting and promote well-rounded fitness.


  2. Great informative post! Definitely agree that everything should be done in moderation! If done correctly, the Tabata protocol is something that you would not forget. You are right, it is the longest 4 minutes! But it is not something that you can do, or would want to do on a daily basis.

    The steady state cardio, the long slow duration training, is sometimes seen by a lot as boring and not effective. But it does have its own merits. Sometimes in this fast paced world, we need to have a time for ourselves where we can just be alone with our thoughts and focus. Doing a long run, or a long row, or whatever cardio you want, would give you that time and conditions where you focus.

    1. Val,

      I agree with your statement on the steady state cardio. There is a time for it and as much as it bores me, it does have its benefits. Actually, in Part 2 of this series I will be discussing the mental aspects of HIIT and how it contrasts with steady state cardio. I think you’ll find that interesting. Thanks for visiting!


  3. I could see the 2-1 ratio being extremely hard to do for 4 minutes just starting out.

    You show a 1-5 ratio for beginners. I take it is better to do the full 100% and take a longer rest period then slowly reduce the ratio with less resting as you start to get into better shape.

    I take it, trying to do the 2-1 ratio below 100% and working up to 100% over time has no advantage, does it?

    1. Travis,

      Yes the 2-1 ratio is very intense and takes getting used to.

      I agree with your approach about reducing the ratio to less rest time as one progress.

      I wouldn’t say that going below 100% has no advantage. Although it is optimal to keep at the highest intensity during your workout, we’d need to pace somewhat for longer HIIT sessions. And by pace, I mean keeping it around 95ish% and save the 100% for the last few sets. It’s more consistent than going 100% and not being able to maintain even 90% for the last few sets.

      But in the grand scheme of things, it’s better to sacrifice the work:rest ratio than the intensity.


  4. Love your website Winger89, could not stop reading on your write up. I use HIIT myself and yes by looking at the programme seems to be easy… But doing the actual exercise with short rest periods between is a completely different story! A user friendly website with no issues in navigating your way around. I see that your updates are regular and up to date, which will keep the reader coming back for more information. Thanks for the info and good luck.

    1. Melissa,

      I’m glad you’re enjoying the information! Yes, HIIT always SOUNDS easy but those that have done it properly knows it’s anything but.

      Thanks for the site feedback as well! It’s been about a month and I’m trying to really establish a good habit of content posting. Thank you for the encouragement!


  5. I really like how you’ve broken down the different ways that you can benefit from doing an HIIT workout, compared to regular cardio.
    I do my own HIIT cardio when I go for my daily runs – I run as hard as I can for about 45 seconds, and then walk for about 2 min. Same when I do strength training. But I feel that if I were to actually time myself and follow the 20:10 rule, I would be able to push myself harder and get better results a lot faster. It’s far too easy to slack off when you are using no measuring system.
    Thanks for all of this great information. It’s really made me look at the way that I workout, and how I can benefit more from following the HIIT system. I’m really looking forward to reading Part 2!

    1. Nicki V,

      I agree with not having a measuring system tends to allow for slacking off. When I usually do it, I keep a count of “one-one thousand, two-two thousand, …” It may not be 100% accurate but it helps me develop discipline as well in keeping the strict count and abiding by it.

      I’ve posted Part 2 just recently so feel free to check it out!


  6. Very informative article. I’ve been thinking of starting HIIT aswell, I’ve done it in the past and what I most liked about it, was that it took away my food cravings, which was amazing since I am a compulsive eater.
    Have you heard anything about HIIT reducing food cravings, because usually it is the other way around, when people exercise they also tend to eat more?

  7. That is really interesting that high intensity interval training caused exercisers to have higher mitochondria oxidative enzymes and so are able to beak down more carbohydrates and fat to use as energy. I wonder if heavy cardio training like this will also increase your hunger significantly, making it harder to lose weight, versus focusing mainly on weight training for exercise.

  8. Great post. I’ve been reading about HIIT for a while now and I’ve tried it out a few times. It so hard and you can feel that your burning fat all day.

    Same as you say I think the time is the most important thing for me when it comes to training. I do not like to train. There is so many other things that I’ll rather do.

    So if I can train for just 20 minutes that feels way better.

    Do you think that you should do HIIT one day and then steady cardio the next day?

    I also feel like steady cardio by just running puts more damage to knees and your body in general.

    I will keep training HIIT. Really like it and it fits my schedule.

    Thanks for the very informative article.

    1. Marcus,

      I think the safest way to determine the frequency of HIIT sessions is really trying it once a week first, then increasing the frequency to eventually 3 times a week. I wouldn’t go more than 3 times per week unless you’re doing only a single tabata session and are using different exercises each time. I don’t know what your level fitness is at so I can’t give any advice on exact frequencies. Just know that advanced athletes can do HIIT more often than novice athletes. So train smart.

      Steady running is longer in duration so the overall accumulated impact can easily be more than that of HIIT. That’s one of the reasons I prefer to run on grass or dirt. The other reason being that I love trail running. But steady cardio running has its benefits so don’t rule it out completely 🙂


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