The fitness world has been talking about high-intensity interval training (HIIT) for some time now—with many claiming that it's the best way to lose weight and build muscle. Given its rapid rise in popularity and the dramatic claims made by its supporters, you may have some questions about this particular fitness approach and why HIIT exercises are so great. If you're looking for answers, or wondering how to incorporate HIIT into your workout routine, here's what you should know.

Defining HIIT

As its extremely descriptive name suggests, HIIT is characterized by short bouts of challenging cardio exercise that are broken up by periods of active recovery. But who decides what exactly "high intensity" is? You do.

According to the American Council on Exercise (ACE), if you divide your physical effort up on a scale of one to 10, a high-intensity workout would fall at a seven or higher. So a "high-intensity" workout will be different for each person and—even on an individual level—might change on a daily basis based on a host of factors. This is a big part of what makes HIIT so useful.

To help you understand the design principles used in this training style, here is an example of what a (very) basic HIIT workout consists of: Jog for a minute, sprint for 30 seconds, and repeat for 20 minutes.

The Benefits of HIIT

So why is this exercise any better than simply trudging along at a certain pace for 20 minutes? HIIT exercises actually have several well-supported advantages over traditional training techniques. First, think about the steady-state workout just described, which requires you to maintain the same pace for an extended period. These workouts will generally keep you within the range of "moderate intensity" for the entire duration of your workout. On the other hand, if you were to follow the aforementioned HIIT workout, you're able to do more work in the same amount of time. Here are a few benefits of HIIT exercises:

  • Lowered blood pressure
  • Improved cardiovascular function
  • Increased insulin sensitivity
  • Improved cholesterol profile
  • Reduced body fat
  • Improved athletic performance

The short, intense nature of HIIT also means that your muscles will benefit more than they would from standard cardio. Because they're required to produce fast, powerful contractions, you're going to develop speed and power, which cardio simply doesn't offer.

HIIT Exercises

One of the most interesting parts of HIIT is how adaptable the method is. There are really no specific HIIT exercises, and any sequence of movements can be chained together to form an HIIT pattern. For instance, CrossFit technically falls under the HIIT umbrella. Still, there are some exercises that can be used to form some very effective HIIT workouts. Generally, you'll want to focus on exercises that require little-to-no equipment and that involve several major muscle groups all at once. Some examples include:

  • Running
  • Jogging
  • Walking
  • Elliptical
  • Rowing
  • Swimming
  • Cycling
  • Kettlebell swings
  • Burpees
  • Jumping jacks
  • Jumping rope

If you're interesting in burning calories, while also improving your health and performance, in less time than a regular workout, HIIT might be for you. This extremely adaptable training method can be targeted to meet your individual needs and keep things exciting, so use these tips to get started today.