High Intensity Interval Training/HIIT 101

HIIT, or High Intensity Interval Training, is an advanced method of cardiovascular training with many benefits! It is characterized by intervals of very short but all-out effort “work periods” followed by a “recovery” period.

Here are some quick facts and my best tips on how to perform HIIT:

HIIT Benefits:

  • Improves cardiovascular endurance, anaerobic threshold & VO2 max
  • Increases EPOC (which increases the amount of calories you burn AFTER you stop working out)
  • Studies have shown it can raise your metabolism for up to 24-36hrs post session!
  • Uses carbs (versus dietary fat) as it’s energy source
  • Has been studied and proven to be one of the most effective ways to burn body fat!

How to Perform HIIT:

  • Rate of Perceived Exertion (RPE) on a scale of 1-10 during HIIT should be a 9-10. You are pushing your body to it’s max during the work interval & giving it your all out effort.
  • Work intervals should be extremely intense, where you can barely perform controlled breathing.  At the end of the interval, you should be extremely taxed and NEED that recovery interval.
  • HR during Work intervals should reach 80-90% of max HR. HR during Recovery period just drop to about 50-60% of max HR.
  • Work periods should last 15-30 seconds (really no more than 40sec) with at least triple time recovery period. Ie: 30 sec work & 90 sec recovery.
  • Although highly effective, HIIT doesn’t have to be performing actual running sprints. The key is to just work all near maximal effort! Using the mindset of doing a “sprint” in whatever method you use will help you stay focused on how much effort to exert. Find what works for your body, what you can do & intensity level.

It is not necessary but HIGHLY recommended that one uses a Heart Rate monitor for HIIT workouts. Although you can use your RPE to measure your effort, that can be lowered based on aerobic endurance and/or your own mental limitations…! Using a HR monitor guarantees you are training in the correct HR zone and working as efficiently as possible. I prefer Garmin or Polar for Heart Rate monitors. While new technology offers wrist based HR readings, I truly recommend and prefer using a chest strap. This ensures a more accurate reading!! I have had a wrist based monitor before and did not have a lot of success with it.  I personally have used the Garmin Vivofit and just recently upgraded to the Garmin Forerunner 35. I pair my chest strap with it and LOVE it. You can create cardio programs and set specific interval workouts!!

My Garmin Forerunner 35 displaying my HR during one of my HIIT sprints

***Most people think they are performing HIIT, when really they are just doing intervals. TRUE High Intensity While interval/circuit training is still very effective and has an important part in your routine, it IS different than HIIT.


  • Intervals can not be sustained for more than 40 seconds at a time MAX (Ideal is under 30)
  • HIIT cannot be performed for longer than 20 minutes total in duration (since it is so taxing)
  • Work to Rest time ratios need to be 1:3 or 1:4 (ie 30 sec sprint and 90 to 120 min recovery) and trust me, you will need it!!
  • RPE is 9-10 out of 10
  • HR should raise to 90% of MaxHR
  • 6-8x work intervals per session
  • Should only be performed 2x week on non-consecutive days

Interval Training:

  • Work intervals range anywhere from 45 sec to 2 min
  • Sessions can last longer, upward of 45 to 60 min total (think circuit training, conditioning classes etc)
  • Work to Rest time ratio can be equal 1:1 or 1:2
  • RPE is approx. 7-8 out of 10
  • HR should raise approx. 75-80% of MaxHR
  • 10-20 intervals may be performed
  • Can be preformed 4-5x a week

Rule of Thumb: If you are doing HIIT properly, you will be TOAST within 15 minutes!! Most individuals are not pushing to ALL OUT effort during their work period, thus never reaping the true benefits of HIIT.

HIIT Ideas: Sprints (outside is preferred versus on a treadmill), Spin or Airdyne bike “sprints, running stairs (outside or on a rotating Stairmill) Weighted Rope Drills, etc.

Remember, it is not about the actual exercise you do, but HOW you do it!


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